What needs to happen to create a hybrid event and how do you make it work?
Calls of “we should make it hybrid” echoes up and down the country, but it is easier said than done. How do you make your event hybrid? What tech do you need? What options are there? Let’s take a look at how to run a hybrid event.
To really understand hybrid events, we need to think about Strictly Come Dancing. Every Saturday and Sunday in autumn celebrities take to the dance floor in one of the most watched hybrid events in the UK. Strictly is hybrid because it has two audiences – one virtual and another in-person.
Most people will watch strictly as a virtual participant. When curled up on your sofa your hosts are Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman – they talk to you live through the camera. What most people don’t realise is that the in-person audience also have their own hosts, comedians who will come out and talk to them, get them warmed up and tell them what will happen, the virtual audience don’t see this part. But there are some parts that the in-person audience don’t see – like when Claudia interviews the couples after the dance.
So here is the key – some content is shared (we both watch the dances) and some content is unique. Your hybrid event needs both shared and exclusive content. At the most basic level there should be someone looking after the in-person room, let’s call them the Speaker and someone looking after the online people, let’s call them the Online Host.
The Online Host stays with the virtual participants, welcoming them, talking to them, telling them how things will run. They can also act as a representative to the in-person audience by asking questions or flagging up issues. At its most fundamental level this means you need a second person who is on a laptop the whole time. If you have capacity, have one Online Host in the room and another outside the room. This means that you have someone who can unmute and speak to the virtual participants without noise being an issue.
So, you have an Online Host, what else do you need? Just like Strictly you’ll need to think about lighting, cameras, and microphones. There are a lot of tech considerations so let’s break it down: what needs to happen and how can you do it:
Let’s imagine a workshop style event with 30 people in the room, 3 speakers and 15 people joining on Zoom.
Things that online people need:
To be able to hear speakers
To be able to hear contributions from the floor
To be able to see speakers
Be able to see the slides/videos
To have clear instructions
To be able to feed back to in-person room
Optional: Ability for virtual participants to see in-person delegates
To be able to hear speakers, options:
If the room has a lectern or lapel mic then the device at front can connect to Zoom and use the lectern/lapel mic as its microphone
A USB lavalier/lapel mic connected to laptop at front. Something like this (NB I’ve never tried that particular mic so can’t speak to quality, but it is 4m long meaning people could move)
An audio jack lavalier/lapel like this or this (I have used these. Good quality but the cable is much smaller. NB it depends on what laptop you have which type you need. There is TRS and TRRS, 2 black bands or 3 black bands respectively. You can get adaptors but best to buy in advance and check it works.
Wireless mics, the ones I use are dji ones. These clip it on the speaker and have the receiver plugged into a laptop (USB C) or a phone (lightening). Because there are two you can have one to pass around. I clip mine to this stick when using it as a roving mic. The downside is that it’s a little more complex – you are going to have to tweak the gain on the receiver and the mic etc so will need a bit of patience. You can also buy a lavalier mic (like point 3) and plug it in to the mic meaning the little box can go in a pocket and just act as a transmitter, like a mic pack.
To be able to hear contributions from the floor, options:
Laptops/tablets on tables. Whenever someone is speaking, they are asked to first unmute the device on their table
Contributors come to the front and speak into same mic as Speaker
The Speaker repeats whatever is said
Wireless mic is passed to them. If using the wireless mic only unmute the second mic when taking contributions from floor, it’s easy to forget that both are live.
Be able to see the speakers, options:
The laptop the speaker is using has its camera on. Downside – the speaker can’t move
The laptop the speaker is using has a webcam/camo phone connected to it. Webcam I like
A second laptop uses an external camera eg webcam or Camo. Beware of low resolution if far away – best to test this and can only be tested by looking on a second device, the device broadcasting will always show a better picture than the one people are receiving.
Be able to see slides, options:
Have host share screen
Have second person share screen matching what the speaker does.
Have clear instructions, options:
When the room are moving to table discussions the online delegates need to know what to do. They also don’t need to hear the instructions for the in-person delegates.
The Speaker is muted and an Online Host explains what is about to happen and pastes instructions in the chat box. This will be best done outside of the noisy room, so if Online Host is in the room they should nip out taking laptop with them to explain and open breakout rooms
Pre-recorded instructions can be played. The Speaker can say “We’re now going to move to discussion and we’ll explain to both groups separately how this will work <speaker muted. Pre-recorded video of instructions play>
Feedback to in-person room
There are two ways they might want to be heard – spontaneous and planned. Spontaneous they might ask a question during a talk. Planned they might feedback after breakout rooms.
The Online Host monitors the call and acts as the online delegate’s representative – raising a hand and reading out any questions
The Speaker wears a wireless earphone the whole time and online people can unmute and ask a question, which the speaker then repeats to the room
The Zoom audio is broadcast to the room, laptop speakers may not be enough additional speakers likely needed. Also this introduces potential echo issues – need to plan what is live at any one time.
Optional: Ability to see other delegates
Laptops/ipads on the tables and in-person people unmute and turn camera on before each contribution
The camera at front can spin around
A second/third camera which the Online Host spotlights as required
A few other points to consider
You need a critical mass in both spaces. If you only have one or two people joining online, consider encouraging more people to also join online so there is more buzz and conversation in the virtual space
You must, must, must priorities sound quality over visuals. Proximity to a microphone is essential id anyone speaking .
As I’m normally flying solo running events, I record virtual messages to play. So when I’m giving instructions to the room I click a button to play a video to the online participants which gives them specific instructions.
In-person discussions take longer. 20 min around a table isn’t long, but 20 min in a breakout room can be. Reduce online delegates time for contributions but increase the frequency of breaks.
You can easily use multiple camera feeds while using just one audio source. Have the sound all coming from one unmuted laptop with multiple other devices connected to the call, then simply spotlight whichever camera you'd like to see while keeping all except the main audio muted.