In July this year, Glisser put hybrid theory into action by staging Hybrid Events Ignited, a one-day multi-hub conference, which took place in New York, London and online. The company reveals what went into the planning and execution, plus lessons learned.
In December 2020, Glisser concluded that the only way it would be able to truly walk in the shoes of its customers and understand their challenges, would be to do what its customers would soon all be doing – design, plan and stage a fully-fledged hybrid event.
The people behind the platform decided to test the limits of hybrid events and opted for a milt-hub format with a live, in-person audience in New York, a live, in-person audience in London and an online audience, experiencing the event via the Glisser system.
At the start of 2021, Glisser partnered with etc.Venues as its official hybrid venue partner and secured its event spaces in both London and New York.
For its production partners, Glisser approached Encore in the UK and NMR Events in New York, to provide the audio visual and live streaming components of the event.
Encore and NMR Events worked hand-in-hand to collaborate both with one another and with the Glisser team, to ensure that a truly wow factor experience was created for all.
Research and programme design
During April and May 2021, freelance conference producer Claire Tulloch spoke with 30 in-house planners and agencies in the UK and US to help shape the programme for what would become, Hybrid Events Ignited.
The over-arching feedback from the planner research was enthusiasm for finding out how hybrid could be delivered for different audiences and the need for an understanding of what everyone else was planning to do. There was a general fear of getting it wrong and a recognition that nobody had all the answers, so a test and trial approach would be needed.
There was also a lack of clarity about what the term hybrid actually meant.
The perceived challenges most frequently mentioned (content and audience engagement; networking; cost and resource; technology) would be worked into our event programme, along with case studies of sizeable hybrid events, which had already taken place and the lessons learned.
Hybrid Events Ignited was then designed as a half-day event across the two time-zones, which would commence in the US at 9am and in the UK at 2pm. Seven 30-40 minute sessions across a five-hour programme would include panel discussions, a fireside chat and a case-study presentation.
Staging and production planning
In terms of staging, not only did Glisser want to ensure that the in-person panellists would be able to see one another, it also wanted to ensure that they would be able to see the panellists in the other physical venue.
In addition, Glisser wanted the in-person panellists in both venues to be able to see the online panellists. It also wanted to be able to show the in-person audiences to both the online viewers, and the in-person attendees in the opposite venue.
“We felt this was an important part of connecting the audiences and creating a feeling of cohesion,” Glisser’s chief evangelist, Vanessa Lovatt says. “This was surprisingly challenging as it involved ensuring that all panellists were looking in the right direction to present well for the virtual audience too – i.e the London panellists where looking left to the co-panellist in New York, who were looking to the right at their co-panellists in London.”
To achieve this, NMR created the concept of a ‘monitor forest’, whereby each physical stage would include seats for the in-person speakers and the monitor forest would include a live stream of the speakers, wherever they happen to be sitting – either online or in-person in the opposite location.
This turned out to be a more cost effective solution compared to an LED backdrop and enabled both in-person hubs to look very similar in style.
“We wanted to get across that you may be in a different venue in a different continent, but you were still part of the same event – small things like the visual design have a significant impact,” Lovatt says.
The next stage of the technical and production planning was to identify how many lines would be required to bring all of the speakers in from whichever location they were sitting with all audio presented in both directions.
“This required us to be 100% clear on how many speakers would be present in which location in each session,” Lovatt says. “As every experienced conference planner knows, speakers can change their plans last minute, or request change to their session timings and so on. We identified that the highest number of presenters that we would have in any one panel at any one time – whether online, or in person – was six and therefore we required six independent lines.
“With the benefit of hindsight, we would recommend arranging for at least one additional line to be present, so that in those last minute moments, when perhaps an in-person speaker changes their plans and asks to present online instead, you’re still able to accommodate for that to a high production standard.”
Towards the end of May, it became apparent that Glisser would be able to deliver 20 to 30 attendees in New York safely and would also be able to open-up attendance for a higher number of people in the London region. Working closely with etc.Venues, Hybrid Events Ignited was able to secure just under 90 registrations to join the in-person London hub.
“A lesson learned on the venue requirements is that hybrid events enable a greater degree of flexibility for attendees and speakers. This, overall is an incredibly good thing because ultimately, it means greater event attendance, participation, and enjoyment,” Lovatt says. “However, the downside from an event organiser’s perspective is that those who have registered to attend in-person are able to change their registration at late notice, with no penalty to them, and switch to online only. In the final week before Hybrid Events Ignited, we had 10 people email us directly to say that they would like to change their in-person registration to be an online registration instead.”
The same can happen with speakers as well, as Tulloch explains: “Of the 18 speakers, 11 confirmed to attend in person but the day before the event, two in-person speakers requested to swap to speaking virtually. This was disappointing for the New York hub as it meant we only then had three speakers attend in-person.
“This is something planners should think about because having speakers present in-person definitely gives an event more energy. It’s worth indicating on the website whether a speaker is attending in-person or virtually.”
Samme Allen was engaged as the event moderator approximately three months before the event.
“We effectively had Allen owning engagement and Tulloch owning content – having two people protecting the integrity of each of these crucial aspects was certainly a worthwhile investment,” Lovatt says. “At this point we identified that it was extremely important to have an in-person panellist physically present in both locations during every single session. This highlighted a small challenge to remedy as we had a single session with no in-person speaker present in the New York hub. We made the decision to hire a sub-moderator to support Allen in her efforts as key moderator of the event.”
Naomi Claire Crellin from Story Craft joined as sub moderator and was present throughout the entire event, on-stage in New York.
Approximately two weeks before the event, the panellists for each session came together online to discuss the details of their session, find out who was presenting from where and cover any technical questions that they had.
Not only did these sessions enable the panellists to get to know one another, it also enabled Allen and Crellin to get a sense for who may be contributing in different ways – giving Glisser the intelligence to leverage the platform engagement tools to enhance the sessions and make them more meaningful experiences, wherever the audience would be sitting.
“We were able to layer in the use of the platform at this late stage as we know the Glisser platform inside out,” Lovatt says. “We would recommend planners start planning this sooner in their event planning cycle – say three to four weeks out – so that team members have plenty of time to build and test these tools.”
To accommodate for the timezone difference between London and New York, Glisser had the New York venue production crew from NMR Events set-up on the Friday before so that everything was physically ready for them to be able to commence rehearsals first thing Monday morning New York time, which was the afternoon of Monday, London time.
“The timezone was a significant challenge with the rehearsal times and not one to be underestimated, especially with specified venue operating times,” Lovatt says. “It is inevitable that unexpected challenges will present themselves during the rehearsals – this is the entire reason for rehearsals – and we were no exception to this.
“We identified that we would need to change some of the layout on the New York stage and that we also needed to re-configure the mixing of the speakers from their various locations for the online viewers. We added a Show Caller to provide direction to both Production crews. Her role was to call which cameras should be projected and mixed to which screens, and when. She and the production crews were all linked together on Unity Intercomm for full and smooth communication.”
“We met with our Show Caller for the first time the day before the event,” Lovatt continues. “In hindsight, it would have been better to have met with her the week before the event and to have mapped out each session with her in detail. Prepping this with her the day before the event, with so many other moving parts, and with the timezone challenges to contend with, meant that rehearsal time was even more stretched.”
The intention had been to do a dummy super-speed run through of the entire show twice, with Glisser staff pretending to be speakers, and with emcee Allen able to test-run her scripts.
In reality, Glisser barely made it through one full run through. “Fortunately this proved to be just enough to deliver the event that we had envisaged, but more time would have significantly reduced those last minute moments of pre-show stress,” Lovatt says.
On the day
Some 951 delegates registered in total and of those, 89 were registered to attend in London and 36 in New York. In total, 670 delegates logged into the online platform and approximately 60 attended in-person in London and 20 attended in New York.
Before starting the live stream for the online attendees, emceeAllen led a short and high energy warm-up for the in-person audience and helped to get them feeling motivated and pleased to have made the journey to be there in person.
“During this warm-upwe had a ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ prize draw giveaway, which involved the New York attendees opening personal gift boxes and one person finding a Tiffany necklace inside – the London attendees watched all of this happen live on the screens in the London venue and burst into rounds of applause when the winning attendee held-up the necklace,” Lovatt says.
“We also wanted the London attendees to have something similar to look forward to so they were all told at this point of the event that upon leaving they would have a bottle of champagne to take home with them – to celebrate the return of in-person event attendance too. Then we went live online too and the show truly began.”
The Glisser platform enabled each audience to interact with the event content, wherever they were, in the same way and at the same time. The platform instantly combined all of their interactions into one collective audience response which enabled the content to remain relevant to all attendees, at all times.
The virtual audience were more engaged at the beginning of the event compared to the end, which was also replicated with the on-site audience in London. This was partly due to the event running up to 19:00 in the UK.
“We saw online attendance reduce during the main event break, which included some topic networking sessions, a physical stretching interlude, a brain break and even a ‘get up and dance break’. While this was somewhat expected, it was encouraging to see that the audience did return for more “live” sessions,” Lovatt says.
Tulloch says: “One piece of feedback from speaking to a few of the virtual attendees post event was that they would have liked to have seen more in the chat feed on the Glisser site. Comments included that if you are attending virtually, the chat feed offers the feeling of “seeing” you are part of the audience.”
“The final audience poll question was “do you feel more prepared for your future events?” Some 95% answered ‘Hell yes’ or ‘a little more’ so we hope that this Glisser event has helped educate a few others on this hybrid journey,” Lovatt concludes.