Destinations International hosted its first hybrid event in May, bringing together in-person and virtual attendees for its successful CEO Summit. For a well-run hybrid meeting, ensure speakers engage all attendees, consider in-person logistics, and practice.
Although vaccinations are increasing and in-person gathering restrictions are lifting, many organizations are still limiting employee travel. That, combined with other factors, has associations considering how to host hybrid events.
Destinations International hosted its hybrid CEO Summit in Florida last month for 177 in-person and 100 virtual attendees, which was right in line with attendance numbers for previous summits. Most virtual attendees were international and unable to travel to the US.
The summit went “really well,” according to Rori Ferensic, senior director of education at Destinations International. She shared a behind-the-scenes look at the hybrid event, as well as some advice for those hoping to pull one off.
Creating a Together Vibe
To ensure that virtual and in-person attendees got the same content, there were no concurrent sessions. All content was on the main stage, and attendees watched in person or via a livestream. During the breaks for in-person attendees, virtual attendees were offered a different kind of break. “We had about eight to 10 of our partners do 10-minute little fireside chat recordings, so they would have something to do while it was break time for the live audience,” Ferensic said.
What Ferensic thought really made the event work was the fact that all the speakers kept both the live and virtual audience involved.
“Most everyone of our speakers remembered to engage the virtual audience, making sure they felt like they were recognized and remembered,” Ferensic said. “Throughout the entire virtual piece of the event, we were getting comments in the chat box about how engaged they felt. So, we felt really good about that.”
Ferensic offered one example how virtual attendees were included in table topic discussions. During these sessions, each socially distanced table at the live event was given a topic to discuss. Simultaneously, virtual attendees were grouped in rooms to discuss the same topic. After about 25 minutes of discussion, in-person and virtual groups shared what they discussed. “That is how we connected both audiences,” Ferensic said.
Handling In-Person Logistics
Ferensic said the in-person experience was similar to years past, “except when they registered, they had to sign a waiver saying they would get the health screening and wear a mask.”
While Ferensic felt everything went well at the event, not everything went according to plan. “Right before we got there, the hotel relaxed their mask mandate,” she said. “We had an opening reception the first night, and of course, nobody wanted to wear their masks outdoors, so that kind of blew the whole mask mandate out of the water.”
The event held fast to the required daily health screenings, which included responding to questions via an app and a temperature check upon arrival.
Lunch service varied. On the first day, instead of a traditional buffet, food was served by hotel staff who plated options behind plexiglass and handed plates to attendees. The room where food was served was separate from the socially distanced eating room.
“We didn’t want waitstaff coming in and out of there and cleaning up while we were all in there,” Ferensic said. “We tried to maintain two separate rooms for the food functions.” On the second day (a half-day), attendees received a grab-and-go boxed lunch.
Of Note for Planners
While the livestream allowed virtual attendees to get a similar experience, Ferensic noted, “[Audio visual] is normally expensive enough with any conference. Adding a livestream really added to that part of the expense.”
When asked if she had any advice for those planning a hybrid event, Ferensic said practice was key.
“It really works well when you are extremely prepared, because there are a lot more moving parts with a hybrid event than even with a virtual event,” she said. “Make sure you’re fully connected with your team, and that you’re going through your run of show more than once prior to the event.”