MEET THE CHANGE: How Germany’s First Hybrid Event Achieved Success
With their first hybrid event, MEET THE CHANGE, the German meetings industry association MEET GERMANY needed to deliver an innovative event format to discuss the changing events industry landscape, trade key learnings gathered over the preceding months, and join forces to alleviate fears from the ongoing uncertainties. This this one-day event took place on August 27, 2020 with both an on-site component in Berlin virtual access for remote attendees and the organizers proved that courage pays off. They demonstrated that on-site events can adapt from tried-and-tested programs and that while including an online audience presents new challenges, adding a virtual component offers new opportunities for planners, speakers and sponsors.
“A successful kick off for the important exchange about possibilities and limits of digital solutions in the events industry.”Michael Hapka, Managing Director, Mercedes Benz Arena Berlin
MEET THE CHANGE in Numbers
The In-Person Experience
As one of the first in-person events in Germany since the beginning of the pandemic, MEET THE CHANGE took place on August 27, 2020 at the Humboldt Carré in Berlin. Event check-in was contactless, and visitors scanned their own tickets to receive their personalized badge. 57 industry delegates were seated in comfortable armchairs at a safe distance, listening intently to the lively panel discussion with industry leaders. BerlinCuisine presented delicious snacks in accordance with hygiene regulations, while still managing to exceed expectations in terms of taste and visual presentation. At first glance – business as usual! But from the organizer’s point of view, one thing was different: While AV service providers were primarily there to coordinate light, sound and presentations in-person, the production experts at Kuchem Konferenz Technik produced a professional, entertaining live stream for MEET THE CHANGE that enabled online attendees to be right in the middle of the action. This required quite a technical set up:
The EventMobi Virtual Event Space: A Central Hub for Virtual Attendees
A pleasant atmosphere in the room, suitable seating, atmospheric lighting and the right equipment – all these factors encourage attendees of offline events to listen attentively and actively participate. For remote attendees, this physical space is replaced by a virtual one – and with the right tools and tactics, it’s easy to create the same level of engagement!
The online component of MEET THE CHANGE took place in a fully customized Event Space created using the EventMobi Hybrid Events Platform. From the very first moment, the platform wowed attendees with a cohesive design concept that was in keeping with MEET GERMANY’s colorful branding. Apart from customizing colors, fonts and the home screen design, content sections could be added or hidden with just a few clicks. From attendee and speaker profiles, to the detailed agenda and interactive features, remote attendees had everything they needed to stay up to date and be an active part of the event. The live stream was directly embedded in the platform and offered in-person and virtual attendees a shared experience thanks to the lively exchanges in the live chat. To ensure that only registered attendees were able to participate online, a login was required to enter the platform. This way, the event remained exclusive and uninvited guests remained outside.
5 Tips for Successful Hybrid Events
Hybrid events – i.e. events that take place in-person and online at the same time – allow event organizers to reach a much larger audience than strictly in-person events. By offering attendees the flexibility to participate regardless of their location and travel budget, this format is the most inclusive as no member will be left behind.
1. Create Customized Content for Each Audience
While some in-person sessions can be live streamed directly to a virtual audience, MEET THE CHANGE realized that online and offline attendees have different needs, behaviors and ways of interacting. While it is easy for in-person attendees to concentrate on a keynote session while sitting in comfortable chairs and surrounded by like-minded people, for an online audience it’s considered best practice to get them to interact every three minutes, as the attention span in front of a screen is much shorter.
The MEET THE CHANGE organizers took that to heart: In a separate studio room just a few steps from the main stage, the online attendees were welcomed by their own designated host, who kept addressing them in between during short breaks in the program on-site. This way, there was never a gap in the program for the online audience. This ensured that at no time did they feel like an afterthought, but instead like an important part of the event. Two agendas were created within the EventMobi hybrid event platform, with only the relevant agenda visible in the mobile Event App for in-person attendees, and Virtual Event Space for online attendees.
Offering an uninterrupted program is particularly important while the attendees on site are having their networking lunch. This was solved by simultaneously offering Pecha Kucha sessions for online attendees.
Alternative ideas for the virtual lunch break:
- Deliver catering to remote attendees and open a virtual break room where attendees can meet to eat together
- Live cooking show: Send the shopping list for a delicious lunch meal to online attendees in advance and let a celebrity chef or catering partner give live cooking instructions
- Your remote attendees can also use a break: If it fits the event type, a break with live music or a short desk workout can have a refreshing effect
- Roving reporters: Seeing and getting to know the audience on site makes the difference between a successful hybrid event and passively consuming a video stream. Send a host and a camera team on a live meet-and-greet tour during the lunch break and ask attendees on site for their first impressions.
2. Use Moderation Features to Engage Online Attendees
Interactivity is the key to success – this is true for on-site events, but even more so for virtual events. Planners need to ensure that online attendees not only listen attentively, but also join in the discussion, ask questions and participate in activities. Only then will the event successfully withstand distractions and remain memorable.
MEET THE CHANGE used EventMobi’s Live Session Chat feature throughout the entire program. The chat quickly developed into a stream of animated conversations, particularly during the panel discussion. The ability to respond directly to comments from others via a thread and to react with emojis helped online attendees to express their opinions and emotions. Online host Ralf Neugebauer took part in the active exchange and brought the online community’s comments to the on-site stage in real time. This way, the remote attendees were not only ‘present’ on site, but any technical difficulties mentioned in the chat could also be quickly and easily passed on to the local AV service provider. By repeatedly involving and addressing the virtual audience, they will feel just as important as the attendees on-site.
3. Give Sponsors a Stage
MEET THE CHANGE was made possible and shaped by its sponsors and partners. By actively involving these companies, the event organizers cleverly demonstrated that sponsors not only want to market their products and services, but that they are excellent storytellers and sources of knowledge that can be incorporated into the program. With the current changes the event industry is going through due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the exchange of ideas and experiences is more important than ever. MEET THE CHANGE sponsors were invited to present their company in the form of a Pecha Kucha session, using exciting video, storytelling and interview formats. This way the partners received valuable airtime and for the planners it provided an easy way to fill program gaps for the remote audience. Smart sponsors also made use of the interactive features, answering audience questions or raffling prizes to attendees who could answer a trivia question in the chat at lightning speed.
4. Adapt the Virtual Platform to the Event Lifecycle
Your virtual event platform is the digital home for your event – not only during the event, but also before and after. You don’t want to offer your online audience just a static page with a live stream, but a dynamic event experience. Therefore, you’ll need to adapt the content to the audience’s needs at each stage of the event lifecycle.
Before the event, it was especially important for the organizers of MEET THE CHANGE to provide information about the activities on site and the available engagement features. A banner located both on the home screen and in the menu directed visitors straight to the live stream.
During the live stream, interactivity was key. In the live session chat, event planners discussed the future of the events industry – parallel to the panel discussion on site. The Social Media Wall for the hashtag #meetthechange also stimulated conversation on social networking sites, connecting attendees in front of the screen with those on site.
After the event, virtual attendees had two key questions: Will there be recordings of the sessions? And where can I find the presentation slides? Although the approximately 5-hour event was produced as a continuous live stream, MEET THE CHANGE adhered to the Netflix principle when publishing the recordings: In order for viewers to be able to watch content easily and at their leisure, it is better to break it up into smaller morsels. Attendees who were unable to attend the day of the event or wanted to watch certain content again had direct access to the recordings of the session they were looking for, instead of needing to fast forward through several hours of video material. For the organizers, this also meant easy insight into what on-demand content was most popular.
Presentation slides were easily accessible via a document library. It is also recommended to conduct an attendee survey after a hybrid event in order to collect feedback from both groups of attendees. Simply sending a notification within the platform and an email reminder helped the MEET THE CHANGE organizers to achieve a high response rate.
5. Combine Formats
We all know that sitting in front of a screen for long periods of time can become monotonous and tiring at some point. This means the event planner should mix different formats to keep attendees alert and engaged. MEET THE CHANGE has shown how it’s done by switching back and forth between the studio host and the stage program as well as integrating interviews and video formats.
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The live podcast recording with actor Senay Gueler, which was originally intended for listening purposes, thus became an interview in a lounge atmosphere, with remote attendees being given the chance to attend as exclusive guests.
MEET GERMANY proved particularly adept at combining different formats: Whenever an interactive workshop took place on site, host Ralf Neugebauer, equipped with digital whiteboards, addressed the remote attendees in a videoconferencing format, making sure they were just as engaged as the attendees on site. The EventMobi platform offered full flexibility for these different formats: It’s possible to embed a native live stream via RTMP as well as offer on-demand content and use video conferencing tools.
Despite the lively discussions in-person and online, all event planners attending MEET THE CHANGE agreed on one thing: Hybrid events open up new possibilities and are here to stay. In order to successfully involve virtual attendees and avoid boredom in front of the screens, it is important to think about the attendee experience of this group and to give impulses through lots of interaction and mixed formats. Leveraging live session chat during the stream is essential – because attendees love to laugh, chat and network on-site and online. While hybrid events require different engagement strategies and technical know-how than traditional in-person events, one thing MEET THE CHANGE made clear: With good teamwork and a lot of courage, anything is possible!