March 23, 2022
By Mike Fletcher

Education in uncertain times is difficult enough but when it comes to celebrating a graduation, the well-being and safety of graduates and their families should be as important as ensuring a memorable and rewarding milestone in a student’s development journey. 

That’s why those educational institutions, which invested in virtual event solutions for careers fairs, lockdown tuition, and education conferences during the past two years, are now offering a blend of live-streamed and pre-recorded commencement ceremonies for everyone to participate in.

Hybrid graduations, which combine both the in-person ceremony and virtual event elements, are ideal for remote students and climate-conscious relatives who may feel uncomfortable about flying from one State to another.

By giving families the choice to attend or watch from the comfort and safety of their own homes, high schools, colleges, and universities are contributing to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) targets and making graduation accessible for all.

In order to successfully blend virtual elements with the pomp of an in-person graduation ceremony, planners should plan activity around the following four pillars - Audience, Content, Live, and Community.

Let’s look at each in turn.

Audience

Is your online audience a mix of graduate families, friends, and relatives or will remote students be participating in the ceremony to receive their certifications as well?

If your audience is non-participatory, as a planner you can focus on the viewer experience elements such as camera angles, the live stream, pre-recorded messages from teachers or heads of faculty, plus how you communicate what’s happening on-stage so that your audience can follow proceedings.

If you have virtual graduates, however, in addition to the viewer experience elements, you’ll need a two-way visual solution so that students can be shown on screens at the in-person ceremony and be applauded for their achievements.

If selecting individual graduates from an online audience and showing them live on-screen at the venue is too complex or expensive, consider pre-recording them receiving their certificates.

Edited footage of students walking across the stage and receiving their diplomas can then be incorporated into the event design, along with short acceptance speeches or perhaps a compilation of student highlights.

Content

Once you’ve designed these virtual elements of your ceremony around your audience type, you can start to layer-on content that will engage, surprise, and excite the online viewer.

One of the greatest advantages of a hybrid graduation event is the ability to bring in additional speakers or invite attendees who may not have been able to travel or attend in-person.

Expanding your reach to recruit noteworthy alumni, parents, and other community leaders to complete an epic speaker line-up will make students feel inspired about their next chapter. 

Consider setting up a digital guestbook so that viewers watching the stream can leave kind words and congratulatory messages, which can be shared with graduates.

Hire a professional emcee, give them a studio backdrop or a broadcast vantage point at the in-person ceremony and make them an integral part of the pre-planning and content design.

This virtual commentator will keep your online audience informed and entertained as the live stream proceedings play out. They could also curate virtual-only content such as live behind-the-scenes footage of the students getting ready or the pre-recorded interviews with teachers and faculty heads.

Their broadcast-led skills will give viewers a feeling of familiarity and comfort, as though they’re watching a live event on TV. Personalized elements such as ‘shout-out’ requests in the platform’s chat panel will add fun and engagement to the emcee experience.

Live

In any hybrid event environment, a majority of attendees are likely to be online so always brief on-stage presenters to speak to both audiences and ensure your production partner has different camera angles in place to provide a higher standard of broadcast.

Your graduation ceremony may feature a commencement speech or address. If so, make sure the keynote speaker acknowledges those watching online and positions any autocue at the same eye-level as the camera so that virtual viewers will feel connected and engaged.

When it comes to camera placement in the venue, consider designing the main stage like a television studio, with a camera tracking across the front to capture students as they walk across the full length of the stage to collect their diplomas.

Be conscious, however, not to obscure the view of any in-person audience member, so consider all sight-lines (both virtual and physical) carefully.

When discussing broadcasting the ceremony with your platform partner and live-streaming provider, remember to ask questions relating to reliability, scale, playback, and support.

8 things to ask your streaming provider:

  • how do they handle failover?
  • how many concurrent users can the platform support?
  • what’s the largest event ever run on the platform?
  • Is the stream intelligent enough to adapt to the bandwidth capability of every single person and maintain an acceptable stream quality for everyone?
  • Is the stream compatible with more players than just the one it comes with?
  • Can you restrict event access by geography, domain, or IP address?
  • Is day of event support included in the streaming price?
  • Are there other major events running on the same day as mine, which will require your support team?

Post ceremony, perhaps as the graduates are filing out of the venue, the emcee could speak to friends and family as part of the virtual broadcast. These segments would capture the emotion of having witnessed the live ceremony and could be replayed to graduates as part of an on-demand highlights package.

Finally, don’t forget to deliver diplomas, yearbooks, alumni merchandise, etc, and allow any virtual graduates to order their caps and gowns prior to the ceremony, encouraging them to post images on grad school social channels.

Community

By definition, hybrid means that all content can transition online and be used to grow and develop a community of school leavers and graduates who can look back on this memorable and rewarding milestone for years to come.

If possible, seek ways to incorporate normal senior year and graduation traditions into your virtual celebrations. For example, if your school normally does a group photo of students donning sweatshirts from their college acceptances — ask remote students to take their own photo and submit it to be featured on the website.

The hybrid experience no longer begins and ends with the physical event. Planners could prolong the commencement ceremony celebrations by offering online image galleries, video highlights, behind-the-scenes footage and social group pages for families to keep in touch, plan reunions and share the next phases of their graduate’s journey.

In conclusion

Hybrid is the more sustainable format of choice for all planners looking to build reach, engagement, and a strong on-demand content offer.

It may be a steep learning curve and it may require additional spending but by planning online elements against each of our four pillars, and by maximizing the functionality of the Cvent Attendee Hub, your hybrid graduation ceremonies will not only come top of the class for years to come but they’ll also be remembered for allowing students and their families to celebrate success and face the future with pride.

Mike Fletcher

Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor.

He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.

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