In this new world of digital, hybrid, and physical events, we are bombarded with new technologies every day. As proof, consider this: In 2020, there were about 200 digital event solutions, including registration tools, event platforms, and attendee engagement tools. In 2022, that number has quadrupled to more than 800. Essentially, since the pandemic, the number of tools doubled every year.
Just scrolling through the list of providers can be overwhelming to event organizers, let alone narrowing it down to the few that will fit the needs of their unique meeting.
And perhaps because of that challenge, they spend a lot of time on selecting the technology and it winds up becoming prioritized over anything else. After all, it’s so easy to do — it can act as a North Star when everything feels impossible to navigate. But, that’s exactly the wrong way to go about designing a meeting. Rather, to create an engaging event experience — regardless of who your audience is — your process needs to be well established. That creative process is as critical to the outcome as the technology you decide to use.
Five Steps to Success
Over the past two — and very exceptional — years, I have come to rely on a solid foundation of processes to help clients traverse the choppy virtual and hybrid waters. By “process-atizing” the necessary tasks, everyone is freed up to be creative where it matters most: designing and executing an exceptional attendee experience. They are: design, choose tools, customize, execute, and debrief. When it comes to a meeting’s hybrid strategy, these five steps can be applied to everything along the way.
This is where you really build a meeting strategy that aligns with the goals of the organization. For example, during this step, you want to ask and answer such questions as, What’s the overall business strategy of the organization? What is most important to the attendee?
Once those have been answered, we can review, recommend, and select tech tools.
Ask and answer: What will help meet that business strategy and address attendees’ wants, needs, and expectations?
When tools are selected too early in the process — and strategy and attendees haven’t been prioritized — disconnects often arise between what a tool can offer and what the organization needs. At that point, it’s often too late to make changes, so you must move forward with a less-than-ideal solution that doesn’t meet your organization’s — or attendees’ — needs.
From there, you can move to integration.
When putting on a hybrid meeting, many tech tools are needed — and those tools need to be connected or integrated. Everything needs to talk to each other; but many are not designed to do that easily. After all, with 800-plus tools out there, it’s not possible for each one to be designed to connect with all the others. This can be an extremely complex undertaking, so when you get here, make sure to have the right partners and experts in place that can facilitate and oversee the integration.
So, now that you have chosen the tools that will align with your business strategy and meet attendees’ expectations, you can customize the back-end infrastructure that will enable them to work together in the next step, execution.
Once everything has been designed and customized with the organization’s business strategy and its audience in mind, it’s time to execute. One thing to keep in mind: Hybrid meetings often require new and different internal roles to execute successfully.
For example, one association created the positions of livestream event manager to oversee all the livestream content, and a pre-recording manager to supervise the large amount of pre-recorded content gathered for the show.
The roles needed for one event may be different than another, but it is likely that new positions will be needed to pull off the many new elements of executing a hybrid meeting.
No matter how well an event goes, there will always be something we can find to improve upon or do more effectively the next time around. Therefore, it’s critical to take time out to debrief on what worked and what didn’t, so you can identify what needs to happen to improve next time.
We structure our debriefs based on the way the U.S. Air Force does them. It’s called a “rank-less debrief.” That means everyone involved in the project is involved, and gets to talk to everyone else, like equals. No hierarchy or organizational structure is imposed over the process. It allows everyone to have a say and facilitates the needed space for improvement. As part of the debrief process, we put everything into a database that we reference when we begin planning for the next event. That way, we start from a position of strength, with organized feedback from the last meeting.
Taking a Cue From The Beatles
It’s a little-known fact that between August 1960 and December 1962 — before The Beatles had written a song or recorded an album — they had played more than 250 nights of cover songs in Hamburg, Germany. For most gigs, they played for five hours or more.
During that time, they learned a process for performing and communicating with each other. They learned how to write songs by learning other people’s songs. They didn’t care about the latest guitar or the newest recording technology. What took them to rockstar status was that they learned — and honed — a process so when they were ready to write and record on their own, they were just able to create. The rest took care of itself.
Joe Faulder is director of creative & strategic at event AV company Projection.