Extraordinary Events Podcast

Ep 66: Lessons from Hybrid

April 06, 2021 Extraordinary Events
Extraordinary Events Podcast
Ep 66: Lessons from Hybrid
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Extraordinary Events Podcast
Ep 66: Lessons from Hybrid
Apr 06, 2021
Extraordinary Events

Do you want to hear the lessons we learned from planning our hybrid event, Level Up Your Event Game? In this podcast episode, I give you advice on how we created an amazing first event impression from our in-person attendees, how we gave our online attendees the ability to feel like they were actually in-person at our event, as well as what the students who planned the event would change if they were to plan the event again. 

Show Notes Transcript

Do you want to hear the lessons we learned from planning our hybrid event, Level Up Your Event Game? In this podcast episode, I give you advice on how we created an amazing first event impression from our in-person attendees, how we gave our online attendees the ability to feel like they were actually in-person at our event, as well as what the students who planned the event would change if they were to plan the event again. 

Dr. K: Hello, hello, all of my beautiful, beautiful friends. All of you listening to the podcast today. Welcome, welcome. I have got such a cool episode today, we are going to debrief the event that my advanced events students just had last Thursday. Now, if you've been listening to the podcast for a while, you know that April 1 was an insane day, we had two really large deadlines on April 1. The first was that our advanced events course was actually producing the event they've been planning all semester. And that is a true hybrid omnichannel event, truly amazing. It was so awesome, I can't wait to share with you. The second major deadline was we have two teams submitting for the PCMA North American student competition. And those proposals. Were also due April 1. And just to tell you a little bit about those proposals, those are event proposals for a brand new innovative design that nobody's ever seen before. One of my team's proposals was 223 pages, and one of my teams was about 220 pages. So just imagine me reading 440 pages multiple times right before planning a giant omni channel event. Totally crazy. 

On top of that, for those who listened a couple weeks ago, I am doing this speaking competition, just for fun to challenge myself to be a better speaker. And there is something called the World Championship of public speaking super random. And that next level of the competition was actually last week as well. So the event and the deadline were on Thursday, the public speaking competition was on Monday, I was literally locked into my office doing this speaking competition via Zoom. And I had students from one class across the hall, students from the other class upstairs. It was a whirlwind week, I am so happy to announce that I did win that competition. So I am moving on to the fourth round, there are seven rounds in the World Championship of public speaking. And all of the events went off without a single problem. I am so happy to share with you. Okay, so let's jump in lessons learned from hybrid. 

Now, for the purposes of this episode, I will be using hybrid and omni channel terms interchangeably. But there actually are differences. Hybrid is much more of a, you have a meeting in person. And then you're broadcasting that online. And of course, there's engagement and interaction. Whereas an omni channel event really does have multiple platforms and true interrelatedness between those platforms. So as one example, we had an innovation keynote panel, it was an hour long, and I was the moderator in person. And the next to me was a TV screen with a panelist who was piped in from another state. Then we had a barstool with another person that lived in person. And then we had another TV screen. So then the attendees online and the attendees in person, were both interacting equally with each other with panelists that were both online and in person. So it was really a true 360 experience. It is really, really cool. We also had this giant 16 foot projector screen in the back of the room that was always showing the online attendees who were logged in live to view the live sessions. And it was kind of cool that the live attendees could see the logged in online attendees at any given point. It was like they were there in the room with them. So it was really kind of a cool, cohesive feeling throughout the entire event. 

So just some statistics to put this into context. We had 138 attendees that were there both in person and live online. These 138 attendees came from 16 states and six countries. Our in person event was just under six hours. And the average time spent online by our online attendees was just under four hours. So pretty good. The Hopin platform we use top in the Hopin platform said that our attendees stayed 18% longer on average than their general platform attendees. So we had some good engagement, we had an average of 424 chat messages. And we had 23 networking meetings throughout the six hour events. Our high point for online engagement, we had 69 people logged in live for the innovative panel innovation panel. So really, really cool numbers, good numbers are average online session attendance was 24 people. 

So that's the basic foundational statistics. I don't have our debrief survey from all of our attendees back yet. But there are definitely some lessons that we have learned. At the end of the event, I sat down with all nine of the students. So it was nine students planning this particular event. And I asked them a series of three questions. The first question was, what was your favorite experience? During the event? It was a two part question. So what was your favorite experience during the event? And then what was your favorite experience? in the planning process of the event? The second question was, what is one thing that you think could have gone better or been done better for this event? If you were to do this event again, what would you do better? And then the third question was, if you were to run this same exact event next week, what would you keep exactly the same? So super interesting questions. I love these three particular questions. 

Because the experiences question you can pull from for testimonies, things that you want to put in marketing, things that you want to advertise internally or externally, depending on what that experience is. It's also fun for all of the other planners to hear these different experiences. Because we all have different viewpoints of the event. Half of our nine people were running online sessions, and half of them were in the room running the in person session. And they all had different angles on the event. So it's really fun for everybody to share their different experiences. And everybody else got just a little bit of a taste of that. So I love that question. Then for the second question of what could we have done better or improved upon? Of course, we keep those for our historical records. And then we do a lot of reflection and writing on that in terms of, you know, what did you learn from this event? Especially the fact that we're planning events with students? How can they take this knowledge to better improve themselves as event professionals in the future? And then that third thing, what's the one thing that you would never change? If you were to do this event again, and I'm going to share all those responses, I don't want to give it away yet.

It was really interesting, the entire experience, I'm going to kind of walk you through it.

So if you were an in person attendee, we really truly mapped out the in person attendee experience journey. If you were attending the event in Lincoln, Nebraska, then you would pull up in your car, and you would most likely park in the parking garage. So we had signage in the parking garage, like right above the button that you would push to get your parking garage to get there with signage. And then when you would park your car, we would walk into the elevator bank, and we would see additional signage for our event. 

There's also a staircase in the elevator bank. And on that staircase, we put a sign. So our event was called level up your event game, and we had a strong Mario theme throughout, but we did pull in a lot of other gaming terminology and things in centerpieces, etc. We had a very strong Mario theme. So on the staircase, which never actually doesn't look like a staircase, you would think that it's like a storage room. It doesn't look like a staircase, we put a giant sign that said secret passage to level up your event game. And I point this out, because a lot of our attendees actually commented on it was like their first impression of the event was like a secret passage to level up your event game and it created a really great first impression. So then you would walk or take the elevator down to the main floor, and you would walk through the lobby. So you saw somebody there who had a giant arrow that said level up your event game, which of course is an arrow and level up. So we used arrows a lot. So that person of course was a volunteer, not one of our trained event planners. And we chose a volunteer who was friendly, personable, a good ambassador, someone that's gonna engage you. And he then directed everybody to the escalator or stairs that went down to our event.

So then you turn the corner to take the escalators or the stairs down to the event. And you're immediately met with like giant yellow balloons that are stars that we put the little eyes on to be like the Mario stars, and a world of polyfill caught in that would emulate clouds, it was a total last minute decision, we had hung the stars up. And we were like these look really cool. This is super engaging, but we have these awkward platforms next to the stairs. So not the railing, but this platform next to it. And it was just like an awkward empty space. And we were like, we wish we could put something there. And one of the students who was on site said, “Well, I have all this polyfill from doing a cloud ceiling or whatever they do now.” And so brought like this gigantic box and poly pot there. And so he brought this gigantic box of polyfill. And then we put them out as clouds, it was really, really fun. And that would take you down to registration. And at registration, we again had the big clouds that had the eye marks. So lots of Mario themes throughout.

When you checked in to get your name tag and your quote unquote registration bag, your name tags were sticky name tags, so not lanyards, but they were sticky name tags, and on the background of your name tag was actually your favorite game. So in our registration survey, we had asked them for their name, and we asked them for their favorite game. So all of their name tags were customized with their favorite game. So it's just really these little tiny details. And instead of getting a registration bag, they got a registration box, which was a four by four. And we had printed out all of the Mario question mark things like so when you're Mario when you're going through the world and you jump up and hit your head on the block and you get like a coin or a mushroom or whatever. We had created our registration boxes to look like that. So we had printed out these question mark things and we handed you a box that looks like one of those magic boxes. And when you open it up, it is essentially a COVID safety kit with COVID safety swag. So you had a hand sanitizer, a custom mask that said event planner, and it had a cool event planner quote. And then it had mask spray like essential oils and stuff. And so it had a whole bunch of goodies in there.

So then you pick up your box, and you would go to the photo spot, the selfie station, and we had a live, Luigi and Princess Peach. So we actually had some students who had signed up and we had a Princess Peach outfit and a Luigi outfit. And their personalities were just like, perfect for this, this Luigi and Princess Peach just totally perfect, it was amazing. And they would take pictures with you. And they didn't have to be there. They didn't have to be in the picture. But you could definitely take those pictures if you wanted. And then you would perceive kind of around a little bit of a mace. And you would see an entire setup with plexiglass, which was our online event hub. So it was there present all of our in person, attendees could see all of our online attendees could see all of the workstation could see your audio visual production professional that was there. And then you walked into the room. So then when you walked into the room, it was just an incredible layout like inspir Media productions to just such a tremendous job you walk in, and we had these two kinds of ugly columns right in the middle of the room. If you've ever run events, of course you have you understand how annoying columns can be. And we had these two columns in the room. And he ran trusts around the columns and kind of did the field goal. And at the top of the trust he had put for TV screens just like we wanted. And on those two screens were the four tracks that the online attendees had the option to sign up for. So we had our live track in the room. And then we had four online tracks. 

So they all had kind of a different theme. And so at any point in time, the on the in person, attendees could look up and see the sessions that were occurring online. So really, really interesting. And then you could look back to the screen that was in the room on that 16 foot projector and see who was actually looking at the live session at any given point in time. So super fun, really, really cool layout. We had an awesome stage setup. And it was just truly like an amazing time. And we learned so much about all the things we learned. So the first thing would be that we had offered too much in terms of like on choices. So we knew we were gonna have between like probably one and 300 attendees, and we had the live session. And then we had four different breakouts. So we had a breakout just dedicated to marketing, a breakout just dedicated to personalization and engagement, we had a breakout that was just dedicated to technology. So when I say breakout, I really mean track. So we had like a room all day from 9am to 4pm. That was just running sessions on marketing, we had a room that was running 9am to 4pm, just with personalization and engagement, we had a room that was running from 9am to 4pm, just with technology, so multiple speakers in these areas. 

And what we actually found one of our lessons for hybrid, we found that a lot of people wanted to pipe into this live experience, we did have good engagement in those other rooms, our average session was about 24 attendees. But the vast majority of people, I'd say 70 to 80%, were always logged in to the live session, they wanted to see they wanted to feel like they were in the room live, they wanted to see those live attendees. And that was really interesting to me, because I thought for sure they would want some of these other things like I'm just here for marketing. Bye. That was a really interesting lesson and I learned from that.

Another thing that I would say is really interesting. And of course this wouldn't apply to everybody's events is you should always have a contract for your free speakers. Of course, clearly you are getting them to commit, you have a contract, even if they're free. We were not allowed to put people under contract because we are a university. And so it would have just been way more work than it was truly worth. And it was really surprising to me how many speakers or facilitators like canceled the week of, we had two people who cancelled one found their own replacement, one didn't just said sorry, I can't be there. And that one actually canceled. Not like a big speaker, but a moderator for a yoga session. they canceled literally like the night before. And it's super frustrating, especially when students or planners or anybody have spent so long planning this event to have people just cancel such short notice. And of course, that's when it really does come down to your network is everything. And we were able to find people super last minute and it went off without a hitch and you would have never even known any differently was truly amazing.

The second thing is that what we found is that some people even made a joke about it is that sometimes networking now is a little bit awkward, because we're all a little bit out of practice. So we actually had an entire networking session that was dedicated to how to run networking sessions in an in person environment with COVID. So how can you do it from your seats? or How can you do it while you're standing up and moving around, but still staying socially distant? And that was a really fascinating session, we had a lot of great feedback from that session, like how do you run networking in person in an innovative way that makes everyone feel safe. And I would say that coupled with that with that kind of awkwardness and uncomfortableness. We heard from a lot of people that they wanted to learn from each other. So we scheduled this whole 45 minutes of kind of an open chair during lunch, where each individual person if they wanted to share, share their struggles, share what they've been up to share so that way other people could learn. We had scheduled that in because people said they wanted to share and learn. But what we truly found was that people did not want to share and learn or they didn't feel comfortable sharing and learning in that type of environment. And of course, we had backup plans, B, C, and D. And we went with one of those. And we really talked a lot about our planning process throughout this thing, and how we are planning for the whole 360 and not just for an event, professional skills or for their profession. So people were stressed out. So we were teaching meditation techniques on the brakes. We weren't just teaching their job. And I think a lot of people really truly appreciated that. Oh my gosh, we're already at 19 minutes. I have got to just keep moving along.

When we asked the students if they did the exact same event next week, what

They do exactly the same. And several people said the parking garage signs were a huge hit, and people talked about those. And multiple people said, just working with the same vendors, we had fill ins for media, I cannot recommend them enough he travels. So feel free to reach out to him and book him wherever you want, but just not during my events. So check with me on my event schedule first. But they were truly truly amazing. Um, we had a lot of people talk about great use of volunteer management and the registration boxes. And of course Luigi and peach, those experience experiential elements, which went over so well. Some things that could have gone better, just in terms of having so many different tracks for people to choose from, maybe only having one or two options, we had four options and the live that people could pop into. So we had five different options. And when online attendance is a little bit lower to begin with, then you really could have gotten away with three, including the live. 

So the lesson learned there, we had a couple timing things were some speakers cut short, a little early, and just making sure that we had some additional timing things in there. Some of it was scheduling on the backend and some of our themes. But yeah, to overall cohesiveness between the online and the in person, we actually did send all of our online attendees like a pre meeting box. And it was also a little tiny question mark, super cute. It was a two by two box. And we mailed them. They also had the you know, the question marks all around it. And then when you open it up, it was a whole bunch of gold coins, and a thumb drive. 

And on the thumb drive, we put all kinds of things, we put a Spotify playlist, we put some zoom cards, we put all these different gaming themed backgrounds for your favorite game, we had all kinds of different interactive elements that we probably honestly could have pulled in a little bit better to the sessions. But the lesson was learned, for sure. I am so excited on Thursday, we are going to instead of having an industry interview, we're actually going to hear from some of the leaders of the event, because they are professionals. They are event planners, I'm so excited to have them on the podcast. And we're going to hear from some of them about their experience planning the event, what they would have done differently, lessons learned, and all the nitty gritty from their perspective. So you have my perspective as an event, professional and teacher. And now you get to hear their perspective. And I'm so pumped about that. 

Okay, I need to be quiet. We're way over time. I'm always conscious of your time. Your time is valuable. Thank you so much for giving me some of your time and listening to the podcast. I appreciate and love you all so much. Reach out, tag us, share us. Let us know that you're listening. Let us know what you want to hear. With that, I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to make the time. I'll talk with you soon.