MGM Resorts’ head of events shares tips for moving into a future where face-to-face and digital blend seamlessly.
While hybrid meeting technology has long existed, the pandemic circumstances certainly brought the format to the forefront. Yes, this type of structure means extra work for planners—but it’s also a huge opportunity. And it’s not going away.
As industry professionals, this pivot really allows us to chart our journey and make meetings and events incredibly relevant, going into the future. High-end virtual components help people convene more frequently, share differently, recruit differently, sell differently.
We’re now past the initial panic that caused people to freeze when the pandemic first emerged. It’s time to focus on how we can pivot with the circumstances and utilize technology to enhance the experience further. We’re not trading face-to-face for virtual or vice versa; we’re helping people engage more often and better than ever. To help, I’d like to share four lessons I’ve learned and implemented with our clients during my tenure as Vice President of MGM Resorts Event Productions, MGM’s in-house event design and decor agency responsible for hybrid meeting production.
Plan two meetings.
I caution against viewing hybrid as an add-on or an afterthought. Do not underestimate the effort it’s going to take to create experiences for both online attendees and those in the room. That said, do not plan them separately as they are entirely intertwined entities.
You have to think through how you’re going to make these two groups feel connected. Say everyone is watching the same speaker beginning at 10 a.m. Well, what happens at 10:45 a.m. when that speaker ends? The people in the room are naturally going to circulate for a post-event chat over a coffee cup. What happens for those on their laptops which have the same inclination to powwow with colleagues? They’re going to need a functional and rewarding break time as well. So we always need to think about ways to make that time meaningful and fully engaged.
Test the experience.
My advice is to test, test, test—and then test again. Try it out on folks. Ensure that the experience you think the folks are having at home is indeed the one they’re having. We only know that by testing and putting ourselves in our virtual and our face-to-face attendees’ shoes and asking others to participate in the process, too.
If you’re an association with a board, perhaps a couple of board members might want to be part of a little pilot group. If you’re trying to test attention span, try it on your children. Make sure the directions are easily understood. The more buttons you can push in advance, the better. Whatever is meaningful for the experience that you’re trying to have, by all means, test it.
Focus on engagement.
It can be hard enough to keep your attendees in the room actively engaged in the conversation; doing it for the folks online obviously poses new challenges. First, remember that you may not have 100 percent of their attention—they’re trying to balance work and life—and that’s okay. You need to think about your content as bite-sized pieces. They can make it through a 30-minute sitcom or a 20-minute YouTube video, so think about your content with a similarly episodic approach.
The second thing I would recommend is to foster engagement and two-way dialogue in every manner possible. Polling questions, the chat function, your live conversation breakout groups—anything that makes an attendee really feel part of the action in real-time.
Make sure you’re getting feedback. Do they feel engaged, and are they able to communicate if they have a question or suggestion? Providing an avenue for feedback is going to be essential to keeping folks engaged. Maybe it’s the chat functionality. Perhaps it’s a survey at the end of the day. Maybe it’s a monitored help desk for questions or concerns. There are a lot of ways to get that feedback, formally and informally.
But I think it’s imperative that whatever is chosen, it’s responsive to what people are asking for and that the method is publicized to all participants, so they know that their feedback is both welcome and highly solicited. The critical message to communicate is that we care about all attendees, no matter where they are sitting.
Understand the hybrid value proposition.
Rather than a threat to live events, hybrid meetings are additive. They offer better access. They help attendees beat obstacles related to family obligations, financial obligations. They allow more people to participate. When you’re looking for great ideas and opportunities to brainstorm and network, the more folks that you have engaged, the better the outcome for all.
As a meeting producer, it’s great to be able to say, “People were engaged with my content for 48 hours.” But where does it go after that? Hybrid meetings provide a streamlined channel for giving extended life to the content you worked so hard to pull together. It’s going to be recorded with better sound quality and ready for the small screen, so it’s easier to put on more platforms that people at home can share faster.
Plus, when you add a digital component, you have incredible data at your fingertips: You know how many people dialed in, what they do, how long they stayed, and if they participated in the chat. You can watch consumer behavior and mine in-depth data to inform decisions.
Hybrid is not going away. This is not a moment in time. You can’t put the genie back into the bottle, and I don’t know that anybody’s going to want to. It’s a lot of work for planners, but it’s overall positive for the industry as a whole, and we’re excited to have a hand in that.
This article was written by Marti Winer, Vice President of MGM Resorts Event Productions, MGM’s in-house event design and decor agency. MGM Resorts International offers 4 million square feet of meeting and convention space at its properties across the country. Advanced designs feature robust and creative meeting options to meet the ever-changing needs for collaborative and productive workspaces. To learn more, view our available venues across our portfolio, including Las Vegas.