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  /    /  How to Design Events for Blended Audiences

A New Breed: Blended/Hybrid Conferences and Events

By Jason Guille (Stream of Consciousness), Lynn Feasey (Points North Creative) and Inga Petri (Strategic Moves[email protected]), February 2021

To deliver a truly excellent blended conference or event requires a different approach, and different resources, than both in-person only or digital only events.

Two Experiences – One Result

The rush to digital due to COVID-19 has created both tremendous challenges and awesome opportunities. For those working in sectors driven by live events, the need to re-imagine and re-invent our ways of being and working, to adjust our perspective on the world and what matters has been particularly challenging.

It turns out, our ways of working were quite simple in the past: a live in person event was attended by a live in person audience. We knew how to design these conferences and events. We knew when we were doing well and when we needed to make changes. COVID generated a digital-only world that we quickly learned to adapt to and started to make improvements in.

Now as we are looking toward the end of this pandemic, we may be realizing that the way back is not as simple as going back to all live and in person. There are some things digital excels at, that we might want to retain, even if and when we can gather again.

For the foreseeable future, the authors expect the trend toward blended or solely online events and conferences will continue. It’s difficult to predict what will happen post-COVID. While many may wish to host and attend large in-person gatherings, how will it feel to do so? Will producers take the financial risk to put on events? Will attendees have adapted to the online experience and prefer to stay home, and watch with small groups from their offices or living rooms?

Around the world, producers and content creators have been buying new cameras, upgrading their studios, installing faster internet, and getting more comfortable in front of a camera. When it comes to creating content for online viewers, 2020 has seen the most substantial investment ever – and there’s no sign of it stopping.

This series of articles introduces leading and best practices. It shows models for creating blended scenarios where events and their audiences are being convened in blended or hybrid modes and media: online and in person at the same time.

Creating a Collectively Awesome Blended Experience

To deliver a truly excellent blended conference or event requires a different approach, and different resources, than both in-person only or digital only events.

Prior to COVID-19, expectations of conference and event design and delivery had become quite standardized. As event organizers, the COVID-19 Pandemic offers a unique opportunity to re-evaluate and reimagine conference and event planning – from programming to audience development to marketing and sponsorship. Out of necessity, there is now some wide-open opportunity space to try new things, to connect and speak in new ways, to increase accessibility, be more inclusive and to introduce new offerings.

As in any in person conference or event, high quality content, meaningful participation and engagement are key to designing and producing an awesome digital experience. What requires close attention is how we deliver the experience. Specifically, we need to understand that a ‘blended’ or ‘hybrid’ audience is in fact two different audiences, with two unique sets of needs and wants.

Just like simply “putting an event online” doesn’t generally create an awesome online event, a blended conference must be conceived so that both the online and in person participant experience is considered to achieve a collectively awesome (but differently experienced) outcome. It isn’t enough to point a camera at the stage and live stream that in person experience expecting it to be a great online experience in a blended conference or event. Developing any event or conference follows the same five stages: discovery, design, development, delivery and follow up.

Toward events with blended in person and digital audiences
Developing any event or conference follows five stages: discovery, design, development, delivery and follow up