Is your small or independent business considering producing hybrid events? Have you already hosted some? What are the challenges or the rewards? Those were the questions before ISBO CommuniTEA’s May 25th attendees on Zoom.

ISBO CommuniTEA, a socially engaging casual chat for members of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) monthly addresses a topic of direct interest to Independent and Small Business Owners (ISBO) or those who wish to begin their own business. After individual brief introductions, the group is subdivided into small group breakouts, affording each person the opportunity to share or ask questions without judgement. Each small group discussion creates its own energy and direction. The answers are as diverse as the participants. Here are some of the responses.

One answer received the greatest agreement. Hybrid meetings are expensive. You are producing two events simultaneously. To fully engage attendees, a hybrid event needs two separate AV productions and two Emcees, each focused on their designated audience. A challenge small business owners face is explaining the complexities of producing a hybrid event and why costs may exceed the client’s expected budget. The client may have a different perception of the costs of each component. Those components should be carefully outlined.

Hosting an event offers challenges. First off, discuss with the client what the objectives are. Is a hybrid event the best format to accommodate those needs? Initial discussions might reveal that there are two different goals that need to be met:  that for the virtual audience and separately for the in-person audience. With two different audiences, there would need to be two different marketing strategies. Hosting two events simultaneously, even if both audiences might share the same or similar data, leads to further production complexities and therefore, greater expense.

Most business owner attendees debated whether hybrid events are here to stay. Some thought “forever more” while others agreed at least through 2021. A couple thought perhaps through 2022, with the popularity of safe in-person events eventually fading out the need for a hybrid event.

Once a decision is made to produce a hybrid event, which platform to use? There were at least seven different platforms mentioned during the hour-long ISBO CommuniTEA session. The only agreement was that no one has discovered the perfect one-stop-does-it-all platform. One key element is the site’s mechanics. How easy is it for attendees to use? For instance, if the main group is on a shared system, but then individuals must leave that system to participate in selected breakout sessions, how easily can they reconnect to the main group? If the attendee is booted off in trying to re-engage, that person may not feel motivated to begin logging in anew. Switching from one device or system to another can also contribute to flagging interest. A couple of the business owners mentioned there are platforms whose services offer small bubbles reflected on the main screen showing the various chat rooms. The attendee can click on the bubble and easily click out of that before moving to another bubble.

Another key consideration is cost to virtual attendees. Do you charge them? If so, how much? Some thoughts were to charge the same as someone attending in person because the necessary extra production means extra costs for the host. One business owner, who has produced hybrid events for thousands of people, said the virtual attendee has not paid for travel or lodging. Even with paying full registration price, that person is still saving money.

Being able to have more intimate chats with other MPI members facing similar business decisions or may have found answers one needs has been a rewarding benefit of the ISBO CommuniTEA structure. As Sharon Andersen, CMM wrote to Advisory Board member Susan Piel, “I found the session valuable! I am excited to be a part of this esteemed group.”

While the focus of the Hybrid Events and Your Small Business session delved more into the complexity of entertaining, educating and engaging the virtual audience, one business owner who has hosted hybrid events noted that with smaller, socially-distanced in-person audiences, there is a lack of energy evident in a packed room.

“Well done…This was my first ISBO CommuniTea and it will not be my last. Shine on,” wrote Bonnie Boyd to Advisory Board Community Engagement Chair Ciara Feely.

The next ISBO CommuniTEA event is June 29. The subject will be Sunshine on Your Small Business: Growth and Positivity.

Register here.