Events > Forward — Building a Powerhouse Hybrid Events Team
To design and produce a hybrid event for your organization, you’ll want to have a powerhouse hybrid events team in place. In addition to many of the individuals from your in-person events planning team, you also need to factor in new roles to engage both online and offline audiences.
In this episode, our host, Jeff Naue, Special Projects Marketing Lead, talks with Jessica Menzer, a Strategic Account Manager within Global Enterprise Solutions, on how events of the future will be more dynamic with blended audiences and customized content. As the project lead for a new initiative called Events Reminagined, she reminds us that you can’t just smash together an in-person format and virtual format to create a hybrid event.
Adding Hybrid Event Solutions to your Overall Event Strategy
As organizations reassess their overall event strategy, incorporating a hybrid approach needs to be thoughtfully designed to create an impactful and unique experience for all audiences. It is important to consult with event owners and guide them through all of the new options and considerations to produce a successful hybrid event.
Tune in for our interview with Jessica Menzer to learn what it takes to build a powerhouse hybrid events team.
To stay up-to-date on M&IW’s efforts on safety initiatives and protocols for returning to in-person events, be sure to turn into our Events > Forward Podcast Series. In each episode, we interview subject matter experts on relevant and timely topics. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Before we dive into the details, what is your experience and role at M&IW?
Happy to be here today and share some exciting updates on M&IW’s approach for hybrid meetings. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Jessica Menzer. I am currently a Strategic Account Manager and have been with M&IW for the past 6.5 years. During that time, I’ve held different roles including overseeing accounts, meeting planning, and a variety of other tasks and projects along the way.
Last March the entire meetings and travel industry was thrust into a virtual world. Give our listeners a quick history of how M&IW has evolved since the onset of COVID?
Sure thing! Pre-COVID, M&IW focused mainly on executing in-person meetings for our clients. When the pandemic hit in March of 2020 and in-person gatherings came to halt, we made a pivot into the virtual world. We were able to leverage event planning tools and technologies that we had used in the past. For example, we have been using mobile apps, second screen technologies, and more for years to increase attendee engagement at LIVE in-person events. As a result, our web design team was able to use that expertise to help clients design and produce virtual meetings. Additionally, as virtual meetings continued to increase, and new technologies emerged, our team started consulting with our clients on the best digital platforms to use based on their goals, content, budget, and timeline.
Around that same time, we launched the Events > Forward Task Force. Even in April of 2020, we knew that in-person events would be different post-COVID. So, we created a team of subject matter experts to assist in the development of recommendations, processes, and procedures to help with the safe return of events. Our team continuously monitored health and safety guidelines, industry updates, and the ever-changing landscape.
Internally, we were reviewing and updating our processes and procedures and making changes to keep our staff safe. From an external standpoint, we were making recommendations to our clients, to be their eyes and ears, forward-looking and give them peace of mind.
Where is your focus now?
Now, with the vaccines rolling out, optimism is returning. We know we’ll still need to adhere to not only local guidelines but also our clients’ meeting and travel policies. We know health and safety will continue to be top of mind even past the pandemic. More importantly, we know the expectations of our clients and their attendees have changed.
Events of the future will be more dynamic with blended online and offline audiences. We’ve learned from our experience that you can’t just take an in-person format and virtual format and smash it together and call it a hybrid event. The strategy and approach should be thoughtful to create an impactful experience for both audiences. Our team is prepared to consult with our clients and guide them through all of the considerations and navigate through this new world of hybrid events.
Jeff: Yes, it quickly became apparent to M&IW that we needed to pivot to virtual events for our clients. Our initial hope was that by late summer, early fall we might see the return of in-person events. Instead, the next wave was about successfully creating hybrid experiences with smaller in-person and larger virtual audiences.
How has that impacted M&IW? What actions have you taken?
Whether we like it or not, virtual events are here to stay. Last year, our team produced almost 1,000 virtual experiences for our clients and 2021 is not showing signs of slowing down! Most of our clients have incorporated virtual; and now that we are out of the panic stage of COVID, soon to be, hybrid experiences into their overall event strategy.
We are now REIMAGINING the way we design, deliver, and execute events in 2021 and beyond. As Tina Madden, our owner and Co-CEO would say, “as an innovative event management firm, we are not just checking a box: virtual, hybrid, or in-person. And we are not considering hybrid events just a necessary evil due to health restrictions. That would be disregarding the incredible silver linings and learnings from 2020. We are excited for the next phase in our reinvention, and busy building tools and skills to truly consult customers through the amazing opportunities ahead!”
So, at the beginning of the year, we created another cross-functional team that I will be spearheading. While we are still working within constraints and safety protocols, it is less reactive and more pro-active. We are REIMAGINING EVENTS of the future.
What does it take to Build a Powerhouse Hybrid Events team? Some might say that producing a hybrid event is essentially the same as an in-person event, explain to our listeners how they differ when it comes to staffing and expertise needed.
We’re pulling together our top experts in both in-person events and virtual experiences to develop strategies for hybrid events. Your M&IW program team would have some familiar faces. Of course, you would have your attendee management and on-site staff. However, for the virtual aspects, we would include individuals in event technology to help design the content and digitally produce the event. We may engage our creative services and marketing team to help with visual assets and communication. For your in-person event, our designers will create 3D renderings to help visualize different meeting room sets showcasing physically distancing and flow.
What’s most different with hybrid is around the event programming and content design. Everything needs to be meticulously scripted. The best hybrid experiences will seamlessly connect the audiences in the same experiences such as keynotes. But then also offer unique aspects for each, for example creating a lunch experience for both audiences. And, then bringing the attendees together in discussions, breakout sessions, through gamification or networking.
We are so fortunate to have experts in-house to support all these new areas of focus that have become so important in program consulting moving into this hybrid world.
What factors need to be considered with a hybrid event? Or phrased a different way, what is your team learning?
We’re learning that a cookie-cutter approach is not going to work in most cases. There are so many effective ways to imagine a hybrid event – and probably some that aren’t as effective. So, we need to work with our clients to understand their end goals. What are they ultimately trying to achieve? We need to give more thought to the goals and objectives of the meeting. What is the content and what type of experience will work best? When does it make sense for the audiences to join all together versus having various attendee tracks? How do we balance impact versus cost?
Once we have the overall vision for the program, then we can start working on logistics. How long should the meeting be? Where should it be located? We know many companies are limiting travel, so perhaps it looks like a series of smaller regional meetings versus a large national meeting. Perhaps there is a production team working with the top leadership and presenters in a unique venue then streaming it out to participants. It really all depends on the overall vision and goals of the meeting, and how we can make the attendee experience as impactful as possible – whether in-person, virtual or both.
What services is M&IW providing for hybrid events?
It’s interesting Jeff, most of the same services we provided in the past transitioned seamlessly into the virtual and hybrid worlds. While the planning process doesn’t look the same by any means, many things have a parallel in the in-person to virtual worlds. For example, you would plan for attendee meals during an in-person meeting, while you will arrange for virtual participants to be able to order lunch at home during the meeting. For the in-person portion. you’ll design the set-up of the meeting room, while for the virtual portion you’ll set up the live streaming room and design the stage there. In-person attendees will see the agenda and meeting materials in their mobile app, while virtual attendees will access it on their desktop. For in-person, you’ll create signage to help participants navigate to breakouts, while for virtual attendees, you’ll provide instructions on where to click to join. As I said, it’s definitely not the same, but there are many parallels.
How are clients responding to virtual and hybrid events?
Well, honestly our clients, like everyone else in the world really had no choice but to embrace our new reality of connecting virtually. I think throughout the year everyone had a variety of experiences – some great and effective and others not as much. I think we’ve all been in a meeting where someone’s audio or video cut out. We are now at the mercy of the internet so all we can do is prepare as much as possible in the background to avoid those interruptions impacting the program.
We know from experience that things out of our control can and will happen. It’s being prepared for the ‘what ifs’ that make the difference. We know that virtual meetings will be a part of our lives for the indefinite future, but we also know that they will not be the only option forever. As human beings, we need one-on-one connection and interaction to thrive. Our goal is to provide our clients with best practices and solutions that will help them create a safe and effective environment for in-person attendees while also creating an impactful virtual experience for remote attendees.
What’s on the horizon for M&IW? What’s next?
We are thrilled to be hosting our first-ever hybrid client event next month. We feel it is incredibly important to sit in our customer’s chair to fully appreciate and understand the challenges and opportunities when we are launching a new service or product. At the M&IW Events Reimagined Forum, we will demonstrate ideas to creatively connect attendees, utilize tools to extend the reach and impact of events, drive engagement, and create experiences – whether virtual, in-person, or hybrid. Together, we have the opportunity to change the landscape and future of our industry.
How can folks learn about upcoming M&IW Events?
The best way to stay up to date is to visit our website and subscribe to receive our Industry Insights Newsletter. Every month, we feature great articles, upcoming webinars, events, and more.