Hybrid events are quite the talk in the event industry right now. As planners start to work on getting in-person events scheduled for late 2021, they want the ability to have both the in-person AND the virtual event simultaneously. This sounds like a great idea, and certainly IS a great idea! But I want to educate you on what it will take to produce a successful hybrid event, as well as help explain some of the costs that you can expect to see. This article will help prepare you for the decisions you will have to make, as well as the things you will need to discuss with your AV provider.
Hybrid events will require you to wrap your head around the idea of having two, separate audiences. The in-person audience in the same room as the event, AND the virtual audience watching online. Both of those audiences require different attention from you in order to offer them a good experience.
Hybrid events are something you aren’t used to. It’s not common for you to have to worry about two different audiences like this. For almost every event you have ever done, you only had to think about the people in attendance in the room. You need to take the proper time to prepare yourself for the extra steps that will be required.
When I talk about two different audiences, I want to you to think about your favorite TV program that entertains guests in the audience, as well as viewers at home on the couch. If you have been lucky enough to be a guest at any of these shows (SNL, Ellen, Oprah, etc.), the first thing you notice is that the in-person audience doesn’t really matter to the producer. The producer’s decisions are made with the people watching at home in mind. Producers want the TV audience to have the best experience, not necessarily the people at the taping. Even sporting events have TV time-outs because they are catering to the TV audience. How many times have you been to a game where the players are waiting, the fans are waiting… for the TV timeout to end?
Now, it’s your turn. But you, unfortunately, can’t forget about the guests in the room. You have to be concerned about both audiences and you can’t leave one of them waiting around. Planning a hybrid event is going to be different.
Most of these differences will occur with your AV provider. You will see an increase in their cost because of the additional equipment and services they will provide to cater to your two separate audiences. Let’s talk about what those additional items might be.
Let’s start with the basics. You will need to have all the normal required components for an in-person event: staging, video screens, projectors, speaker systems, microphones, drape, etc. That’s a no brainer. But one thing you may not have had at your in-person event, that you will now need to for a successful hybrid event, is video broadcasting equipment. In order for the virtual audience to see the presenter, you will need a video camera. And you may need more than one. Adding cameras, and the processing needed to stream the feed online, is going to be the single biggest increase in the cost of your event.
Another item that shouldn’t be a surprise to you is the amount of lighting needed to make the people on stage look good on camera. If you have ever been to a TV studio, you probably noticed the vast number of lighting fixtures. It takes a lot of lighting to accurately capture the subject on the stage properly. So, you’re going to need a lot more lighting at your hybrid event to give the audience at home bright enough image . If the virtual audience is paying for their ticket just like everyone else at the event, you want to be sure you’re offering them a quality experience that represents your organization well, and shows you still care.
The next consideration is determining what each audience sees and hears at each moment throughout the event. And here’s a tip: it has to be different! Let me give you some examples:
- When the speaker is on stage presenting their PowerPoint, the in-person audience will look to the projection screens to see the slides, and then to the stage to see the presenter. However, the virtual audience is forced to look at only one thing: their computer screen. The AV team will need to manage what and when the virtual audience sees what they see. This requires two or more different video feeds. For this example, you’d need one feed for the camera capturing the speaker and one feed for graphics which displays their presentation slides. A video technician switches between these feeds to control what the online viewer sees at every second throughout the event.
- The sound for the in-person audience will have to be set to a different level than it is for the virtual audience. Your AV team will need to provide two different audio feeds so both audiences have an optimal listening experience. The sound in the room will need to be louder so your socially distant audience can hear it. But the sound for the virtual audience will need to be consistent so viewers aren’t constantly turning the volume up and down.
Internet signal should be a priority too. You need to check with your venue to make sure they have a dedicated, hard-wired connection for your event. You don’t want to be connected to a WiFi network that everyone in attendance is on. Please make sure this is one of the first things you ask about when selecting a venue. You don’t want to deal with this dilemma a few days before the event!
Lastly, hybrid events are going to require more labor and more time to set up. With what I have just talked about, you are going to need more technicians and technical direction roles. You may also need to add additional time for load-in, set-up, and rehearsals. Especially rehearsals. Everything needs to be tested, and then tested again, to ensure there are no interruptions to the broadcast for viewers at home.
You may be thinking that you can scale back some of the in-person production value back to save some money. But that won’t be much, if anything. You may be thinking that since attendance will be down, you won’t need as much equipment. But let’s not forget about the social distancing guidelines. Although you may not have as many guests, you’ll still need large enough projection screens and sound systems to accommodate a socially distant audience.
I also want to mention that while you may be able to lower the costs on some things, you do need to keep in mind that just because you lower the headcount of the live audience, does not mean that the room rental is going to be cheaper. You are most likely going to see minimum spends when it comes to food and beverage. The venues are desperate to generate revenue from the severe loss of income over the last year, and they will not be making that revenue with a 200 person event in a 10,000 square foot ballroom.
The best thing you can do now is call your A/V provider and start the conversations about hybrid events so that you can manage all your expectations well in advance. And if you don’t feel comfortable that your current A/V provider can handle your hybrid event, give us a call – we would love to help you.