What No One Tells You About Hosting a Hybrid Event of Over 600 Guests
12 minute read | 2,070 words
Bayview Yards, Ottawa’s innovation hub, continues to modernize its approach to hosting events in Ottawa with state-of-the-art audio-visual technology and services. The pandemic inspired event producers to connect in-person and virtual audiences through web conferencing and broadcasting platforms. Though the concept of hybrid events is relatively new, event producers are eager to extend their reach, conserve budget, and elevate virtual meetings with the excitement of a live audience.
Samantha White, Event Manager at Invest Ottawa, and Lisa Hewston, Senior Manager, Infrastructure Services at Bayview Yards, collaborated on Bayview Yards’ largest hybrid event to date, AccelerateOTT 2021. Sam organized and produced the event while Lisa orchestrated the hybrid events team and operations of the venue. Together, these ladies organized a hybrid event of over 600 attendees, 11 sponsors, a mix of virtual and in-person audiences and speakers, during a global pandemic. Through this experience, they’ve learned some valuable insights that they hope to offer event organizers with ambitions to host their own hybrid event.
Tell us about your first hybrid event.
Sam: Our first hybrid event produced by Invest Ottawa was AccelerateOTT in October 2021. The event had in-person and virtual components. Attendees and speakers were present at Bayview Yards and were also connected to a virtual audience and additional speakers who tuned in over Hopin, a hybrid event platform. In total, 600 guests attended the event and we felt it was quite a success.
Lisa: From the perspective of my team on the venue side, the event went smoothly. This was our first larger event since the pandemic. We were excited to see activity and people back within our space, but also, we were thrilled to try out our new investment: the hybrid event audio visual technology. There were also health regulations to consider. We had to limit the capacity of the space and that’s where the hybrid event model really worked to our advantage. We were able to stream the event to our chosen hybrid event platform and orchestrate the in-person component in real time. There were a lot of moving parts; it was wonderful to see the technology used to its fullest potential.
What challenges did you encounter from a technology standpoint that you hadn’t anticipated?
Sam: This was our first time organizing a hybrid event, especially one of this scale. We had invested into a hybrid event platform for this event and although we had tested the platform, this was our first time hosting an event using the Hopin software. There were various technical considerations to align, specifically ensuring the audio-visual technology connected seamlessly with the hybrid event platform. During our final dry run in which we ran through the program at the venue while connecting to the platform, we encountered challenges connecting the audio feed to the platform and the speakers within the venue simultaneously. We were experiencing some feedback, but fortunately the AV team at Bayview Yards were able to make adjustments and solve the issue. It is beneficial to troubleshoot any potential challenges before the actual event.
Lisa: No matter how prepared our clients feel for their event, we still recommend they undergo a dry run prior to the day of the event. Whether you’re a seasoned event organizer or relatively new to your role, hybrid events pose an added complexity. It can be necessary to adjust audio visual settings, the program, or other aspects of your operation.
What did you learn from hosting your first hybrid event?
Sam: There were undoubtedly so many learning moments throughout the planning and execution of our first hybrid event. It can feel as if you’re planning two events that are merging into one. There were key learnings from all aspects of the event: technology, program, operations, etc. In terms of scheduling, we learned it’s necessary to introduce breaks within the schedule for transition periods and for our virtual audience who may be overlooked. We also learned that switching virtual stages within the hybrid event platform created additional complexities that we would prefer to avoid in future events if possible. Streamlining the virtual side simplifies the user’s movement throughout the platform and avoids confusion.
Lisa: I learned that hybrid events pose unique challenges. You may think that a hybrid event simply involves live streaming the in-person activity to a virtual audience, however, to successfully integrate both audiences into the programming and setup is an art in itself. Managing speakers onsite and virtually while ensuring all audiences have an opportunity to participate and feel connected requires additional coordination. Creating cohesion with the in-person and virtual pieces is our main consideration.
What do you wish you had considered when planning your first hybrid event?
Sam: I would recommend allowing for more time during the planning process. A step that may at first appear relatively simple, can pose challenges due to the complexity of the virtual component. As an example, scheduling speakers live and virtual took extra time to manage, including the coordination of dry run and tech tests to ensure speakers were comfortable and able to access the hybrid event platform being used.
Lisa: Upon reflection after the event had concluded, we realized that there is more planning involved with a hybrid event than a traditional, in-person model. I would caution organizers to allow for additional capacity or call for reinforcements during the planning process. We’re always looking for ways to streamline our process on the day of the event. As an example, when the health regulations were in place to check for proof of vaccination, we hadn’t anticipated the amount of time that would take.
How did you engage the virtual audience in particular throughout your event?
Sam: Ensuring the virtual audience was engaged and participated throughout the event was a key consideration of ours. By having a mix of speakers attending in-person and virtually, we felt this helped to feel as though the virtual component was participating versus spectating. We also utilized features within the hybrid event platform to raffle off sponsorship giveaways at various points throughout the program. We had staff acting as technical support by monitoring the chat. Throughout Q&A sessions, we encouraged the virtual attendees to utilize the chat function to submit questions. The networking feature available through our platform was an interesting function to include as it allowed participants to chat, mingle, and network.
Lisa: The multiple screens throughout the space displayed the virtual audience and speakers so that if there were dialogue or presentations, the audience within the building could still observe.
How did the hybrid event model impact the setup of the facility?
Sam: The RBC Foundry is equipped with two large screens that we broadcasted the activity within the platform so that everyone attending the event virtually or in-person had full visibility.
Lisa: When we hosted this event there were additional complexities to consider from a health regulations perspective. We ensured the room met capacity limitations and spaced seating to comply with social distancing. Within the hybrid event model, it’s essential to position the AV team to have full visibility of the staging, audience, etc. There were multiple cameras used to capture closeups of speakers, full pans of the room, and spotlights of audience members during Q&A. The RBC Foundry has a total of 6 cameras available to capture multiple angles of your event.
Do hybrid events require additional staff?
Sam: We required additional staff to assist with the platform by sharing announcements within the chat, troubleshooting technical difficulties of our attendees, inputting content, running polls, etc.
Lisa: With the growing trend and popularity of hybrid events, Bayview Yards added an in-house audio-visual specialist to our team. We upgraded the capabilities of our AV equipment to a much more sophisticated model that can now live stream and broadcast events. This equipment required an individual with specific training and expertise to operate.
How did hosting a hybrid event vs. A fully in person event impact your budget?
Sam: The cost of securing a hybrid event platform that has upgraded functionality to really wow participants can be high. Although food and beverage costs are minimized, audio visual requirements are expanded upon.
Lisa: When a portion of the audience is attending virtually, this impacts setup. There are less chairs, tables, etc. You’re able to select a smaller room to host your event which will impact the cost of room rental. Catering costs are reduced as you’re feeding less guests. However, there are additional audio-visual costs to consider, as well as the price of the hybrid event platform utilized.
What would you recommend to event planners hoping to host their first hybrid event?
Sam: If you’re hoping to host your first hybrid event, I recommend really taking the time to plan and organize sufficiently. When it comes to hybrid events, there are a lot of complexities and by considering the details beforehand, it can really help to polish the execution of your event. Have recorded content available to use in the event that videos freeze or audio visuals malfunction, etc. Prepare to be adaptable and flexible as much as possible. Work with AV professionals. Connecting two audiences simultaneously can be a challenge to even the most tech savvy individuals. Ideally, it is best to select a venue that has an in-house AV team to collaborate with. This team will be familiar with the equipment, the nuances of the room, and will provide an elevated experience to you and your guests.
Additionally, invest in a hybrid event platform. Hybrid event platforms often have features that make all of the difference in the execution of your event. To name a few examples, features like announcements, networking breakout rooms, advanced polling, broadcasting capabilities, etc. are only available with an upgraded platform. Although services like Microsoft Teams or Zoom offer free subscriptions, upgrading to a more advanced system can take your event to the next level.
Lisa: Be organized during the planning process as there are a lot of moving parts that must be coordinated. Plan for additional operational support on the day of the event. Allocate the time and budget to have a run of show prior to the event. Run through the program on the in-person side as well as the virtual. Oftentimes, we can eliminate potential hiccups by testing the AV equipment, your hybrid event platform, and broadcasting channel in advance to the day of the event. Be flexible and prepare for changes.
Meet our staff
Greetings, I am the Senior Manager, Infrastructure Services here at Bayview Yards.
I’ve had an extensive career within the hospitality industry having executed hundreds of social and corporate events. I’m passionate about creating exciting events that guests will remember. I am committed to ensuring the best possible experience for you and your guests. I hope you will join us soon to host your next event.
Connect with Lisa via LinkedIn.
Hello, I’m Samantha White the Event Manager at Invest Ottawa. I have an extensive background within the field of event planning and execution throughout my career, including world championship events. I’ve managed various event aspects and stakeholders, including staff, volunteers, government officials, suppliers, and partners. Together with the team at Invest Ottawa, we’ve delivered large and small scale hybrid events in support of our business and entrepreneurial community.
Connect with Sam via LinkedIn.
Our team is passionate about creating memorable and exciting events based upon health and safety best practices. We’re here to help guide you through these uncertain times using modern solutions. Connect with us today!
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