Lessons Learned From the Digital Evolution of Events

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Derrick Johnson Jared Young

Derrick Johnson (left) and Jared Young take part in the session “The Nuts and Bolts of Omni-channel and Hybrid Events,” which featured two speakers, Justin Hartman and Cassandra Strupp, who appeared virtually.

For Bob Chain, strategic account manager for virtual events platform Swapcard, the definition of a hybrid meeting has changed at least four or five times over the course of the last year, he told the in-person and digital audience attending the session, “Selling and Marketing in New Now,” on Thursday.

One thing that’s certain, Chain said, is that “we now have a vehicle to expand a meeting beyond the traditional two to three days,” no matter what kind of hybrid model you choose. “Virtual,” Chain said, “is our playground” — a way to not only grow audiences but to connect communities year-round.

Event professionals experienced in producing hybrid events shared the nitty gritty details of designing and producing hybrid events during “The Nuts and Bolts of Omnichannel and Hybrid Events,” another EduCon session yesterday. Panelists also fielded some big-picture questions, including the following:

Cassandra Strupp

What are the top lessons related to executing and strategizing around hybrid events?

Cassandra Strupp, program manager for the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin: “The ability to stay nimble. Having a clear vision, making sure you’re fulfilling a need or a purpose. Getting the big picture and then funneling the details — too often, we’re missing the big and fretting over the little details.”

Justin Hartman, director of Mediasite events at Sonic Foundry: “Start planning early, and execute early on, and stay on that same page throughout your journey. I also recommend keeping things simple and intuitive — a successful event is your goal here. Keep your users on the same page with you.”

Jared Young, founder and president, Go Team Events: “For virtual or hybrid, one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is in making sure we maintain a checklist before each event, and making sure that anybody that we worked with had one, too. And then test, test, and retest.” Also: “Making sure we’re getting our practice sessions in; making sure everybody knew the backup plan, and making sure we had dedicated tech help channels, so that people that have problems can get help while the rest of the program moves forward. And then lastly — check and triple-check your time zones!”

What does the future of hybrid look like?

Strupp: “I am up for the challenge of whatever. We have a program that is staying completely virtual, Dairy Signal, that we offer live every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. That’s something that came out of the pandemic and that we have every intention of continuing into the future. As far as the hybrid element … We’re flirting with all the options and possibilities right now.”

Hartman: “I think hybrid’s here to stay. We’ve learned that we present and we consume content differently now, and [digital] went from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have. So, I think, it’ll certainly keep changing and evolving, but to some degree, some online and on-site presence is going to stick around.”

Young: “I think it’s going to be an ever-changing landscape, as we see how safe it is for people to get together. My feeling is that, as soon as everyone can get everyone together, that’s what we’re going to do for a while, because we’re going to be so excited to hug each other and high five. But I do think that livestreaming … is here to stay. And I’m seeing a lot of smaller, regional meetings that are happening live, and then the big sales meetings are happening virtually, until we figure out that we can get everybody from all the different coasts into a central place.”

Session moderator Derrick Johnson, DES, CMP, director of event strategy and development and chief diversity officer at Talley Management Group, had the last word: “An event is an event. We connect people in person and we connect people virtually, that’s ultimately what we do. Our job is to ensure that we’re reaching — and opening the doors for — as many people as possible to participate actively in the communities that we’re developing in an accessible and inclusive way.”

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.