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Hybrid? What Hybrid? Unpacking a buzzword

In this latest blog series we will focus on the subject of hybrid events and explore a number of pertinent aspects. These will include topics such as: what do we mean with “hybrid”; how to decide whether to have a hybrid event or not; the principles and pitfalls of hybrid process design, and; conceptualising and designing hybrid events. In this first blog post we will address the terminology so that you can become familiar with the language used in this series.

In the year 2021, everything has become hybrid. Workplaces are hybrid, vehicles, and even sausages in your supermarket (a blend between meet and new vegan substitutes to reduce the carbon footprint of sausages). This turns the word hybrid into the most overused buzzwords of the present, which risks to devoid it from meaning. At the same time, the pandemic has taught everyone on a large scale what can, and what cannot be achieved with virtual collaboration forms – including virtual events. Some insights were new and, at times, surprising for most of us, for example that virtual events can significantly increase participation (rather than reduce it – how many fearfully anticipated). This also led to expectations, cognitive patterns and actual practices having changed significantly in certain respects. The much quoted “new normal” now needs to be defined afresh since the option of conventional meetings, namely in person, has become available again. Many are articulating the need to combine the best of both worlds, analogue (face-to-face/ in-person/ on-site) and virtual (digital/ on-line). To achieve this, bringing together the advantages (and not the drawbacks) of both the analogue and virtual, is the brief for hybrid process design.

What do we mean by “hybrid” events?

Different people (unthinkingly) have completely different ideas of what a “hybrid” actually is. Thus, a definition of the term “hybrid”, as well as of some other terms is necessary so that we actually speak of the same things and understand one another.

The graphic above illustrates the difference between face-to-face, hybrid and virtual events, and it distinguishes between different forms of hybrid events (because each has direct implications on design and planning). In face-to-face events all the participants and dial in virtually to the event both speakers and participants are in the same room. In virtual events all the participants and presenters dial in virtually and both participate online. In virtual events, we generally rely on presentations, Q&A, voting and chat to drive engagement. Hybrid events are possible in two combinations; a) when your speakers are on-site and your participants are online, or, b) when your speakers are online and your participants are on-site.

Hybrid events can be “serial”, “parallel” or “satellite” in nature, which are all very different. Particularly parallel hybrid events can cover a broad spectrum. It is important to clarify and consciously decide in every case what kind of hybrid event is best suited. This must then be transparently communicated to all parties involved in order to prevent unvalidated and implicit assumptions that could cause unnecessary confusion and irritation.

The three main types of hybrid events

Let us look at the different types of hybrid events. For the purposes of this blog post we have limited the type of hybrid events to the three we mention below.

The serial hybrid event type is where there is alternating virtual – analogue events over a determined period of time. While many people refer to this as hybrid (e.g. a “hybrid workplace”), this form is maybe better labelled as a blended process (e.g. training, series of meetings, or similar).

The parallel hybrid event is most likely the type of hybrid event most of us have been a part of. It includes hosting a physical event with live (on-site, in-person) participants and/ or contributors, in synchronisation with a virtual event (i.e. a larger or smaller portion of participants and/ or contributors attending on-line).

The satellite hybrid event type is one where you have live groups of participants in different locations which then are linked virtually.

In summary the tree main types of hybrid events are:

  1. Parallel hybrid: where you have simultaneous virtual & analogue participants in the same event;
  2. Serial hybrid: where virtual and analogue events alternate on a timeline, and;
  3. Satellite hybrid: where you have analogue groups that are virtually linked.

It is important to distinguish between the different types of hybrid events because it determines how we approach the design and preparation of each type, as well as the technical setup, which differs significantly depending on the type. In our next post we will shed more light on this. In the meantime, please read our hybrid event guidance here and if you have any questions please write to:

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