This week’s guest post comes from an expert in all things visual communication, video content, and audience engagement. Virtual Sapiens’ Rachel Cossar delivers her four top tips for maximum engagement that speakers and organizers at hybrid events won’t want to miss.
From workplace arrangements to events, ‘hybrid’ is the mot du jour.
Hybrid events (also referred to as ‘smart events’) present a compelling opportunity for inclusion, flexibility, and impact. There is a huge opportunity in the events industry to meet people where they are to showcase the highest level of content and to provide VIP-feeling networking opportunities for everyone. Hybrid events give us the convenience of choice, access to quality content for longer and in ways that don’t require everyone to be in person, at the same time.
However, hybrid events will only achieve these benefits if they are run effectively, in a way that supports the dynamic nature of having people simultaneously connecting in person, and virtually.
Here are the main things you need to be aware of to run the most engaging hybrid event.
Priming Participants to Succeed
The best meetings and events are always those the participants are prepared for. People generally know what to expect from in-person meetings, but for virtual and hybrid events, participants need to be primed to participate. This means sharing two categories of details in advance:
- The event setup (What technology will be set up for those in-person? For those connecting remotely?)
- Channels of engagement (How will people in different environments connect live and will people be asked to participate?)
An added hack here is to provide event attendees with access to the online platform component ahead of time. This way everyone can familiarize themselves with the available tools, as well as other participants.
Without first sharing these details, it is unrealistic to expect your participants to feel empowered to participate.
Set people up for success - let them know how things will run and how they can participate.
Providing Visual Access For All Parties
Unlike virtual events, where everyone has the same viewing vantage point, in hybrid scenarios, you have to develop an awareness of where your audience is, and what they are seeing.
This is similar in nature to ‘theater in the round’, where, as a performer, you have to consider the audience that may be behind you, to the side or higher up in the balcony.
For those connecting in person -> ensure they are able to see those connecting virtually. Visual cues are imperative to keeping others in our minds.
For those connecting remotely -> ensure they have a full and quality view of those who are in person. This may mean providing every in-person participant with their own device so that everyone shows up in the virtual world as equals.
There is nothing more isolating than being a virtual participant, ‘looking in’ on a room full of blurry people with nondescript features.
This point is particularly poignant from a nonverbal communication perspective. Given that over 90% of the emotional nuance of a message is delivered through nonverbal cues, we can’t have truly impactful hybrid events if all participants are not clearly seen and heard.
Both from an active speaker and an active listener perspective, the nonverbal cues we share during a meeting or event will heavily influence how people feel that event went. When a presenter is able to leverage their full expressive toolkit, (including hand gestures, facial expressions, eye gaze, and posture to name a few categories), those listening experience the full force of communication in action. Similarly, the presenter will feel much more connected to their audience (and thus be able to tailor messaging accordingly) if they can see how their audience is engaging with their subject matter.
The Power of Pausing
While on the subject of nonverbal communication, certain vocal, or speech techniques, can also dramatically increase the engagement level of a hybrid event.
The one I’d like to call out here is pausing. In general, whether we are discussing in person, virtual or a hybrid, presenters don’t pause enough.
Pausing allows our audiences to:
- Digest what is being shared with them.
- Formulate an appropriate response (i.e. a question, comment or consideration)
Pausing allows the speaker to:
- Observe the audience. Who is nodding their head? Who looks confused, is anyone adopting a ‘head tilted, looking up to the corner’ posture that indicates consideration?
- Come across as more confident and with more authority (similar to expanding with our posture, taking some time between statements is an indicator of authority and confidence).
All in all, the effective use of pausing is a powerful tool at your disposal during hybrid events. Play around with it at your next meeting!
Of course, one final point to touch on is the age-old question…where to look?
Interestingly, unless you are addressing a person or group of people who are physically in the same room as you, you will want to look into the lens.
If you are speaking to someone in person and you are virtual -> look into your lens.
If they are virtual and you are in person -> know where the lens is that connects to their viewing experience and focus your gaze there.
Certainly do not be caught with your back to someone as you try to simultaneously engage them in a conversation! The nonverbal dysfunction in that experience will certainly confuse everyone.
All in all, hybrid meetings present us with a wonderful opportunity - maximum flexibility of location, with a real-time, human interactive component. But they must be done thoughtfully if they are going to be impactful.
Become fluent with the points mentioned in this post. Hybrid meetings can be done well, but a new lens must be applied in order to achieve this. For more on how to show up your best on video from a nonverbal communication standpoint, check out Virtual Sapiens.
Rachel Cossar is Co-Founder and CEO at Virtual Sapiens and a nonverbal communication expert. Virtual Sapiens leverages AI to make video meetings more human. The Virtual Sapiens Sidekick is an in-call coach that provides helpful nudges and encouragement to improve presence and communication on video over time.