Last week I took part in (and helped to organise) the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Global Speakers’ Academy 2021, an event which had been in the planning since 2019. Pre-COVID, the concept was a ‘traditional’ conference to be held in Miami, but when the world changed abruptly in 2020, it became clear that we were now organising a hybrid event, bringing together online and onsite delegates. This added several layers of complexity to the challenge, but as I reflect on the programme – both as a co-organiser and a delegate – I think we can be justifiably proud of our achievements.
For anyone who is organising a hybrid event, I offer you my learnings on the experience, in the hope that they are both a practical help as well as an inspiration for what is possible in this new reality we’re all inhabiting:
- Have a coordinator/facilitator permanently with the online group to help gel, connect and coordinate them, and be the ‘go-to’ person for the onsite leader. We were luckily enough to have Diana Swillinger, who did an amazing job.
- Have a ‘person of significance’ in the online group to give this cohort focus, credibility and relative importance in the context of the wider conference. As I was a champion of the whole programme and participating online, this helped everyone recognise there were two parts of the whole (online and onsite). We also had a global board member online too.
- Keep the breakouts uniform. By this I mean, the breakout sessions were either totally online or totally in-person, rather than trying to mix online and offline delegates in the same breakout group. This meant the depth work could flow more easily and more learning was achieved.
- Have a strong and able main facilitator onsite at the in-person event, and ensure they are able to deal with complexities. Our thanks go to Patrick Quinn for taking on this role so brilliantly.
- Spend money on great AV equipment and people who can operate it properly. We had two cameras, one focused on the speaker and one on the onsite group, a screen (for slides) and a large TV to show the online group, plus great sound connections (speakers and microphones).
There were two things which we did not do so well but have learned for next time:
- 6. Bring the two groups of delegates together early. Get everyone on some Zoom calls and break into smaller groups to get to know each other and connect on a personal level.
- 7. Agree upfront the best way for individuals, whether online or onsite, to debrief and feed back to each other without delay.
Overall, I found #EOGSA21 to be an amazing experience with great learning, connection and fun in both groups. As one of the online attendees I can honestly say that, in many ways, it felt like an enhanced version of being at an in-person event ‘in the old days’.
Organising a hybrid event may be a daunting prospect as we all learn to navigate the post-COVID world, but I firmly believe that there are many positives to be gained, not least increased accessibility and a lower carbon footprint if people are able to attend virtually.
If you’d like help or advice on bringing people together in a hybrid world, either at events or in the workplace, please get in touch.