Hybrid events offer many benefits for both personal and virtual participants – especially the opportunity to participate on their own terms, in a way that suits the individual needs of each person. It also means that your team may need to redouble its efforts to make a hybrid gathering inclusive and accessible to all participants, regardless of how you join. That’s where I need to start.
1. Use the Registration Forms to Your Advantage.
The most effective way to meet the needs of all participants is also the simplest: just ask! Use the registration forms to ask each participant what they need regarding the accessibility of the event. Depending on how a participant joins, these needs can range from live subtitles and other visual aids to accommodation for dietary restrictions and body mobility. Most registration companies allow form customization, so consider creating separate forms for each participant type, or leave the section open and let guests enter their own needs.
It’s a strategy used by Judy Lee, global head of experiential marketing for Pinterest, for the brand’s recent virtual summit. “During the email invitation, we asked our participants if they had accessible accommodations. And while the total percentage of requests has been low, it’s a good place to signal to [various] communities that we think about them and build for them in our experiences,” she says.
2. Take into account the different Price levels for personal and virtual Participants.
A big advantage of Virtual is that it eliminates travel and accommodation costs for those facing financial difficulties-which opens up their event to a wider and diverse audience, both geographically and demographically. Some events also offer virtual components at free or discounted Prices, while others offer a variety of price levels, each with different levels of access, allowing attendees to participate in a way that suits them.
“Offering exclusive content to virtual attendees will have tremendous value, as guests will meet again in person,” Notes Matthew Saravay, President of Wizard Studios in New York. “One concept we have presented to our clients is behind-the-scenes Interviews. Virtual attendees can post questions in real time during presentations, and then, when the presenter jumps off the stage, they can be met by a host backstage to ask Interview-style questions after the presentation, which were sent by virtual attendees exclusively to that virtual audience.”
Ultimately, the most important thing is to make sure that no group feels second-class citizen-that your event offers value, no matter how someone participates (or how much money they have invested).
3. Don’t prioritize one group’s accessibility requirements over another’s—and rely on ideas that work for both groups.
While accessibility to personal events has long been a priority for event professionals, the virtual world has its own considerations that are no less important. Most of the best virtual platforms now offer built-in accessibility features such as Alt text for photos, screen reader compatibility, real-time sign interpretation, color and brightness adjustments, post-event transcripts, and more. “Our customers are growing their global presence, which is why we use The Interactio translation app,” adds Cheryl Gentry, founder and CEO of Glow Global Events in New York. “We also used built-in image-in-image ASL translators for all screen conferencing.”
An extra bonus? Since you already offer these options to virtual attendees, it’s easier to include them for personal attendees-whether you’re hard of hearing, speak another native language, so you get subtitles, or even sit away from the stage. On-site attendees can also use these virtual options if they want to see a repeat of a session they missed or just need a Break. For example, at the last hybrid meeting of the National Association of Workforce Boards, speeches and breakout sessions were available live for all attendees, “including those who were on the scene but may have had meetings on Capitol Hill or just wanted a Break from getting together,” says Stacy Heit, producer of the event.
4. Use the Format to bring together a diverse group, both demographically and geographically.
Personal events, especially multi-day conferences, can be difficult for people with family responsibilities or people living internationally, so adding a virtual component can only promote the exchange of ideas. And it also goes beyond the participants.
At virtual events where speakers and attendees come from all over the world, there’s no excuse for all your panelists to come from the same place or population. “Dynamic presenters who make their audience want more should always be the main focus,” says Saravay. “This applies to whether a moderator can participate in person or not.”
Use the virtual sphere to ensure that each participant is represented—and encourage stakeholders to ask questions from both target groups. Other things to keep in mind: use your virtual events platform to host online and personal attendees in the same escape room, or organize an ongoing discussion or discussion group that personal attendees can also join. (Just make sure it’s accessible to Smartphones so guests aren’t tied to their laptops.)
5. plan to host different styles of networking and learning.
Much of the networking at personal events is done via late-night drinks, which can be a challenge for participants who do not consume alcohol, are introverts, or have hearing problems or other body impairments. For hybrid events, the new Technology means that networking can take place between personal and virtual attendees, making them more guided and less spontaneous—and yes, that can be a good thing. With pre-scheduled hybrid sessions, live moderators or other tools can ensure that all participants can be involved, whether with a dedicated moderator that ensures everyone has time to speak, or with sign language interpreters, live subtitles and much more.
But don’t forget the value of a few moments of surprise and fun, advises J. R. Spiess, president and CEO of event production company The 180 Group in St. Louis.Paul, Minn. “Virtual audiences need the same engaging options as personal audiences, so we make sure you have the ability to connect in person, look for friends, meet in a personal group chat or even’ go to the Bar ‘ and start a conversation.”
The same kind of planning can also benefit your educational sessions. Not everyone is good at absorbing information in real time; some do it best by watching a rehearsal, pausing, adding captions, etc. these options are usually built into virtual event platforms and can be made available to personal attendees who wish to have more time to record the information in their own time.