Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 the term “hybrid engagement” has become a buzzword. People are working from home, virtual events are more common, and digital collaboration communication technology has advanced more quickly that it may have done without the push from COVID.
We do hear comments that without the COVID-19 lockdowns, and the forced transition to a more online-dependent society, hybrid engagement wouldn’t have existed.
But the truth is, engagers were already combining online and in-person audiences. We just hadn’t been given the opportunity to fully understand the value it offers.
Online engagement events pre-lockdown were considered a secondary, and perhaps lesser, experience for audiences compared to in-person engagement events. OVID-19 launched hybrid engagement’s profile faster and higher.
When video conferencing software got much better at connecting people from all over the world with a click of a link, there couldn’t have been a more appropriate breeding ground for this type of engagement to thrive in (excuse the pun).
Post-lockdown, where does hybrid engagement fit?
Two years on from Australia’s first lockdown, where does hybrid engagement fit now? Restrictions have been lifted, everyone is returning to a normal social life, employees are returning to the office and we’re seeing a huge desire from businesses to return to in-person engagement events.
What is hybrid engagement and why do it?
Simply: it is where you combine online participants and in-room participants in the same event. There are a range of reasons you might consider a hybrid activity in your engagement activities.
If you need to engage with people in different locations across the state or country, hybrid activities gives access to people who live or work a long way from the in-person event and who may be limited in travel.
Through the pandemic we’ve all gotten used to online video tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. These tools allow people at home, in isolation or recovering from illness, to take part in an engagement activity.
Hybrid tools allow others to respectfully watch proceedings. Even if they don’t take part, they know what has happened and how decisions were made.
Why do hybrid activities when you could do the whole thing online?
The short answer is, some people need to be online, some can be there in person. So why not make the best of both? We’ve found these hybrid engagement activities work well.
Workshops are a very common engagement activity where participants work their way through agenda’d activities individually, in small groups or as a general discussion.
They can be replicated online. Commonly-used video conferencing tools allow the facilitator to create online breakout rooms for online participants, while those in the room work with their table mates.
Not everyone wants to talk regardless of whether they’re online or in the room. However, they may be keen to participate quietly, watching proceedings. Fishbowl discussions are perfect for this type of engagement.
A good example of fishbowl discussions are shows like ABC’s Q&A and SBS’s Insight program. These shows both involve their live audience in a discussion but not everyone in the audience speaks. The discussion is broadcast and the viewer at home still has some capactity to be involved through social media.
How to host a successful hybrid engagement event
When you combine an online audience with in-room participants you must prepare ahead of time, and plan carefully how you will run your event.
The best discussion happens when people can see each other and hear each other so it is useful to have your online participants on a large screen so they can ‘sit’ in the room.
To host a successful hybrid engagement event follow these easy steps:
1. Make sure you have the right technology
The best microphones to use have an omnidirectional pick up pattern. They pick up sound equally from all directions and so provide a simple way to broadcast the facilitator and the in-room participants. Condensor omnidirectional microphones are more sensitive than normal microphones and can capture the quiet and more distant voices.
If you’re using a really big room or you can’t get your hands on an omnidirectional microphone, you will need a lapel mic for the facilitator and one or two hand-held roving microphones for participants on the floor.
It is important that the facilitator doesn’t start discussion with a participant until that person has the microphone in hand, otherwise your online audience can miss information.
Tip: Be aware that many people intuitively hold a hand-held microphone at chest level away from their mouth, this means it can be hard to pick up a lot of the audio. Make sure your support crew or co-facilitator can help participants use the microphone correctly.
You need a camera so your online participants can see what’s going on.
Ideally, you should have a separate camera operator who can zoom in on the facilitator and participants as required. Consider camera software that tracks the active speaker in the room so the online participants can follow the discussion as it’s happening.
Otherwise, you well need one camera pointed at the room and a separate camera for the facilitator. The faciliator’s camera could be on a laptop where the facilitator can manage the meeting.
You may also want to consider video conferencing cameras that automatically track between different speakers. There are many options – test before you start so you know what will give your online participants the best experience.
Ideally, you would have two screens, whether they be projector screens or large TV screens or a combination of both.
You need one screen to display your presentation to your in-person and online audience and the second screen to show the online participants at all times. It’s important to have a second screen showing your online participants so the facilitator and the in-room participants can see how they are responding to the session or if they have any questions during the session.
It’s also important for this second screen to show the room so the online participants can see what’s happening in real time.
Online video sharing software
The video sharing platform you use to host your online audience needs to be of high quality and easy for online participants to use.
Not everyone will have experience with online video sharing software and there are a lot of options out there to choose from. Pick one that is common and that you have experience using to ensure you can manage any tech issues and give users some support. Otherwise have an expert available to assist you.
2. Choose a space that’s right for hybrid engagement
Knowing the space you will be using is really important and can have a huge impact on the success of the hybrid session. It’s important to know how you will be set up in the space and the technology available.
A strong WI-FI connection is a must! Any time you use technology there’s always the possibility of some last minute tech challenges. We’ve all been there. A good strong internet connection in the room you are using will make connecting and engaging your online audience a lot easier and will make for a smooth engagement session.
Natural light can cause reflection on screens in the room that make it hard for people to see what’s being presented on the screen. Be sure to check the space your hybrid engagement will be held in and checking if light can be blocked out if needed.
The quality of the sound in the room is vital. Poor sound quality will almost guarantee that you lose the attention of the audience.
- Try to request a quiet room at the venue
- Make sure there are not mulitple events occurring on the same day in adjoining rooms
- Set up a rule at the beginning of the event about the audience being respectful of whoever is using the microphone: they’re the only one speaking during that time. Microphones can pick up muddled voices in the background where people might be having their own private conversations but this will make it hard for online participants to hear clearly.
3. The right engagement experience for hybrid engagement
A big challenge for hybrid engagement is providing like experiences for those who are inside and outside the room.
Online collaboration tools for everyone
A good way to overcome this challenge is for all participants to use online collaboration tools such as online polling, discussion boards and interactive whiteboards. For those in the room, these can be projected as a live display and those outside the room can view the shared ideas on their device.
Multiple devices for online participants
It is useful to encourage those online to have a second device such as a smartphone to participate in the online activities and use their main device, a laptop or PC, to view the discussion while it’s occurring.
Multiple devices in the room
Bring both audiences together in working groups using the breakout rooms feature on your video sharing platform. For each group, add a mobile device or spare laptop to the online video meeting and d an online participant to the group.
4. Engage equally with both audiences
It’s easy to focus on the people in the room during engagement sessions. But it’s important to bring online participants into the session to ensure they don’t feel left out or disadvantaged for being online.
Remember to have consistent interactions with online participants during room discussions, Q&A’s and including in-person participants in online breakout rooms. Notice if they’re:
- raising hands
- shaking or nodding heads.
Create space in the discussion for them to add their views.
5. Preparation and practice for hybrid engagement
Your preparation will sink or save you.
Give yourself time to:
- think through the structure of the session
- consider what the possible pitfalls might be
- ensure you have all of the equipment you need
- do a practice run before your session to ensure you can easily engage with a person in the room and someone online.
This will help to address any tech issues then and there.
Consider having a co-facilitator for your session to assist with your online participants and any tech issues that could arise.
You can do it.
That is a lot of preparation. Your stakeholders will thank you for it.
If you would like support with planning or facilitating a hybrid engagement event for you or your business, we’d love to talk with you. Please contact us.