It wasn’t too long ago that the mention of the term ‘hybrid event’ would have caused the majority of people to either a) stare blankly b) wrinkle their nose up at the concept or c) head for Google. It’s funny how predictions of the future can suddenly arrive into your life with a bang rather than a slow creep.
The pandemic years, a two year break from tradition, will be looked back upon as a time of great upheaval and also great innovation in the workplace. Looking back over the time, some observations now look rather quaint as those new innovations have become the norm. The hybrid event is one of those innovations.
Aside from the obvious necessity of having a structure in place to insulate against sudden restrictions, there are other reasons why the hybrid is now viable. The tech (not to mention web connectivity) is available to make the experience smoother and the ethical arguments for not flying half way around the world for a two-hour meeting are now easier to make. For all these reasons, the hybrid event is here to stay.
Hybrid Event Issues For the Presenter
Inevitably, the hybrid event audience of live and virtual throws up a few issues for presenters. Should they focus on the live audience and forget the likes of Aled’s Ipad et al in the virtual bleachers, or should they adjust their presentation to adopt a hybrid style which treats everyone the same? In many ways, today’s hybrid presenters are emulating the TV show presenter who riffs with the studio audience while acknowledging ‘the viewers at home’. However, it’s a hard line to walk as trying to accommodate both crowds may end up alienating both, or at least provide a rather weird distraction.
In the 2010 general election campaign, then Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, altered the fortunes of his leadership ambition as well as those of the perennial bridesmaids at the UK political party. In the first leaders debate he chose not to address the 200 people in the studio audience but the millions watching at home by starting into the camera. It was a game changer, and a tactic that has been oft repeated since, but has, on occasions, fulfilled the original fears of a strategist that “We were worried that looking straight at the camera might look creepy.”
So while a concerted focus on the virtual audience may fall into this category, there is certainly a requirement to make them feel included. This includes acknowledging attendees’ presence and perhaps building in to the presentation moments that continue to reinforce this connection. However, the most important thing to remember is that there is actually a camera present and that half your audience is seeing you through its lens.
Hybrid Even Presentation Pitfalls to Avoid
The most assured route to achieving a successful presentation may be to treat it like a TED Talk, but without the sufficient tech support (ie camera and sound team), your main concern should be how to play the cards you have been dealt with. Some presenters enjoy roaming onstage, but if that means you’re out of camera shot for big chunks of your presentation, you will lose your virtual audience. Likewise, in a live environment presenters can get away with lax mic craft, thanks to natural acoustics (and even body language) but in the virtual meeting place good mic craft is essential.
This means taking the time to prepare and liaise with the administrator who is marshalling the virtual aspect of the presentation. If there is an interactive element (ie Q+A session), then how this will work demands discussion with them. As you have split focus, having the input of an assistant is extremely useful and, where they are playing a key role, I would suggest introducing them to your virtual audience as your link. I have seen too many hybrid presentations where this support role is ignored and becomes awkward when presenters are have a need to interact with it (tech issues or relaying Q+A virtual questions).
So the future has arrived – until the next instalment at least – and human beings continue to display their talent for adaptability. The hybrid meeting place is sure to dominate the landscape for now, but what will follow? Back to Nick Clegg perhaps who, in his new role as Facebook’s vice-president for global affairs, recently showcased what may lie ahead in the form of an FT interview in the Metaverse. Oh how we’ll soon be laughing at the quaintness of the hybrid presentation…