Ask any event professional about hybrid event content and you’re likely to get eye rolls...or worse. That’s because once you’ve determined that your event will be hybrid, your content planning and execution job just got more complicated. It’s more than simply creating more sessions.
For starters, you’ll need to create audience-based agendas that will attract and engage both your in-person and virtual audiences. As we’ve discussed in this hybrid event series, these distinct audiences likely have equally distinct content needs. But in addition to mapping out agendas for each audience, you’ll want to determine what programming elements you want to be available to both audiences.
So in addition to determining what content you want to pre-record, it also means choosing which sessions you want to livestream (make available to both in-person and virtual audiences simultaneously). You’ll need the technology and tools to capture and deliver that content to your virtual audience so they can consume it.
Ultimately, each hybrid event’s content strategy and session plan will be as unique as the event itself. However, there are a few common building blocks that can help demystify hybrid content execution. Here, we’ll introduce three key hybrid content building blocks. Once you’ve mastered these, you’re well on your way to delivering a great content experience to all your audiences.
Three key hybrid content building blocks:
- New content types required to service both audiences
- New technologies and tools to produce and deliver your content to your online audiences
- Virtual event platforms where attendees find and experience live and on-demand content
Hybrid Event Content Types
Let’s start with an overview of typical hybrid event content types.
Much like they always have, in-person audiences will primarily consume content live
at keynotes, breakout sessions, training sessions, etc. Early on, consider which of these sessions you want to livestream to your virtual audience. It can be cost-prohibitive to livestream every in-person session to a virtual audience so you may choose to livestream only select marquee content to virtual audiences. You may want to designate certain “livestream” session rooms, outfitted in advance with the required AV support, and schedule any livestream session in these rooms to contain costs and ensure a good online viewing experience.
Increasingly, even in-person attendees are likely to consume recorded sessions to augment their in-person experience. Offering robust digital content to your in-person audience gives the event organizer the ability to extend engagement before, during, and after the event. Perhaps an in-person attendee wants to watch a session they missed later that evening or re-watch a session they found particularly interesting. It’s important to give in-person attendees a digital “home base” where they can easily search for content related to the event and consume it at their convenience.
There is a reason that a live concert feels more immersive and impactful than watching the music video. Live sessions can drive deeper engagement by giving in-person and virtual audiences the sense of something communal and substantial. This often entails livestreaming select in-person sessions, but you can also consider livestreaming sessions exclusively for your virtual audience.
An emcee for your virtual audience can recap key moments and ground virtual attendees in what’s coming up next. “Man-on-the-street” interviews can help capture and stream the excitement of a show floor or even do exclusive interviews with keynote speakers. Livestreaming can be fraught with technical and user experience challenges, so it’s important to have experienced production resources and enterprise-class streaming capabilities to ensure your content looks and sounds great for all your online audiences.
Much of your virtual attendee’s content experience will be via recorded sessions. These sessions can be fully pre-recorded and scheduled for a specific time. However, many event organizers, in an attempt for better audience engagement, opt for Simu-to-live options that play the recorded content but leave time at the end for the presenters to join live for discussion or Q&A. One of the lessons learned in 2020 is that virtual audience engagement and satisfaction requires dynamic, professional-looking content. Similar to your livestream strategy, don’t underpower the production effort.
Technology and Tools for Hybrid Events
Executing a hybrid event requires producing and delivering content across all of these content formats. Most event professionals have experience delivering live content to a live audience. It’s the process of capturing and delivering content to virtual audiences that introduces systems, tools, workflows, and even partnerships that may be new to many planners. As a result, we’ll focus there.
Let’s start with a simplified view of the key systems required for virtual content.
Capture: Recording sessions
Capture is the process of recording the sights and sounds of your session. Like many of your content decisions, your capture tools are largely determined by what type of production quality and experience you want to deliver.
In its simplest form, capture can be sitting down at your computer and recording a presentation on Zoom, something we’ve all done many times by now! These basic recordings are quick and easy to do but can lack the production polish, dynamism, and interactivity that can keep virtual audiences engaged. Typically, these recordings are saved in an RTMP format, which allows them to be easily shared with streaming systems that will deliver the audio and video content to your audience.
For more marquee content, the requirements can be quite sophisticated, with speaker prep rooms, multiple cameras to capture different angles, teleprompters, high-end sound and lighting, and advanced mixing capabilities. Most recording studios are purpose-built with all of these tools. However, if you intend on livestreaming from the hotel session room or conference center, make sure you understand the venue’s infrastructure to support these requirements.
Venues are adapting to hybrid needs
Many venues are investing in upgrading existing space, and even creating new dedicated spaces to handle planners increased needs for livestreaming and recording. Some venues are partnering with full-service production companies who will work with you to understand your requirements and help with on-site AV needs. Their familiarity with the venue can be a big help, but you may also choose to select your own AV provider who can work with you and your hybrid event venue.
Partner with an AV expert
As your production needs get more sophisticated, you should seriously consider partnering with an AV or production company specializing in virtual event production. These companies have deep technical and artistic experience in everything from set design to camera positions to audio and video formatting to optimize it for streaming. While these companies will certainly add to the costs of your event, your content is likely to be far more polished, interactive, and engaging. Your virtual audience will certainly be able to tell the difference.
Design and production
Think of the last newscast you watched on TV. It likely had the professional graphics, intro and outro videos, artful visual transitions from segment to segment, and maybe even a scrolling “what’s next” bar at the bottom of the screen. These elements, managed by a production company, are added to your raw content to give it more polish and keep the viewing audience engaged. Virtual event design and production can make the difference between holding the attention of your online viewing audience, and that audience tuning you out.
Choose the level of production that fits your needs
Production services range from self-service tools up to professional agencies. The choice of which to use depends on your budget and what sessions require enhanced production. To return to our CEO keynote example, you may choose to invest in a professional agency for this session that will take the raw, recorded content, and work with your team to turn it into a high production quality experience. Production companies can help determine the best camera shots to use and stitch these together to keep the content looking dynamic.
They can apply “lower thirds” or other graphics to augment your content and give it polish, and they can help make the transitions from segment to segment look cohesive and smooth. Hiring a production company to work across all your sessions can help the entire event feel like a unified experience, as they are aware of how your entire event’s content fits together.
Self-service production for breakout sessions
It is likely that not all of your hybrid content needs Oscar-award-winning production. For breakout sessions or any programming targeted at a more niche audience, self-service tools can add dynamism and graphical components to spice up recorded content. These technologies allow you to upload your presentation materials, and then select from a series of pre-configured “views” for how that content will look to the viewing audience. This can be particularly useful if you have multiple speakers or want to switch back and forth between side-by-side views speakers and slides. Many of these tools allow you to apply minor graphical elements like Name, Title, etc. to add a degree of professionalism to the experience.
Importantly, the production processes described here can be time-consuming. Many planners underestimate the time it takes to compile, edit, review, and re-edit before all stakeholders are happy with the finished product. For a typical session, this process can take a week or more from the time filming is complete, especially if you are doing this across multiple sessions. Make sure to adjust your schedules accordingly.
Streaming your content
You’ve captured your content and made it look great. Now it’s time to get that content in front of your attendees. Enter, the video hosting and streaming provider, the digital highway between your content and the users who want to see it. Here, livestream or recorded video is uploaded to a centralized hosting location, prepared, and then sent out over the internet, usually via a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to the player where the end-user will watch the content. Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. There’s a lot more here than meets the eye.
Streaming quality impacts engagement
In our daily lives, we’ve all been frustrated by poorly streamed content. The Netflix show that looks fuzzy, buffers, or won’t play at all is a typical example. In a hybrid event setting, the consequences can be all that, and worse. A CEO keynote speech that crashes isn’t just embarrassing, it has commercial and brand consequences. Attendees abandon the event, sponsors are angry. Engagement is lost. Also, if the streams aren’t secure, they can end up on platforms – and in front of people – never intended to see them.
Choose high-quality streaming providers
Reputable video hosting and streaming providers are a critical link in delivering your content. They ensure the streams are delivered with high quality of service (QOS) to eliminate buffering and playback issues and are secure. It is their infrastructure that supports the ability to deliver content to thousands of concurrent users, an essential factor for larger events. They also enable your content to be delivered to multiple device types (e.g. laptops, tablets, phones), have the intelligence to restrict videos to certain classes of users, and provide insight and analytics on video consumption.
Partnering with a video hosting company
There are a few ways to partner with a video hosting and streaming company for your hybrid event. You can reach out to them directly to explore their solutions. Increasingly, these streaming companies are partnering with virtual event platform providers so the streaming is more deeply integrated into the registration systems and the player. This approach also removes the headache of an event planner having to manage multiple vendors using technology with which they may not be familiar. In either case, this hosting and streaming system is essential to the content experience. Be sure you have an enterprise-class partner at your side.
Consume: Virtual Event Platforms
The goal of a well-run hybrid event should be to create two experiences (a virtual experience and an in-person experience) in the context of a single event. An important part of achieving that sense of shared experience is a unified, branded “digital event lobby” where all attendees discover and consume the event’s content. This environment should be relevant to – and usable by – both audiences. Even in a lobby accessible to all attendees, many organizations will want the flexibility to show only certain sessions to certain groups of attendees. Be sure your event platform supports that functionality.
Build a great digital event lobby
For your virtual audience, this digital event lobby provides a home base to easily find and register for sessions. But even the in-person attendee will likely want to access the events’ recorded content, so this hub allows them a place to find and view sessions they may have missed, allowing for continued engagement either at or after the event.
As important as this digital event lobby is for your in-person attendees, it’s essential for your virtual audience. In a very real way, the technology is the venue for your virtual attendees. It’s here where they go to get essential session information, see what sessions are playing now, what sessions are next, dates and times for future sessions. It’s also here where they access livestreamed or recorded content.
The critical “last mile” in the content experience is the player itself. We discussed the importance of the streaming provider in delivering a reliable, high-quality content experience. The viewing environment should be able to support livestreamed or Video on Demand content, as well as simulcasting to allow you to share your live content with social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn Live. For larger events, be sure that the viewing environment can support a larger number of concurrent viewers without buffering or crashing.
Finally, it’s here in the player where your virtual attendees will spend most of their time, and where all your attendees will return to experience on-demand content. As a result, the player itself is an important point of engagement and should be a place where audiences can interact with the content and each other, and where that engagement can be captured.
The Content Bottom Line
Hybrid events require programming for two distinct audiences, each with distinct needs. At the same time, you’ll need the ability to bring those two audiences together in a shared content experience when necessary. This requires not only new content types but the technology and tools to deliver that content from initial content capture to playback.
- Think hard about the best mix of live and recorded content for your audiences. Livestreaming drives great engagement and brings audiences together, but at a cost.
- As much as budget allows, invest in your content’s design and production. Content is the ONLY way virtual audiences experience an event, and also important for in-person audiences after the event.
- For your virtual audience, the technology is the venue. Be sure you have an enterprise-class virtual event platform for your audiences to discover and consume your content.
Key Elements of Hybrid Meetings
- Intro to 6 key elements: Learn about the tremendous improvement in virtual event technology
- Marketing: Targeting different audiences with the right experience
- Venue: Partnering with your venue to deliver safe onsite experiences
- Content: Producing and delivering content for in-person and virtual audiences