Accessibility, convenience and comfort for attendees make hybrid programs worth it.
Alyssa Denneler has been hosting hybrid events for more than four years as an assistant librarian at Indiana University Bloomington. During that time, she has learned that, although planning hybrid programs comes with some extra steps, the outcomes are usually worth the effort.
Last spring, Indiana University Bloomington launched a virtual exhibit that was accompanied by an in-person program and exhibition. Naturally, attendees of online and in-person events had different experiences; that's to be expected, Denneler says.
But by implementing a few key steps, Denneler ensured that attendees had a great experience whether they were in person or online. Watch the webinar recording to learn more or read some of Denneler's key takeaways below.
Why is hybrid worth the work?
Denneler presents three reasons: accessibility, convenience and comfort.
"Hybrid allows folks to choose the ways in which they wish to engage," Denneler says. "Those who are uncomfortable with the social aspect of in-person presentations don't necessarily have to take part. They can type in the chat to engage instead."
How to overcome the differences in experience
One way to mitigate the differences in experience is to assign someone (or yourself) to curate the online experience. You can do this by simply acknowledging the chat and by making sure that questions from virtual attendees are read out loud. Engaging the virtual attendees with the in-person attendees is important to make a Q&A session more cohesive.
To succeed in this, you'll need to have at least one other committed colleague, the right room, and the right topic. "Try to find someone who is excited and willing to help," Denneler says. "This can be a colleague or a volunteer. Having the appropriate room for a hybrid program also makes a difference."
Before your event
Do: Test your tech. You never know what has happened or gotten switched around since your last run-through.
Do: Make it clear in your promotion that folks can choose how to attend, whether that is virtual or at the library. This makes it easier for those who haven't attended a hybrid event before to understand how it works.
Do: Make sure your presenters and guests know the run of the show. "Have a plan that everyone is aware of," says Denneler, "Who is managing tech or chat? Assign these roles before the event."
Don't: Host alone! Recruit coworkers and volunteers, especially if it is your first time doing hybrid.
During your event
Do: Enable auto-captions on Zoom or hire a captioner if funds allow.
Do: Assign in-person and virtual roles to cover all the bases.
Do: Pipe up if someone seems to be having technical issues. "Even if it feels like it's interrupting the session, it's better to address it and fix it," says Denneler.
Don't: Make last-minute changes if you don't get the turnout you were expecting. "Presenters can get really concerned if there is nobody who has joined the online room or the in-person room," says Dennler. "They can get hyper-focused on this and derail the plan. Pretend like you have both audiences and continue going on. One audience won't notice that the other isn't there! Just continue on like planned."
After your event
Do: Assess your event with an online survey using a QR code. Present the QR code on the slides and send the link to the survey in chat for virtual attendees to access. Attendees will let you know what you did well, what went smoothly and what worked or didn't work in this format.
Do: If you worked with partners, set up a short debrief meeting to thank them and discuss what went well and what didn't. "It's nice to build up a portfolio of what went well," Denner recommends. "This will help you in the future when planning similar events."
Funding for this article has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the American Rescue Plan: Humanities Organization Grant.