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Restrictions are being lifted all over the world, but it’s far too early to relax. It is still uncertain when the event industry will go back to normal. One thing we know for sure is that hybrid events are here to stay. And as an Ops Director, you are responsible for making sure they are safe for attendees, partners and your team.

Ensuring safety at Hybrid Events

2020/21 brought many changes to how we communicate with others, with face coverings and two meter distance becoming the norm. As events are shifting from online-only to hybrid, Ops Directors are facing new sets of challenges. Today we will talk about how to provide maximum safety at the hybrid event.

Choosing the venue

Even before the pandemic, choosing the right venue would include a lot of considerations prior to making a decision. With the landscape having changed drastically, the complexity of the task has only grown. Two key elements to choosing a hybrid event venue is safety measures and facilitation of the equipment necessary to engage with the virtual audience. Overall, the basic requirements for a hybrid event venue are similar to what you’d look for when hosting a live event – it’s their specs that are different.

Space and Capacity

Hybrid events have a lesser number of attendees on-site, but this does not mean event organisers should get a venue with less space to offer. With social distancing rules in place, the attendees will need more room to move around. Instead of getting meeting rooms only, pay heed to common spaces and lounge areas. Venues often have their own set of rules and restrictions in place – confirm them with the staff.

Another thing to request from the personnel is a floor plan to get an idea of how many people can be accommodated. Having a clear understanding of capacity limits will make it easier to map out social distancing rules. In turn, this will let you know the exact number of attendees you can have.

Safety

Ops Directors live and breathe safety as they carry a duty of care towards their guests, speakers and team. With the current climate the mission becomes even more important and thus event venue selection must strongly depend on its cleanliness. The venue must be on the same page as you – prioritising safety.

Venues are legally required to have certification of Covid security, issued by a recognising governing body. If such cannot be provided, the venue cannot be used for a hybrid event.

Question the venue about their staff’s training, is it up to date and how they make sure it is. Rather than going around ticking boxes on a checklist, investigate the venue’s approach to safety. They must be proactive and conscientious, not reactive.

Technical aspects

When choosing a venue for live events, one of the requirements has always been ensuring that there is enough space for the equipment. Followed by that was a sufficient power supply. While these two factors remain at the same degree of priority, hybrid events add more items to the list.

Secure and reliable WiFi, supported by an on-site team is crucial. In the event of a technical failure, you have 30 seconds to sort it out before you lose the virtual audience.

AV Support

Hosting a hybrid event requires extra attention to the smaller AV details. Microphones used during live events are not the ones you would opt for for broadcasting. Although this is a rather minor detail, it has a lot of weight. AV support is a great way of determining whether the venue is suitable for hybrid events.

Check if the microphones have been upgraded to reflect the enhanced sound quality. Question the personnel on the internal sound design of the venue, how has it been installed or adjusted to meet the changed requirements of a hybrid event.

While it may not be equipped with a full SmartScreen studio, but a relevant space with a minimum of a backdrop is a must. It can then be enhanced with a green screen to give options to the event required by the client. An on-site staff with relevant expertise or even their own AV crew need to be able to provide in-house support.

Planning a Hybrid Event

Once the physical venue has been selected, it’s time to find a digital one. Catering for two types of audiences simultaneously is the main challenge of hybrid events. Planning the approach is the key to success.

Hybrid Event Hosting Platform

View an event hosting platform as a virtual venue for the event. That said, there’s also a list of criteria when choosing a software that is best for virtual attendance.

Unlike a physical venue, it’s more flexible in terms of meeting specific needs of the event. The basic must-haves are connectivity, ease of usability and features that allow interactions with the virtual audience. Your job here is to provide online guests with the tools they need to network and interact as freely as in-person attendees.

Hybrid events software also needs to be capable of supporting live streaming and reporting on user engagement metrics. If you’re looking for a platform designed specifically for virtual and hybrid events, take a look at Showcase’s Event@.

It is important to find and invest into the right software as you want your virtual guests to feel as valued as in-person one. When attending an event, both audiences expect care and attention to their needs.

Interactive Content

Content Directors have long since been preaching that content is king. And with virtual events becoming the new normal, Ops Directors learned this was true. The key of attracting and retaining attendees is good, accessible content.

Even as we are shifting towards hybrid events, the importance of content does not wane. In fact, it is becoming even more important because instead of focusing on either a live or virtual attendees, you need to please both.

This calls for different content versions for different audiences. For example, if there is a live talk at the event venue there are two options of delivering it to the online audience. First, you can live stream it and, based on your event platform capabilities, provide virtual guests options to interact. The second option would be pre-recording the talk and uploading it as a virtual component for the online attendees to access.

The experience your virtual guests get from content is entirely up to you. Whether you opt for virtual lobbies and chat rooms or provide an AI-based speed networking option, some sort of interaction with the audience through the screen is a must.

Be Flexible

From mindset to carrying out physical tasks, successful hybrid events demand flexibility. Catering for two different audiences at the same time is challenging from the perspectives of both creativity and execution.

Be open to ideas and different approaches. Although the hybrid event concept is not entirely new, the pandemic-stricken world’s twist on it made it evolve fast and it is far from being firmly defined. This gives you freedom to experiment and think outside the box. Which, in turn, can lead to very positive results.

From the execution side, it’s good to give yourself and the team an extra hour on the schedule. With more tech to take care of, including on-site safety measures, more things can go wrong. Having extra time to fix them will only work in your favour.

Prepare the Speaker

When it comes to working with speakers, this may not seem like it’s your expertise. But a crucial part of hybrid event planning requires you to have an input on briefing them in.

You need to communicate to the speaker about all the technical aspects of live streaming. Discuss with them potential scenarios of technical malfunctions and how to react if they occur. Inform them about where the cameras are placed and how to engage with them.

Safety measures at the Hybrid Event

When both in-person and virtual venues have been picked, it’s time for your team to ensure the hybrid event is safe to attend. As recommended before, check in with the venue personnel to see if they have any specific regulations in place and take them on board. These also need to be clearly communicated to your attendees pre-event and on-site. Below we have outlined key Covid safety measures that are expected from you.

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Pre-event testing and on-site health checks

The first step of ensuring Covid safety is making sure no infected person attends the event. The quickest way to achieve that is requiring either proof of vaccination or negative test results. How this is checked is up to you – you can request guests to submit their proof via email or while checking in in person. Not only this rules out the possibility of the spread, but makes everyone on site comfortable knowing they are safe.

Another option would be on-site screenings. This is a pricier option and may not be available in your region, but it means no gap between negative test results and arrival on-site.

Masks and sanitation stations

Face covering is a government mandated requirement to stop the spread. Face to face contact is only acceptable when both parties wear masks. Providing PPE equipment such as masks on the site will make sure you’re following government guidelines and don’t have to turn down attendees who might have accidentally left theirs home. Think big here – since you are distributing masks, you might as well print your (or a sponsor’s) logo on them.

One thing the pandemic has taught us is the importance of hand sanitiser. There are many ways of ensuring sanitation is easily accessible throughout the entirety of the hybrid event space perimeter. For example, you can put individual sanitisers at each seat and place touchless stands all around the venue.

This is also a great opportunity for sponsor’s content placement or your own brand promotion. A sanitiser with a custom logo and a funky bottle design isn’t just a safety measure – it is also a useful freebie for a goody bag.

Social distancing

Keeping two meters apart is a message we hear everyday and the one that has impacted our lives the most. On-site hybrid events now need to revise floor plans taking into account distance between attendees. Whether it is leveled seating, U shape, or classroom – you won’t be able to fit as many attendees as before.

A good idea to ensure physical distancing at the hybrid event is to plan lounge and stage sets strategically. Placing furniture at the right places won’t just make the setup look better but also make it easier for the guests to keep a safe distance.

Contactless experiences

If you have not been utilising touchless payment options such as Apple Pay, now is the time to onboard them. No one wants to touch any surfaces unless they absolutely need to, and when it comes to payments touchless technology is barely a novelty.

Same goes for ticketing. You can either create a unique QR code attendees need to scan upon entering, or you can email virtual tickets ahead of time.

On-site catering

Wining and dining the guests was a popular perk of live events, but that has to be done responsibly now as well. It’s suggested to only include on-site catering for the longer events, where the guests can get hungry. If you’re going for a buffet option, ensure there are cough or sneeze guards in the venue and the servers wear a face mask and gloves.

As an alternative, consider a grab-and-go as an option. This way the venue would prepare and pre-pack food ahead of time, minimising the risk of exposed food.

Finally, instead of providing on-site food you can allocate an hour for lunch break. The attendees can either bring their own food and get an outside spot to eat or go out to find an outdoor dining option.

Entry and exit procedures

When entering, people are arriving at different times.  However, it’s well known that attendees all like to rock up 20 min before the event starts – earlier registration/entry times will most likely be needed. This also means having to communicate potential longer waiting times to delegates.

And then, once the event is over, everyone will be in a rush to get home. Exiting has the entirety of the on-site audience heading out. This may result in crowds, close contact and complete dismissal of social distancing.

To prevent that, ensure there are clear post-event exit procedures in place. Either it entails putting up floor markers to maintain the queue or dismissing people by groups, you need to make the attendees aware. Not only will this ensure safety measures are in place but will also allow your guests to plan accordingly.

Safety regulations at Hybrid Events

Rise of hybrid events is the first step towards the normal. While in-person events are still off the table, mixing live and virtual audiences is the way forward. As an Ops Director, you must make sure the hybrid event is safe for in-person attendees and engaging for virtual guests.

Following safety regulations and adapting to new type of events means two things: we are one step closer to normal and we have a new outlet to utilise.

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