As we transition from a fully virtual world to meeting in person again, meetings professionals are faced with yet another challenge. According to our 2021 Global Meetings and Events Forecast, more than a third of meetings and events this year are expected to be in a hybrid format – where some attendees join in-person and others join virtually.­­­­­­­­­ While the hybrid format is a practical way to accommodate varying attendee preferences and travel restrictions, it is inherently more complex to plan and execute than a virtual- or in-person-only meeting.

As Ariana Reed, senior manager of business strategy at American Express Meetings & Events, explains: “Hybrid meetings and events have been discussed within strategic meetings management programs for 8-10 years, but until recently, they haven’t been seriously implemented. To make a meeting or event truly hybrid, two events must be planned and integrated in parallel, the in-person event and the virtual event.”

Here are our top considerations for planning hybrid meetings and events.

1. Get In Your Attendees’ Heads

When you know who will be attending your meeting or event, it’s easier to make informed decisions every step of the way. Include audience engagement in the initial planning process. Consider the varying personalities or attendee personas joining your meeting or event and develop engagement plans with them in mind. Take into account how your audience will best engage, whether that’s through video, chat, an event app, polls, or direct messages. No time to identify your own personas? You can use or adapt our in-person attendee personas or virtual attendee personas.

2. Define Your Format

There are different ways to successfully execute a hybrid meeting or event. Planners must consider their audience and the goal of the experience to decide which scenario to choose. Hybrid and hybrid multi-hub events are two possible formats. In the hybrid model, speakers present from a virtual or in-person location, and audiences can attend virtually or in person. In a hybrid multi-hub event, attendees gather face-to-face in geographically dispersed venues that are connected by technology. Audiences can also attend virtually.

3. Evaluate Technology Alongside the Venue

No matter the format of your hybrid meeting, robust technology and a venue that can support the technology are needed to provide seamless attendee and presenter experiences. As Michael Balyasny, founder and CEO at Attendify, explains, “It’s imperative that you use technology that’s robust enough to truly act as the connective tissue between virtual and in-person audiences.” Furthermore, event spaces need to have enough Wi-Fi bandwidth or hardwired connection, great audiovisual quality, and reskilled staff as a foundation to support this new technology and enable a hybrid experience.

Hoteliers and other suppliers are improving their technology to run the virtual side of a hybrid meeting or event and implementing new safety measures to support the in-person experience. For example, Hilton recently announced its EventReady Hybrid Solutions program where its participating hotels will be required to have a minimum amount of incremental and available IT bandwidth above the hotel’s average circuit-use level.

One unique approach to elevate the standard hybrid meeting is to use virtual reality. Planners can create a virtual meeting hall or send attendees a virtual reality headset to augment the remote experience. There’s also an opportunity to create virtual collaboration and virtual chat environments based on algorithms for one-to-one discussions on a specific topic to replace face-to-face networking. Be sure to have a virtual concierge or help desk for attendees’ technical issues.

4. Provide Assurances for In-person Attendees
Many hotels are going above and beyond to help their guests and meeting attendees feel safe on their properties. Nearly every hotel has implemented enhanced hygiene, disinfection, and even customer service protocols. For example, Hilton’s EventReady with CleanStay program is a meetings-specific initiative that builds on the CleanStay hotel program it created in collaboration with Lysol maker RB and the Mayo Clinic. Even more impressive is the growing list of hotel companies that are taking great safety and health measures to reassure guests, such as on-site testing and free medical coverage. Wynn Resorts is even in the process of building an on-site COVID-19 testing lab for its Wynn Las Vegas

5. Supercharge the Meeting Design
Map out the entire attendee lifecycle for both in-person and virtual attendees – from registration through post-event outreach. Be thoughtful of each element attendees will interact with and look for opportunities to engage each audience as well as to bridge the experiences. Group activities with audience participation such as group activities and a live Q&A present good opportunities to connect the two audiences.

6. Incorporate Self-care and Mindfulness
Making attendees feel confident is more than physical safety and well-being, it’s mental too. Opportunities for self-care should be incorporated into meeting design and delivery. Planners can expand meetings and events to include more mindfulness practices and prepare for attendees with different preferences. For virtual audiences, it’s especially important to keep sessions as concise as possible. The meeting or event’s content and objectives will help determine the duration.

7. Be Meticulous With Your Attendee Communications
Now more than ever, in-person attendees thirst for information about what they can expect and how they can prepare for their travels and meetings. Your communications should be detailed and provide instructions on the meeting’s safety protocols, such as mask-wearing and social distancing as well as what to do in the event of COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result.

8. Budget for More
While hybrid events do typically cost less than an in-person event – because of reduced food and beverage and travel spend – they often cost more than people think. Budget categories must shift to accommodate both in-person and virtual components of hybrid events, especially with the introduction of higher-end production, facilitation, and technology. Planners are using this time to evaluate their suppliers to help ensure they can deliver the virtual experience required by their hybrid meeting or event. Negotiate with vendors during this downtime to get the best functionality afforded.

 The Future of Hybrid Meetings

We’ll see a restoration of in-person events through an enhanced hybrid model. We are already helping many clients with their hybrid meetings and events and even planning our own. Most notably, our marquee employee and supplier event INTER[action] will be delivered in a hybrid multi-hub format this year with in-person hubs in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Seville, Spain. Learn more details about that event here.