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Hybrid Events: a sustainable way to bring people together in a post-COVID world

As the COVID-19 pandemic forces anyone who can work from home to do so, tools for remote working and virtual meetings are being adopted on a massive scale. There is widespread speculation that remote working may become the ‘new normal’ once the crisis has abated; arguably, a greater proportion of our day-to-day professional activities will be conducted online.

But if social distancing is teaching us anything, it’s the value of human connection: in business, as in life, there is no substitute for the power of bringing people together. Humans still largely rely on physical proximity and personal interactions to learn and educate, explore or exchange ideas, and form the trusted relationships needed for problem-solving, negotiating and decision-making. So we’re confident that when some semblance of normality resumes, we’ll see a pendulum swing in appetite and appreciation for face-to-face events.

Extraordinary times call for resourceful solutions

Meanwhile, we’re helping our clients flip the switch from live to virtual events so they can continue to express their key messages to colleagues or customers at a time when communication and cooperation have never been more crucial.

Managing these events seamlessly requires both strong technical and operational expertise to ensure participants have a smooth and productive virtual experience.  We’re currently working with partners to adapt live experiences for virtual delivery via online platforms – from ‘Town Hall’ updates for global, multi-lingual audiences to internal training conferences with multiple concurrent sessions and networking requirements.

As with the delivery of any live event, experienced project management and communication are vital to ensure delegates turn up prepared and ready to engage fully in their virtual experience. It’s also important to review content and branding to ensure it will work for an online-only event. Delivery needs to be concise, interactive and impactful to hold participants’ interest – no ‘death by PowerPoint’ that will give them an excuse to tune out and check emails!  Online speaker training can make a big difference to participant engagement, especially for multi-lingual audiences.

Hybrid events: the best of both worlds

The COVID-19 crisis may have shifted us wholly online for the time being, but once options for live are reinstated, we foresee digital tools being used as a complement to, rather than a substitute for, in-person events. Hybrid events, which combine a live event with an online component, were already becoming one of our industry’s hottest trends. That’s why we have been working proactively (since Corona was just another brand of lager) to identify the sweet spot between virtual and real-world events and develop a hybrid proposition that delivers the best of both worlds. 

Multi-hub hybrid events typically connect groups of participants (rather than distributed individuals) across different cities, countries or continents to share a live, collective experience. There are various ways of configuring presenters and participants and facilitating interactions between hubs, depending on objectives. We see the multi-hub hybrid format as a way to deepen engagement and involvement, rather than simply reaching a wider audience, with programmes specifically designed to drive interaction.

The hallmark of a successful hybrid event is that unlike a virtual event, there are no ‘second class’ audiences. That involves creating identical settings at each location in terms of staging, branding and technical delivery, and enabling people to engage fluidly within and across locations, with multiple event hubs able to broadcast content to each other.

Multi-hub hybrid the TTA way

We’ve packaged the creative, technical and digital production capabilities needed to ensure the smooth delivery of an event format that poses added challenges. A key success factor is our management of the environment in each location – ensuring that each local AV company is fully briefed and uses identical equipment to ensure consistency of technical delivery and a seamless handover between hubs. Careful venue selection is also needed to ensure there is sufficient bandwidth to support a high-quality experience. While we manage the whole programme centrally, we deploy an onsite team at each location to ensure everything runs flawlessly, just as we would any traditional event.

Recent advances in technology have resulted in AV kit becoming smaller, lighter and more affordable, bringing TV broadcast quality within reach of more and more clients. Our solution uses a game-changing ‘black box’ technology that enables professional-grade audio and video feeds to be broadcast live via any popular streaming software – something that would have required trucks’ worth of equipment not so long ago. We’ve also partnered with a market leader in remote event technology that provides a highly sophisticated conference bridge that can serve remote attendees on an industrial scale from a central location.

Uniting audience groups through this multi-hub hybrid format considerably reduces the need for international travel. This not only minimises the cost and CO2 emissions associated with flights, particularly long haul, but eliminates travel downtime and associated fatigue – a productivity boost for time-poor senior professionals. If participants are able to attend in or close to their home city, businesses can either save on accommodation costs or free up budget to expand the invitation to additional participants.

Sustainability is never off the agenda

Once lockdowns are lifted and economic activity resumes, it’s inevitable that greenhouse gas emissions will rebound to pre-COVID levels. The events management industry will continue to face the collective challenge of bringing people together more sustainably to help tackle the slow-motion crisis of climate change.

Most of our clients have ambitious sustainability goals to meet in tandem with business objectives. Many of these are focused on reducing travel to attend in-person meetings, which accounts for a high proportion of an event’s total carbon footprint, with long-haul flights the chief culprit.

We believe that, as the closest thing to getting everyone together under one roof, hybrid meetings will be a key element of sustainable business strategies and, rather than cannibalising the face-to-face event landscape, will actively contribute to its longevity. As event strategists with a focus on sustainable operations, we at TTA are ideally placed to help you determine which format – live, virtual, hybrid or multi-hub hybrid – will give you the greatest return on objectives without costing the Earth.

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