What is a hybrid event?
Having been creative in taking many of our activities online during the height of the pandemic, we’re all now trying different ways to move back to our default position – getting together in a room.
It’s not surprising, we’re human and we work well when we have all of those social, non-verbal cues and energies that a gathering can bring.
But for many good reasons, we need to combine this move with our newly discovered digital skills – to be inclusive, to reduce our impact on the planet and to use those shiny new tools. So the obvious leap is to have a ‘hybrid’ event – the accepted shorthand for giving people the option. Would you like to meet in-person or online? We can do both. But should we? Will it work for everyone?
I looked up the meaning of hybrid. It’s ‘a thing made by combining two different elements’ or ‘having two different types of components performing essentially the same function’. Do these describe some of those events you’ve been to recently – perhaps on our own, at home or in an office, appearing as boxes on a screen to others who are sitting together in a room elsewhere? Have they performed essentially the same function?
Anecdotally, we’ve heard that hybrid events don’t always work for all kinds of reasons:
- the sound wasn’t so good
- we couldn’t see the chat
- we had a question but nobody noticed we had our hand up
- they kept on chatting in the room after we’d left the call.
The number of articles out there discussing their extra complexity suggest that they are far more than ‘a thing made by combining two different elements’.
It’s not that good hybrid events aren’t possible, but they clearly need detailed planning, good design, the right technology and well prepared participants.
So, while we could summarise the tips and tricks already out there and write yet another guide to hosting hybrid events, we’ve been stepping back and wondering.
Co-create are good (really good) at designing and hosting online conversations that help organisations to prepare for getting more people involved in what they are doing. So, if that’s also going to involve working with people together in the same room, how can we do it well?
What do you want to do and why?
These are two questions that are frequently lost in the noise of a project, a programme of work or even an organisation.
People’s time, energy and attention are precious resources, particularly when we’re asking for people outside of our organisation to work with us, perhaps for little or no compensation. So ideally we should ask these questions each time – what do we want to achieve by bringing these people together and why?
We should gather for reasons that are clear and design those gatherings with intention.
Which leads to the next question – what type of gathering is this? Let’s consider a few.
Meetings have long taken up a good bit of working life for many people and now, with the easy click of a calendar invite, our days can be filled with discussion. We all have a picture of what a meeting looks and feels like.
But what do we want to achieve by bringing people together and why? Is it to broadcast information, make decisions or gather thoughts?
When I recently took part in a webinar that was advertised as a guide to hosting ‘hybrid events’ it soon became clear that we were actually talking about hybrid meetings, connecting between shiny offices – where everyone involved probably belongs to the same organisation with similar access to technology, tools, context and knowledge.
Regular meetings with people we know are familiar – we know the set up. We can learn as we go along, try things out and improve them next time we meet.
Compare this to a one-off workshop or an event to which you have invited people from outside of your organisation – perhaps members of the public. They probably don’t know the history or context of the problem you’re trying to solve, how your organisation works or have access to technology like yours.
So those questions are key now – what do you want to achieve by bringing people together and why?
This might be your one chance to get this right, to ensure that the experience works for everyone, enabling contribution and collaboration and building trust. Who will be online and who will be in the room? What will you be asking them to do, what technology will be available and where will the power lie? (and I don’t mean the extension leads). This is going to take quite a bit of design and planning.
And then of course, a hybrid experience can happen without notice. The group of people that appear in a digital window instead of the one person you were expecting. Our work – and yours – is about dealing with uncertainty.
It feels as though there’s a lot to consider, but we reckon it’s worth investing some time considering what you want to achieve by bringing people together and why. By designing a gathering with intention from this starting point, using our values and aims, we can begin to discover what will work for everyone.
We’re going to share a few things we’ve discovered and tried out over the past months. We’re thinking aloud here, working in the open. If you have some thoughts on this all do get in touch.
Let us know what your experiences have been and, together, let’s develop an alternative concept of ‘hybrid’, describing ways of gathering people together in online and in-person contexts while ensuring inclusion, collaboration, enjoyment and connection throughout.