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In October, FGIA learned a lot from hosting the 2021 FGIA Hybrid Fall Conference in Phoenix, AZ – our first ever hybrid event. Offering in-person and virtual formats concurrently was a challenge, but we were proud to be able to offer an array of content options for two different audiences based on both their comfort levels and their companies’ willingness to allow travel. We will be reprising these roles next week at the 2022 FGIA Hybrid Annual Conference in Amelia Island, FL. In preparation for it, I wanted to share some tips FGIA has learned about planning hybrid events like ours.

Don’t skimp on technology. This might be the most important piece of advice I can share. To avoid frustrated virtual participants struggling with our image and audio, I encourage you to invest in high-capacity internet, microphones and other audio equipment, lighting and camera operators to ensure smooth production. You want your virtual folks to feel like they are there in person, and you don’t want them to feel like they are missing out.

Mic your in-person speakers. Make sure in-person speakers are audible, including those in the audience asking questions. We have, and always have had, aisle mics for in-person participants to use. For example, at our Opening General Session in the fall, I made a plea to the in-person audience to use the mics and explained that the virtual audience wouldn't hear them if they didn't. We also coached our session leaders and staff to repeat comments if someone forgot to use the mic.

Differentiate your in-person experience. Ensure there are features available to those who choose to invest in attending in person that are above-and-beyond what’s available to the virtual audience. It’s in your best interest to focus these value-added sessions on activities and experiences that truly enhance the opportunity to interact and engage with other in-person participants. Building connections will always be one aspect of in-person events that cannot be effectively emulated in a virtual experience, so capitalize on your opportunities to really enhance these interactions.

Be consistent in enforcing your COVID protocols. Whatever mitigation strategies you choose to put in place, if any, be sure to enforce them gently but consistently with everyone. Some of your participants’ choice to attend in person will likely be influenced by the protocols you publicize, so not enforcing them will come off as disingenuous.

Be flexible. This advice pertains to protocols, time zones and scheduling, session content, etc. Don’t be constrained with how your events were delivered pre-COVID or even during fully virtual events. Be open to offering hybrid events and don’t just automatically fear that it will negatively impact your in-person attendance. Focus on the opportunity to include people who would attend in-person if COVID restrictions did not prevent it as well as the new people you likely picked up while offering fully virtual events. The more you are able to repeat virtual participation with an individual, the better your chance of eventually converting them to an in-person participant. Consider it a part of succession planning!

What have you learned from attending virtual, in-person or hybrid events during the pandemic? Share your tips in the comments!