On January 20, the world was treated to an unequaled hybrid event in the form of the U.S. Presidential Inauguration. The evening program, “Celebrating America,” featured a seamless mix of pre-produced video and live cut-ins highlighting storytelling, patriotic imagery, music, celebrities, real-life heroes from across the country, and landmarks as backdrops. And did we mention the fireworks display?! It was spectacular.
With the challenges created by COVID-19 over the last year, hybrid events have become increasingly popular. Events that have traditionally taken place in front of large audiences, from the NFL Draft to the 2020 political conventions to the World Dog Surfing Championships (yes, even surfing dogs), have increasingly combined in-person and virtual elements, as well as pre-produced and live content. And while live, in-person events are projected to return during 2021, the reality is that virtual elements have become an essential part of successful events. In fact, a recent survey by Event Manager Blog found that 62 percent of event planners intend to continue to accommodate a virtual audience even when live events return. The hybrid event is here to stay.
The good news is that you don’t have to have a presidential budget to have a successful hybrid event. At Bespoke, we recently created a custom hybrid event for Metropolitan State University of Denver’s commencement ceremony. With students and families unable to gather in mass, we developed a memorable, culturally enriching experience to honor and celebrate the graduates’ achievements while still making it feel like you were watching parts of the celebration in real time. Below are a few key elements that ensured the ceremony was a success. But these tips can ensure an impactful hybrid event, no matter the size.
- Have an Event Purpose: Have a common thread that ties the event elements together into one cohesive brand experience. For the MSU Denver commencement, we made sure that all of the components celebrated graduated accomplishments, showed compassion and care for the unique circumstances they have faced and provided a memorable and culturally enriching experience.
- Think of the Event as a Story: Every story has a beginning, middle and end. So should a hybrid event. Be thoughtful about what you want attendees to experience, learn or feel throughout the duration of the event, as well as what you want them to take away from the event. Like the in-person experience, the MSU Denver commencement started with a moving rendition of the Star Spangled Banner performed by a graduating student.
- Feature a Moderator/Host: Having one moderator or host creates consistency throughout the event as you switch from live to pre-recorded, or physical to virtual, elements. For the inauguration celebration, it was Tom Hanks.
- Include Engaging, Diverse Content: No one wants to participate in an event that features only talking heads and Powerpoint presentations. Make sure the event includes different types of content from speakers, to entertainment, to ways to engage attendees like polls or question and answer sessions.
- Consider featuring a “Celebrity”: And by celebrity, we don’t necessarily mean Mr. Hanks (although that would be incredible). Local artists, business leaders, sports figures, broadcasters and others can bring excitement and energy to a hybrid event. At the commencement ceremony, we featured acclaimed poet Theo Wilson, who wrote and performed an original spoken-word piece for the graduates.
- Use Visually-Interesting Backgrounds: Use different, appealing and relevant backgrounds for both live and pre-recorded content to reinforce the event theme and messaging. For MSU Denver, we filmed at locations including key university buildings, inside a concert hall, and even on a green screen so that we could add background visuals at a later date.
- Include the “Live Look-in”: One of the most memorable parts of any televised sports draft is seeing the athletes interact with their families and friends when their name is called to join a team and their life is changed forever. The virtual draft this year had cameras at many of the draftees’ homes to capture that moment and see all of the excitement and emotion.
- Ensure your content is accessible: The MSU Denver commencement components, livestream and interactive chat were all available in both English and Spanish and included subtitles. Understand your audience and be as inclusive as possible when providing translations and accessibility services. In addition, have an easy way for people to connect with questions – technology can be confusing and can make an event stressful for attendees if it is not user-friendly.
- Partner with an A/V and Technology Expert: It is absolutely essential to work with a strong audio/visual and technology partner to help capture great pre-recorded video, broadcast live video and direct the production on the day of the event. Our great partners at CEAVCO are experts in this field and helped curate the entire MSU Denver commencement experience.
Hosting a hybrid event is a new endeavor for many companies and organizations. Whether it’s a hybrid conference, training, fundraiser or celebration, Bespoke can provide the strategies, problem solving and expertise to ensure every detail of the event is impactful and executed flawlessly.