With the expected increase in hybrid events comes a unique challenge: balancing two different audience types. Not only do you have people in person watching your event unfold, but you also have attendees behind their computer screens that you must cater to as well. In this episode, Devin Carver, the Director of Sales & Marketing at Bishop-McCann, explains how to master audience engagement for hybrid. Topics include:
- What both live and virtual audiences expect from your event
- What is re-entry anxiety and how to alleviate it
- What to consider for a hybrid communications plan
- What are ways to bring both audiences together
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Hi, and welcome to The Event's Experience, where we take a deep dive into everything event planning. I work for Bishop-McCann, an agency devoted to creating JOY through meetings, incentives, and events for big name brands. On this podcast, myself and our company's experts will discuss all things events, so keep listening to hear all about the latest tips and trends for virtual, live, and hybrid events.
Hi, everyone! I am here with Devin Carver, the director of sales and marketing here at Bishop-McCann with eight years of experience in the industry, and today, we're going to discuss how to best handle audience engagement for hybrid events and why it's so important to understand each type to have a successful event. So thank you for joining me today, Devin!
Yeah, of course! Thanks for having me on, Brenna.
So as many of us in the industry know, we are expecting a drastic increase in hybrid events in the near future. With hybrid comes a unique challenge, and that's balancing these two different audience types. You have the virtual component but also in-person, and everyone has a different level of comfort. Some people are ready to get back out into the world, and others are used to being holed up at home in their pajama pants 24/7. So, Devin, what do you think is the first thing to take into account when considering these respective audiences?
I think this is such a great question, Brenna, because I think it's really important to consider that they really are two different audiences, and they're expecting two different things and have separate goals. So for your virtual attendees for the last year, we've been consuming really high-quality educational content. That's been kind of the ongoing trend for all of the conferences that we've seen— not just educational content but also high-end keynote speakers and really high-quality entertainment. We've been expecting quality content, and I think that's still the key driver for our virtual audiences. Back in 2019, we were able to get away with more general content that spoke to all audiences, but really ramped it up with networking and all the other different components that come along with live programs. It's just not the same anymore, and your virtual audience expects something very different. For your in-person audience, they're going to go back to being focused on networking. I think all of us have been holed up for a year plus. We're ready to see people, and we're ready to get back out there and make new connections. I think what's going to be the biggest challenge is making these audiences not feel separate and feel like they're still getting a really great, high-quality experience at your program.
So just making sure that it doesn't feel like two separate events, making sure that it comes together and has this whole, cohesive feel.
Right, exactly. That's exactly what I mean.
So when you were talking about in-person audiences and how networking is going to be a huge component that we're going to be pushing for because we haven't seen people—I don't know about you, but after being at home for so long, the idea of networking with people can be a little bit daunting because I've just been at home for a really long time by myself. So do you think that there will be a lot of reentry anxiety for these attendees?
Yeah, absolutely, Brenna. As somebody who literally talks to people all day long in the sales role, I will be nervous, too, getting back out there. I think as excited as everyone is, I don't think anyone expects it to be quite the same as it was in the good old days a couple years ago. Reentry anxiety, I think, is a real deal. It's kind of two different things. So we've got those who are still worried about COVID-19, maybe are or aren't vaccinated, and maybe feel a little bit uncomfortable about cleaning protocols and things like that. And then again, the people who have maybe fallen out of social skills from the last year. I know we've all been able to be a little bit weird in our home offices for a while wearing our fuzzy slippers.
So I think the first step is to acknowledge those fears and, more importantly, set communication standards up front in any of your pre-event and even on-site program materials. I think it's important to be delicate, but state that even the most outgoing individual may be a little bit out of practice. Encourage opportunities where attendees can connect virtually prior to being on site and maybe get connected with people before they go. And then, of course, communicating about your new procedures, your cleaning protocols, any mask policies, and just being very open, honest, and straightforward with your attendees before they come on site.
Yeah, just to have that transparency from the very beginning. Making sure everybody's on the same page to clear up any issues.
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, right when COVID started, we saw a lot of interesting things with different badge colors or different bracelet colors that signified certain things, like green was “Come give me hugs; I'm all for it.” Yellow was “Keep your distance.” And red was “I'm staying far away from you with a mask on.”
Don't touch me. Don't come near me.
Yeah, exactly! There are definitely different ways you can be creative. There's also a really cool badge company—I think it's called Proxfinity—and they have some six feet buzzers and when you get really close to people, they start to light up and tell you to back up. So there's definitely different things you can consider when you're on site.
So can you elaborate a little bit more about the communications for a hybrid event when you're considering that virtual and in-person component? What are some things to think about when you're planning that?
Yeah, I think communication, in any event, is the most important element. Obviously, we've got to communicate some of our cleaning protocols and things like that. But I think more than anything, to make sure that an event feels like one cohesive program, the most important thing is to really establish your presence and your voice. For example, at Bishop-McCann, we are very playful in our voice. We are giggling on our podcast. It's our mission to create JOY, so we prefer straightforward language. We don't take ourselves very seriously. Our voice is playful and concise. We don't use a lot of industry jargon, or at least we try not to. And just try to understand the mood of the audience. Be in control of the top takeaways that you want them to get out of it and you want them to go home with. Be very consistent about it.
On top of that, I think it's extremely important to create a consistent communications plan. The majority of what we have to lean on in the weeks leading up to the event are the words that we write. They should be interesting, and they should also be concise. Then really plan the communications out.
For example, how do you read emails? Most of us kind of skim. I'm totally guilty of being an email skimmer—reading what stands out. Just make sure you're constructing a timeline, and you are ensuring that messages are sent spaced apart. They're not back to back. Take time to do some research on making sure that you're not conflicting with any other media conferences or things of that nature. So just make sure that you're taking your time and effort into a consistent and solid communications plan.
So talking more about how we want to make sure this is cohesive and that nobody feels left out, even if they are watching this event from their couch—we want to make sure that everybody feels together, connected, and that it's one event—so what are some ways to bring those two audiences together and to make it feel like one, single event?
Yeah, I think that's a great question. The way that I like to think about it when I'm talking to prospective clients is building parallels on each other and seeing where those two audiences converge. For your live program, they're pretty used to having a mobile app. So if you're not using a mobile app for your virtual audience, maybe you should consider that or at least an integrated mobile app website, so that way, people can create audience profiles. They can message one another regardless of the audience that they're in.
There are a couple of different things you can do for gifting services: maybe your on-site gifting reflects the gifts that the virtual audience is going to get. Maybe host a welcome cocktail reception in the live space, and maybe you do a pre-event, create-your-own-cocktail class for your virtual attendees. Some of your sponsor presentations might have on-demand virtual presentations in an exhibit setting, so people are seeing the same content. Then stream some of your main stage presentations, and maybe do separate breakouts for your virtual audience than you do for your live audiences. I think for some of your live audiences you should look at doing roundtables and working lunches. I mean, that's really the reason they're there—to engage with one another and to network.
So kind of thinking about some of those things that do make the audience different, but then bringing them back together for streamed keynote sessions and making sure that they feel a part of it. Then your live keynote can say, "Hi, we're so excited you guys are here, and welcome to our virtual audience! We're glad that you're joining us from home today." And I think one thing you should consider, too, is since the virtual audience is missing out on a little bit of that in-person engagement, I think you can consider making the virtual component downloadable at home. You can see sessions on demand, and maybe that's additional for your in-person audience as well. Maybe they have the option to upgrade their pass, so they can see all of the virtual, on-demand sessions later. It's a great way to generate more revenue, too. I think there's a lot to consider when you start thinking about it. Another thing to do is tap into those mobile apps and do some polling through Q&A on the app. You can quiz people, see their opinions, and maybe do some fun trivia and things like that between both audiences to get them involved.
Thank you so much for those really great insights into hybrid events, and I think it's become really clear just how important it is for hybrid to think about both those audiences. You want to make sure that you are creating an experience that's memorable for both audiences. You don't want anybody feeling left out or that they're not being considered when they're coming to your event. So thank you so much for joining us today and for helping us out!
Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Brenna! And I really appreciate it. And I look forward to all the hybrid events in the future!
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