Guidelines for blended events (online and face to face)

One of our supported institutions recently asked if I knew of or had any guidelines for organisers planning to run blended events (extending the value of face-to-face events by giving access to a remote audience). I didn’t find anything that entirely fitted the bill but as I’ve arranged, helped and participated in a number of these types of events I’ve done a bit of a brain dump and below is a draft of what I’ve come up with. I’d really welcome any feedback of suggestions you have (you can leave comments in this post or edit the document in Google Docs) Update: Thanks for the contributions so far from Kirsty Pitkin (@eventamplifier) and Alan Lavine (@cogdog)

Guidelines for blended events (online and face to face)

Increasingly event organizers are turning to hybrid events which blend face-to-face with an online audience to maximize impact/amplification and reduce costs for attendees. This guide is designed to identify a number of factors that event organisers should consider before running events and covers a number of areas from technical considerations to the format of the event.

In the planning stages of a blended event, organisers need to make a decision about how the physical and virtual audience will be treated. This is important as from the very beginning you need to manage the expectations of those attending. The main decision to make is will the remote audience be actively integrated into the event or treated as passive observers. There are a number of factors to consider before deciding at which part of the spectrum, in terms of active to passive, the event is going to be. One factor is scale. With large events it becomes increasingly difficult to moderate the audience and engage in effective dialogue in terms of what is happening in the physical and virtual spaces.

Before you start

  • Establish a group of key people who will be involved in designing and delivering the event
  • Decide on how the group will communicate and share documents (eg draft programmes)
  • Agree on a set of event objectives
  • Identify your target audience
  • Decide on the format of your event.
    • Will there be any breakouts (will these also be streamed)
    • Is the remote audience going to be actively engaged during the event
    • Will any of the presentations be delivered remotely
    • What streaming options do you have available (video streaming only, integrated conference environment)
    • How will the physical and virtual space be arranged (what virtual presence will remote delegates have)
    • How will remote participants discover or navigate through the event materials
    • How will your physical and remote audience connect and network
    • Do you have enough staff to support your event
  • Identify speakers (for more interactive events consider targeting speakers who are familiar with delivering hybrid or online events)
  • Create a shortlist of suitable venue locations (criteria for selection may include connectivity, on-site technical support, existing video streaming provision)
  • Identify and resolve legal aspects of streaming the event
    • How will you get consent from presenters to record/distribute their presentation Tip: also ensure presenters know that content of their presentations needs to be copyright cleared or properly attributed
    • How will you get consent from the audience to record/distribute their contributions/comments.
  • Decide if you want to stream the event yourself or use a dedicated company to do it for you

Technical specification

  • General
    • What online conference environment are you going to use
    • How are you going to use the online environment (polls, Q&A pods, breakouts, chat)
    • Are individual logins required for remote delegates if so how will these be generated and distributed.
    • Will you be streaming via wifi or a wired Internet connection? Wired Internet connection is always better.
  • Audio
    • General – does the room have an existing AV setup which can be fed into your live stream
    • Presenter – how will audio be picked up (directional mic, wireless lapel mic or other)
    • Audience – if required how will questions comments from the audience be picked up (roving mics, relayed by host)
  • Video
    • Source – how will video be captured. Tip: webcams are okay but will often struggle in low light levels. A number of current camcorders have the ability to pass through their live video feed as a webcam source via firewire, s-video or HDMI (not all camcorders have this ability). Using a camcorder will also give you more control over zoom, focus and light balance.
    • Coverage – will there be multiple video sources to capture different angles (eg presenter, slides and audience). How does your streaming software support this e.g. switching camera angles. Note: slides with small text or detailed images often appear poorly over a live video stream, so it is best to have them available elsewhere (i.e. Slideshare or Authorstream). Some online conference environments also allow slides to be uploaded beforehand to allow better rendering. Check speakers’ slides in advance, where possible.
    • Remote streaming – will online participant have the option to broadcast their own cameras

Event registration and information

  • Decide if online attendance is going to be promoted in the event publicity
  • Outline the anticipated remote delegate experience – will remote delegates be able to contribute to the discussion etc
  • Provide details of technical requirements to join remotely (do remote delegates need a webcam and/or mic, minimum computer requirements
  • Incorporate legal consent into registration process (eg permission to record and transmit delegate comments)
  • Provide instructions on how to tag discussions and subsequent event blog posts
  • Make sure it is clear who to contact for support and where discussions about technical problems should take place

Preparation

  • Identify risks with the event format and have plans to mitigate these
    • Do you have a secondary communication channel
    • Are slides or presentations hosted elsewhere in case of failure in video or part of the streaming environment
    • Do you have access to backup equipment
    • What do you do in the event of a lost data connection
  • If possible do a full technical rehearsal from the venue
    • Are there reliably and accessible local network points
      • suggest requesting hard line connections for speakers, preferrably on separate network from public wireless
      • Don’t just take their word for it (if they offer so show you the server closet it is a bad sign)! Get a map, find out any limits on connections per router.
    • Are there sufficient power sockets and/or is the venue happy for you to lay extension leads
    • Is the venue lighting sufficient
    • Are there any issues with sound and video. Tip: check there isn’t any problems with audio feedback
    • Can you access your streaming/conference environment
    • Do a speed test on the network to ensure you have sufficient upload speed
  • Consider providing presenters access to the streaming environment prior to the event to let them see what features are available and experience what it is like as a remote delegate
  • Provide your speakers with some tips about how best to involve the remote audience, including looking at the camera periodically and looking out for questions from them
  • Make sure your event team are familiar with the streaming environment
  • Finalise the format of the event
    • Check that the event programme allows enough time (breakout session transfers, questions from the audience)
    • If necessary do the physical and virtual spaces work together (for informal/smaller events can the physical and remote audience see and interact with each other)

During the event

The level of involvement with the physical and virtual audience is very dependent on the type of event you want to run. It is perfectly legitimate to run an event designed only to stream sessions from the venue. The key if using this option is to manage remote delegates expectation of the how the event will be run. The following are suggested factors to consider (some may not apply to your event):

  • Moderators should be at the event as well as online to relay information to remote delegates
  • We had good luck with giving special seating up front to dedicate conference bloggers (give them electric and if possible, ethernet connections)
  • I strongly suggest creating a dedicated backchannel for event supporters, outside the public channels (e.g. Skype chat, or have mobile phone list to share)
  • Greet virtual participants as they arrive and relay information (anticipated start times, sound/video checks)
  • Moderate chat discussion, prompting audience for questions and reflections
  • Provide a clear area or contact for technical support so any issues can be dealt with quickly, without disrupting discussion about the content of your event
  • Guide the remote audience through the materials

After the event

  • Collect evaluation data
  • If archive material is available publicise (consider uploading material to a separate video site like Vimeo)
  • Look for ways to represent discussions in a meaningful way (providing a transcript which removes RTs etc) or summarises key discussion points
  • Make sure your content is accessible. Consider the need for subtitling of video footage or use alternative formats, such as detailed session summaries, to help ensure wide access to content
  • Connect up dispersed materials by providing links back to the main event website
  • Check with speakers to ensure that they are happy for their presentation to remain online

Acknowledgements

This document is published CC-BY-SA if you contribute please add you BY below:)

  • BY Martin Hawksey @mhawksey
  • BY Alan Levine @cogdog
  • BY Kirsty Pitkin @eventamplifier