How to keep your audience engaged at a hybrid event

As we emerge from lockdown, screen-wearied from months of virtual-only events, the buzz of a live audience is more appealing than ever before. However, the online shift has changed the game when it comes to the events industry: the benefits of virtual meetings are undeniable, from removed venue capacity limits to an immediately accessible, globalised reach.

Enter the hybrid. The blended framework is a powerful and highly effective model for organisers looking to capitalise from both virtual and live experiences. Plus, a smaller in-person audience means you cut down on your use of electricity, paper, and plastic – not to mention CO2 emissions from air travel for your delegates – lowering your carbon footprint in the process.

That said, the unique nature of hybrid meetings requires careful balance and, tech aside, the core question remains: how do I keep my audience engaged? With this in mind, we’ve created a guide to help maximise attendee engagement, so that you and your audience – both in-person and virtual – can get the most out of the hybrid experience.

One event, two audiences

This concept is absolutely vital to any successful hybrid meeting. Whilst the event itself must be cohesive, mentally dividing your audience allows you to identify the needs of each, and, from there, work out how best to engage them. When planning your approach, we suggest splitting the event into three main stages – before, during, and after – and tailoring each step of the journey to both in-person and online groups.

During the event

It’s the little things

It may sound obvious, but with an extra digital aspect to consider, it’s important to make sure the small details aren’t overlooked. Here, venue is key: factoring in lighting, space, temperature – and additional considerations like catering and AV facilities – ensures in-person attendees are comfortable and able to engage fully.

Room layout

When it comes to seating arrangements, the layout of your room will largely depend on the number of in-person delegates attending. For example: with larger conferences, theatre style allows for the maximum seated capacity to be achieved, and, with the focus at the front of the room, there’s no awkward twisting around to view the screen or speaker.

Cabaret style layouts lend themselves to dialogue and discussion. Similarly, U-Shape seating creates an open space for exchange, and, unlike cabaret clusters, ensures all attendees are able to view the front of the room (making for easy screen placement). However, it’s worth bearing in mind that valuable room capacity and seating potential will be lost to accommodate this space, meaning the arrangement might not be suitable for hybrid meetings with higher numbers of in-person attendees.

Room layout will often shape your approach to engaging your virtual audience too, as it will determine the position of the screen and speaker. A central viewpoint helps bring together the room: when your live audience can “see” fellow virtual attendees (and vice versa), it becomes a more immersive experience for all. 

The power of technology

Undoubtedly, the most important aspect of engaging your virtual audience – and synchronising the experience with that of your live attendees – is your choice of tech platform. Fortunately, the pandemic has generated several high-quality options, and there’s now a range of hardware and software tools to help immerse your virtual attendees.

Polls, Q&A sessions, break out rooms and quizzes with real-time live results – displayed on-screen for virtual and live delegates to view – can inject life into online meetings. Platforms like Hopin have even created software packages with hybrid events in mind, to enhance audience interaction and engagement. They offer app store integrations through gamification, increase accessibility through captions and translation, and, using the mobile app, virtual and in-person attendees can connect and converse.

Before the event

Think ahead, add value

Poor conversion rates between registration and actual attendance is a frustratingly common problem for the prospective planner. All too often, individuals sign up but fail to appear on the day – or, if they do, interaction and engagement levels remain dishearteningly low.

This is where a solid pre-event plan comes in. Adding value ahead of the event itself will work to your advantage. There are several ways to achieve this: matching individuals with other registered attendees – a virtual equivalent to in-person networking – to boost ROI and encourage partnerships (DelegateSelect is excellent for this), or emailing digital “goody bags” with valuable resources (such as downloads and guides).

Alternatively, you might want to send out tangible, branded conference packs to incentivise remote delegates; there are eco-friendly options available too, helping you keep your hybrid event environmentally friendly. The idea is to spark interest and kindle enthusiasm beforehand – once you’re invested, you’re far more likely to make your virtual appearance on the day itself!

After the event

Keep the future in mind

Post-event management is crucial to maximising engagement in the long run. Again, Covid has worked wonders for digital resources, and lots of platforms now offer “libraries” for attendees (both live and virtual) to access after the event.

Delegates can download slides, presentations, PDFs, and recorded content (these resource banks can also be used ahead of the event to store agendas and guides). Additionally, opting for Cloud-based storage makes for a user-friendly and sustainable alternative to printed paper copies.

Learn and improve

Moving forwards, gauging and assessing engagement levels enables you to learn for your next event: what worked well, what didn’t, and what could change. In-person, it’s easy to get a sense of how immersed your attendees are – but things get more complicated when you’re trying to ascertain an online audience’s interaction and involvement.

However, the hybrid event’s virtual element can also work to your advantage, with data providing a much more detailed picture of attendee engagement. Platforms like Glisser, for instance, make life easy with a single metric – the Glisser Engagement Index – as part of their engagement solution, utilising a proprietary algorithm to help you to build a picture of your hybrid meeting and improve for future programmes.

Events at W12 Conference London

Looking to organise a stellar hybrid event? W12 Conferences is a contemporary venue in West London equipped with cutting-edge AV facilities and an expert in-house management team. Whether you’re looking to arrange an intimate meeting or deliver a large-scale conference, the venue offers five rooms to choose from: capacity ranges from 5 up to 150, providing calm and collaborative spaces no matter the size of your event. To learn more, make an enquiry, or pay us a visit, get in touch here or call 020 3313 1606.