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Five tips for organizing a successful hybrid event or hybrid training

By Eero Nukari on Sep 15, 2020 1:30:00 PM , updated on Aug 23, 2021

The pandemic situation continues to pose challenges to training and event organizers in trying out new ways of implementation. Alongside fully digital implementations, hybrid events and hybrid teaching offer alternatives to organizing wholenesses. What exactly is a hybrid all about and how can hybrid encounters be made successful? We pooled our thoughts and experiences into five tips: This is how you can succeed in organizing a hybrid encounter.

However, let’s start with a definition: What is meant by hybrid encounter? Hybrid encounters are by no means new phenomena, as they have been used for years to provide flexibility in the organizing of events and training. However, the pandemic has taken the number of digital encounters to a whole new level plus new needs have also arisen for hybrid doing of things.

By hybrid meeting, we mean an encounter in which some of the participants meet face-to-face in a shared space, while some of the event's participants join online, either via their own devices or as groups from separate satellite points. For the facilitator, hybrid encounters are often more challenging than face-to-face or fully digital encounters. However, one-way, listening-focused remote participation is not the modern-day way, neither for fully digital encounters or hybrid encounters. And so, make a point of getting the most out of digital ways of inclusion in your upcoming hybrid encounter by noting the following tips. 

1. Prepare well

As with fully digital encounters, so in hybrid encounters: digitizing of the previous implementation mode one-to-one is often not the most workable option. With hybrid meetings, good preparation over a common digital platform ensures the starting point for a successful event. Preparations may include, for example, revising of practical instructions, technical preparation (especially for remote participants), forming into groups and presenting oneself, discussing the participants' expectations and wishes, presenting questions or exploring the content itself, e.g. by means of video lectures or other material (reverse learning). Of course, it is not worth embedding all of these in every encounter, but rather to choose for the group ways and means that are the most important for the participants and which fit in with their daily lives.

Try this: Implement online and in advance at least one of the things you would otherwise do at the beginning of the event. For example, select one of the following: Facilitators' introduction, group presentation round, collecting of wishes in advance, defining the common theme, getting to know the basic concepts, or… consider also whether the duration of the simultaneous encounter can be shortened by good preparation and/or follow-up work performed at different times (asynchronously).

2. Remote participants to the fore

Perhaps the most typical risk associated with a hybrid meeting is that remote participants are left out, i.e. they become so-called “second class” participants. Face-to-face participants can easily take the facilitator’s or trainer’s attention because face-to-face communication enables more diverse ways to communicate. In order for everyone to get the most out of the encounter, all participants should be brought to the same line, as it were, by planning the meeting with the needs of digital participants being kept to the fore. 

In practice, this means that the ways of participation applied in face-to-face encounters, such as flip charts, whiteboards, sticky notes, and hand-up voting, need to be put aside. However, inclusion should not be reduced; instead, this should be done digitally. Voting, brainstorming, reflecting, task submissions, and questions can be easily implemented via mobilephone or laptops, regardless of whether a person joined in from the classroom or remotely. When the same work platform is used for both the encounter work itself and preparation, the platform will also be familiar to everyone in advance and logging in will be easy. 

Try these: When you ask questions out aloud, you can first ask for the remote participants for their thoughts and only then turn to those participants who are present. Technology permitting, bring remote participants as video images onto a screen of their own in the classroom, and make sure that they also hear the comments, not just the speaker’s voice. The remote participant’s experience is not a good one if he/she hears the answer to a question that he/she did not initially hear properly. So, reserve a moment in your preparation time to test the technology. This ensures good audio and image quality. Good preparation and familiarity with the technology also provides confidence and peace of mind to the facilitation of the event. 

3. Work in pairs and small groups can also succeed in digital mode

Pair chats and group work are part of the toolkit of most facilitators and they provide participants with opportunities for active participation. In the case of hybrid encounters, group work need not be forgotten. Modern-day digital tools enable opportunities for small group work and their use is actually more effortless than one might imagine. So, divide the F2F participants into groups of their own and form network participants into the required number of small groups. Ask the groups to compile their ideas on the same platform, e.g. in text format, images or even as videos. In this way, everyone's ideas will be documented at the same time and the discussion can continue even after the encounter. 

Try this: Also, digitalisation enables a wide-ranging dialogue between the participants. What if you were to try a “silent conversation” within the whole group about a theme of your choosing. Ask group members to first share their own thoughts in writing in a joint chat and encourage them to “listen” to and appreciate other thoughts (for example, through likes) and to continue to build by responding to comments. This way, everyone, including the quieter and more timid participants, can make their voices heard. By keeping the conversation anonymous, one can further lower the threshold for participants to become involved and to share their ideas openly.

4. Share the lead responsibility and facilitate as a team

The facilitator's task is to ensure that all participants are aware of the schedule and any changes to it. It is therefore worth pointing out clearly when the break ends or at what time after lunch the encounter continues, how long the participants work in small groups and whether the groups will be allocated extra time... A digital timer that is visible to both in-class and remote participants can make it easier.

If the group is large and there are a lot of participants, especially on-line, it is also worth sharing the facilitation responsibilities among several coaches where possible. A second facilitator can take primary responsibility for digital tools: answering questions, participating in discussions, attend to small group allocations and content guidance, and to sending invitations to participants for assignments and discussions. It is a good idea for the network facilitator, too, to join in remotely. In this way, he will also have experience of the role of a remote participant and of possible problem situations. This will also make it easier for the on-line facilitator to understand when it is useful to guide the team to engage in common interaction to “cross-pollinate” the remote and on-location participants’ ideas.

Try this: If more than one satellite is involved in your implementation, make the satellites as equal as possible. For example: you can share out responsibilities so that the responsibility for leading the day’s activities is split between the people in charge of the various satellites. This way, more participants have roles of both a remote and an on-site participant. As a facilitator, you can also give the group a shared learning task to avoid “we here” and “you there” talk and experience. At the end, you can evaluate together how well the day went.

5. Enable informal encounters

The undeniable strength of face-to-face encounters is in the generation of informal conversations during breaks and natural opportunities for networking. With a little planning and effort, these opportunities can also be made available to digi-participants. For coffee breaks, for example, small digital discussion groups can be organized around informal themes or questions, the event can be organized to have free-form and voluntary “digital sequels”, which are, however, stated in the programme, and networking can also be continued at a different time over a digital platform. As a facilitator, it is important to ask the right questions. It is a good idea to plan in advance whether the participants could be involved in brainstorming, for example, the themes of future meetings or finding new partners, or whether they might be keen to share tips related to the theme or in seeking and giving peer support. 

Try this: Bring the remote and on-site participants closer to one another, e.g. through feeling images, voting, joint relaxation exercises and exercise during breaks. More informal forms of participation can also serve in breaking the ice, in creating a sense of security and in lowering the threshold for participation in content-loaded discussions as well.

Want more insights on how to facilitate virtual and hybrid events? Check out our Digital Facilitation Playbook. You’ll get a crash course on how to facilitate a virtual workshop, along with insights, benefits, pro tips, facilitation methods, and tools.