When the pandemic hit, we all quickly became video conferencing experts (whether we liked it or not!). Now that the world is opening back up again, it’s time to embrace the “hybrid” event. People will want to have the option of joining both in-person or on video, and we’ll need to muster our pioneering spirit to find the best approaches to make it work.

Embracing virtual meetings wasn’t easy in the beginning and the same will be true for hybrid events. But H+K’s Public Participation team has been looking into—and trying out—best practices. If you and your team are considering hosting an engagement of any size using a hybrid format, here are five important things to keep in mind.

1. Be clear about what kind of event you’re hosting

Consider your objective for the event and the needs and interests of your participants. Dialogue Partners, a public participation firm, refers to two models for hosting hybrid events: the dual-track hybrid event and the integrated hybrid event. The dual-track event sets up separate but parallel in-person and online events, while the integrated event brings in-person participants together with online ones at the same time. One model is not better than the other. Your choice should ultimately come down to technology, people resources, facilitation skills and participants’ needs. Proper planning is essential.

Pro tip: Check out Dialogue Partners’ hybrid preparation model checklist – a resource we’ve found helpful.

2. Use the right tools

Technology makes hybrid events possible but planning and preparation are what make them effective. Be intentional about your choice of platform and tools. Start by exploring the options your team is most comfortable with and learn the ins-and-outs of each tool’s capabilities and limitations.

During the pandemic, platforms made major advancements in improving their features. Take advantage of well used functions like the chat, and experiment with lesser used ones like digital whiteboards. Then, take your thinking a step further by exploring how to help participants get more out of their experience. Do you want a live broadcast of speakers? Pre-recorded content? Networking? Breakout rooms? Live polls? Social media integration? Simultaneous translation, captioning or sign language? All are possible.

Pro tip: For more guidance on the variety of tools available, check out these Zoom tips and this video on producing and presenting in Microsoft Teams. Stay on the lookout for new tools to improve participants’ experiences.

3. Be the coolest people in the “room”

We can’t stress enough the importance of having the right team and establishing clear roles and responsibilities ahead of the event. To get you started, we recommend assigning the following roles to members of your team: moderator (host and in-person lead), event producer (virtual lead), and support (to assist both the moderator and producer). Put in writing roles, responsibilities, and communication style and platform preferences for all involved.

Let’s talk a bit more about communication. Our advice? Surround yourself with people you trust and use concise language. For instance, if someone is moderating a live event, only the producer should communicate with them in a clearly prescribed way. This approach will minimize the flow of side bar chats with the moderator and provide them with very clear instructions.

Pro tip: Have a contingency plan. Before event day, brainstorm and even rehearse possible problems that could arise and plan how they’ll be handled. On event day, focus on one issue at a time. Things can and will go wrong, these challenges will help you learn and improve.

4. Be inclusive

While online events have offered us new opportunities for engagement, the pandemic has also taught us that they risk exacerbating existing inequities among participants. As facilitators, it’s our job to recognize that participants won’t be joining events on a level playing field. Identify and support participants who request extra technological help or need you to activate accessibility features. Where possible, and preferably ahead of time, ensure that support requests are met in order to make sure everyone can participate.

When taking questions or facilitating discussion, balance virtual and in-person spaces by alternating equally between engaging participants in each space. Maintain this balance by regularly checking in with virtual and in-person participants via the chat or even verbally. Finally, value non-verbal contributions just as much as verbal ones. This practice will ensure that participants who aren’t comfortable or able to speak up are still heard.

Pro tip: Nominate a readily available team member to address technological or other glitches as they arise. Let participants know who this resource person is and how they can reach them.

5. Make time for your team to debrief

Although your time, budget and energy have most likely dried up, try your best to make debriefing a purposeful part of wrap-up with your team. Debriefing is a powerful tool because it lets us take stock of wins, challenges and learnings. These reflections can help you plan better hybrid engagement for future events, so make note of any lessons you’ve learned, and keep them in a file your whole team can reference and contribute to.

Pro tip: The debrief is also a great opportunity to thank and celebrate with your colleagues. We all could use more of that!

Finally, with in-person and virtual attendees, you have an opportunity to increase and engage participants. Every activity is different and there is “no one size fits all” for events. Don’t forget that engaging people is an art and a science. All that we’ve learned about how to create meaningful engagement opportunities as public participation practitioners remains true. Stay calm! Your team has planned, prepared, and practiced (and read this article).

The tips and tricks we’ve listed here will simply allow you to focus on what’s important: listening to what participants have to say.

Authored by: Sarah Bain, Emaan Ali, Lauren Vantellingen and Elizabeth Robertson.