MEET THE CHANGE: How Germany’s First Hybrid Event Achieved Success

MEET THE CHANGE

With their first hybrid event MEET THE CHANGE, the German meetings industry association MEET GERMANY needed to deliver an innovative event format. The goal was to make change tangible, to trade key learnings from the past months, to bundle forces and take away fears. With this one-day event, which took place on August 27, 2020 in Berlin and online, the organizers proved that courage pays off. They demonstrated that not only are on-site events changing, but that while including an online audience presents new challenges, this offers new opportunities for planners, speakers and sponsors. In this case study we will show how the EventMobi Virtual Space made this hybrid event possible and what learnings event planners can take away from it.

“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

57 Delegates on Site • 15,300 Page Views inside Virtual Space • 625 Online Attendees • 420 Attendees Logged into Platform

The Experience on Site

As one of the first on-site events in Germany since the beginning of the Corona pandemic, MEET THE CHANGE took place on August 27, 2020 at the Humboldt Carré in Berlin. On-site check-in was contactless, with visitors scanning their tickets on their own and then receiving 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 on site, the production experts at Kuchem Konferenz Technik produced a professional, entertaining live stream for MEET THE CHANGE that enabled online attendees to be in the middle of the action. This required quite a technical set up:

An AV technician sits behind a set up of several laptops, screens and controllers
© MEET THE CHANGE pictures by Oliver Wachenfeld

The EventMobi Virtual Space: A Central Hub for Online 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 the EventMobi Virtual Space. 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 became a collective experience thanks to the vivid exchange through 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 were kept outside.

The EventMobi Virtual Space used for MEET THE CHANGE: A central video player with a menu bar on the left and a live chat on the right

5 Tips for Successful Hybrid Events

Hybrid events – i.e. events taking place on-site and online at the same time – are often called the event format of the future. While attendees can meet in person on-site, online events make it possible to reach a large audience anywhere in the world. This not only saves attendees time and travel expenses, but also offers them additional flexibility to either participate on-site or from the comfort of their own homes, depending on the situation.

1. Hybrid Events Are Actually Two Events!

A common misunderstanding around hybrid events is the assumption that there is barely any additional effort involved in broadcasting an on-site event to a remote audience as a live stream. MEET THE CHANGE, however, proved that in order for a hybrid event to succeed, it is necessary to plan two separate events, especially when it comes to content. Online and offline attendees have different needs, behaviors and ways of interacting. While it is easy for on-site 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. In practice, this meant that there were two agendas on the EventMobi virtual platform, with only the relevant agenda being visible for the respective group of attendees, online or offline.

A cameraman films two speakers in conversation holding microphones
Welcoming the online attendees from the designated studio | © MEET THE CHANGE pictures by Oliver Wachenfeld

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 session chat feature throughout the entire program. The chat quickly became a place for lively conversation, especially 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 platform. 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 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, attendees using the virtual event platform 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.

A screenshot of a list of videos with the number of plays next to each one
Analytics for on-demand video content

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.

Actor Senay Gueler and Andreas Grunszky from the agency BEEFTEA are sitting in chairs recording an interview
Andreas Grunszky from the agency BEEFTEA and actor Senay Gueler during a live podcast recording as part of MEET THE CHANGE

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 videoconferencing tools.

Conclusion

Despite the lively discussions on site 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 online viewers 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. A live chat during the stream is essential – because people not only love to laugh, chat and discuss on site, but also online. The biggest challenge, however, is understanding hybrid events as a completely new format that requires much more planning, technical know-how and different forms of engagement than traditional on-site events. But one thing MEET THE CHANGE made clear: With good teamwork and a lot of courage, anything is possible!