To go hybrid or not?

THIS is the question many associations are now pondering on: whether to organize this year’s events—meetings, training programs, conferences and exhibitions—on a hybrid format or not, as the pandemic shows no let up. The other question, of course, is, “Are associations hybrid-ready?”

This is the gist of the webinar of the Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Belgium Chapter at the Brussels European Association Forum that I attended recently. It was organized by the Brussels-based membership organization,

MPI said a hybrid event comes in three types:

1) hybrid light, where a small group of speakers are in-person in one venue similar to a news broadcast program with anchor persons while participants attend virtually;

2) single-venue hybrid, where a small group of participants and speakers attend face-to-face in one venue and the others virtually; and,

3) multi-venue hybrid, where groups of participants and speakers attend virtually in different locations.

Last year, most associations organized their events mainly in virtual format through video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Webex, Skype and Microsoft Teams. But as technologies improved and with their members expecting new event experiences, a hybrid format is now getting more attention.

There are many considerations in organizing a 2-in-1 hybrid event such as content design and formatting, speaker sourcing, event management system, broadcast and virtual event platform, venue selection and safety and security.

A hybrid event brings forth advantages, e.g., flexibility in terms of time and location, broader audience and programming options, as well as less travel thus reducing carbon footprints. However, it has its challenges, too, such as planning for two events rather than one, technology vendor identification and selection and cost implications.

In terms of cost, add-ons will be on equipment, e.g., filming and broadcasting, technical support, staff resource, and event management platform with additional functionalities like registration, polling, virtual booths, one-on-one networking, streaming system and video on demand.

However, a hybrid event need not be complicated. MPI suggests some entry-level considerations like:

(a) doing away with interaction between the in-person and virtual audiences;

(b) broadcasting  presentations only;

(c) limiting the venue where cameras are set up;

(d) using single camera setups thus reducing technical support; and,

(e) using a simple meeting software.

Certain factors, as follows, need to be considered in organizing hybrid events:

(a) in selecting speakers, doing the session flow, and laying out the venue, think of the virtual attendees first as their situation differs in terms of location and attention span;

(b) in promoting the event, ensure that expectations are met and potential attendees are afforded the option of joining in-person or online;

(c) in making the event last for a longer time, record the sessions for those who were unable to attend as well as for those who attended but may wish to watch the sessions again; and

(d) in selecting a venue, work closely with the venue people to make sure that all necessary equipment, systems, safety and health protocols, and other logistics are in place.

So, are you ready to join the bandwagon and go hybrid for your event this year?

The column contributor, Octavio ‘Bobby’ Peralta, is concurrently the secretary-general of the Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific, Founder & CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives and President of the Asia-Pacific Federation of Association Organizations. The purpose of PCAAE—the “association of associations”—is to advance the association management profession and to make associations well-governed and sustainable. PCAAE enjoys the support of Adfiap, the Tourism Promotions Board, and the Philippine International Convention Center. E-mail: [email protected]

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