Design a Hybrid Experience That Delivers to Both Audiences

CASSS is taking a slightly different approach for its upcoming hybrid annual meeting. Although planning it as one event, the group also knows the experience won’t be exactly the same for in-person and virtual attendees. Here’s how they are planning a valuable experience, no matter where a person is participating from.

CASSS is in the planning stages for its January 2022 hybrid annual meeting, but the professional scientific society is taking a new look at how to approach it. While recognizing that the conference must have shared components and connected audiences, the group also is fine with the event having two different feels, depending on if a person attends in person or online.

“We’re planning it as one meeting, but we are looking at how to have two different experiences,” said Anne Ornelas, senior operations manager at CASSS. “We’re really focused on what will happen in person and then making sure we connect the dots with our virtual audience.”

Right now, the plan is to provide valuable experiences for both attendees, be as inclusive as possible, and recognize that both attendee experiences won’t be exactly the same.

Because parameters related to the event’s physical space may change, depending on safety standards or social-distancing requirements, CASSS plans to continue its roundtables—where teams of 10 to 12 attendees participate in a facilitated deep-dive discussion—as virtual, even for in-person attendees.

“The roundtables worked really well for us virtually this last year, so we are continuing with that,” Ornelas said. “In person, we would have had to have that spacing at the hotel.”

To keep the in-person and virtual attendees connected at live sessions, questions will be asked the same way for both audiences: via an online system.

“If they are onsite and want to ask their question, they will go onto the website,” Ornelas said. “All the questions will be funneled into one channel, so the moderators will be able to ask the question no matter who it is. They won’t know whether it’s from the virtual or onsite, which is great because it eliminates the virtual people getting left out.”

While the goal is to be inclusive when the audiences are experiencing the same content, there is also the recognition that not all content will be the same.

“Our reception, the exhibit hall—to be able to connect with people that way will be only available to the in-person audience,” Ornelas said. “We are working to have some virtual engagement activity, [maybe] something like a cocktail mixer to buy the ingredients at home and make in conjunction with the group online, so that they have something to do together.”

To ensure there’s enough time to clean and sanitize according to protocols that may be in place, CASSS plans to have longer breaks in between live sessions. “We are creating a longer day and reducing some of the content,” Ornelas said. “So, the ability to do things in virtual as well will allow us some flexibility.”

For example, the virtual roundtables will take place during one of those extended breaks in the live action. While the roundtables allow live attendees to participate virtually, the event will also have technical seminars, which are created by sponsors and only available to the live audience. Most content that is streamed—depending on contracts—will be available for on-demand viewing after the event to both sets of attendees.

For CASSS, the hybrid event provides the opportunity to serve all its members and stakeholders, because many just aren’t able to be onsite. “It’s not even up to the person if they want to come,” Ornelas said. “It’s whether their company will allow them to travel. In some cases, if they work for a health authority in Europe, they may not be able to come to the United States.”

Ornelas said other organizations looking to hybrid events should focus on your attendees and ways to connect them. “Be thoughtful,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be complicated. Don’t ignore either audience in one way or another. Make sure you’re connecting them in some way.”

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Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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