Hybrid events are here to stay. If you’re going to be a keynote speaker, or deliver a sales pitch, or even just thinking about improving your presentation skills in the future, you’ll need to be aware of delivering in a ‘hybrid’ environment.
Let’s get terms straight – a ‘hybrid’ event is any where some people are together in a ‘real room’ and some (possibly even the speaker) are attending virtually – usually by video but sometimes by audio.
I’m never quite sure what the best verb is to use for people who are in a virtual audience – are they ‘attending virtually’, ‘dialling in’ ‘logging on’ ‘beaming down’? To keep things interesting, I’ll mix it up throughout the rest of this article, although ‘attending’ might be a bit optimistic for some audiences!
A hybrid event can take many forms, each of which poses challenges to someone speaking or presenting, the most common are:
- The speaker is in the room with a live audience, and some people are attending virtually.
- The speaker is dialling in, and some of the audience are together in a room somewhere, and some are attending virtually.
- All of the audience is together in one room, and the speaker is attending virtually.
The single biggest challenge when speaking and presenting in a hybrid environment is of making sure that both audiences, but particularly the virtual audience, feels involved and engaged. I’m an experienced keynote presenter, and even I have found it hard sometimes to make sure that both audiences are having an engaging experience. I’ve learnt that it takes a lot more preparation, practise and rehearsal to make the event work well for everyone.
Here are some techniques and ideas which have helped me:
- Acknowledge both audiences right from the start. If you’re delivering a big keynote speech, you might begin: “Good afternoon, it’s a real pleasure to be here today, and a very special hello to those of you who are attending virtually …”. This sets up the tone – right from the beginning – that the event is worth attending. You can take this idea further. Recently, I was presenting live to a sales team, and the marketing team was attending virtually. I began: “Hello everyone, it’s great to see you all here, and I’m really pleased that all of you from the marketing team can be here too …” Even better – if the presentation is small, possibly a sales pitch, you can even use people’s names. Let’s say you’re running a sales pitch to 5 people in a room, and two of them – Jenny and James – are ‘dialling in’, you can use their names in your introduction to let them know they’re a part of the pitch.
- Make a promise to the ‘virtual audience’ early on. For example: “After exploring the initial concepts, we’ll open up for questions and comments. For those of you who are virtual today, you’ll be able to use the chat bar, and I’ll come to your questions first …” Or “For those of you dialling in, I’m going to be asking you some polling questions a bit later, so take a second to make sure you know where the polling button is”. Making little promises like this early in your presentation helps to let the virtual audience know you’ve thought about them, and that the presentation will be good for them too.
- Look directly into the camera lens from time to time and speak directly to the virtual audience as you do so. If you’re in a large conference room with 3 cameras, make sure you know how to spot the red light telling you which camera is ‘on’, and speak into it occasionally. If your ‘camera’ is a client’s laptop balanced on top of some printer paper in their office (true story – that happened to me recently) make sure it’s at the right height for you to look directly into. This really helps you to ‘bond’ with your virtual audience.
- Use every interactive tool available to you with the virtual audience – polls, chat boxes, reactions icons, sometimes even things like Twitter, WhatsApp. Don’t let them become passive observers of your presentation to the ‘live audience’.
- For larger presentations and events, work with a ‘co-pilot’ whose job is to keep an eye on the chat box for questions and comments and feed them to you. This takes a bit of stress off you having to check a laptop or monitor, and also makes it more fun for the audience – they love having their questions read out loud. It makes them feel important and heard, and who doesn’t want to feel like that?
- Prepare, practise and rehearse. Hybrid presenting is not ‘normal’ and it doesn’t come easily or naturally to anyone – you need to prepare for the eventualities, practise your presentation or pitch and – finally – rehearse it several times.
- For smaller pitches, use people’s names, or department names as above to stimulate questions and interaction: ‘Marketing – do you have any questions yet?’ or ‘Jenny and James, I haven’t heard from you for a while – do you have any comments so far …?”
- Send things by post in advancewhere possible for the virtual audience to use in real time. For example “I’m going to hand out some data sheets now, for those of you who are virtual, these are in the envelops you should have received yesterday, so please open those now …” The tactile, ‘real’ nature of this helps to keep the virtual audience engaged. If you can’t post things, you might prepare something which people can download as you’re presenting “I’m putting a link in the chat bar now for you to download the information sheet I’m handing out in the room …”
- Don’t refer to people as ‘working from home’, in case you accidentally make it sound like you’re saying “Some of you aren’t really working today …” Keep your language neutral: “Dialling in” “Using Zoom” “attending online”
- Remember things will be slower for your virtual audience, so prepare them for things you want them to engage with. For example: “In a moment, I’m going to check if there are any questions from those of you online, so please type those in now …”
- Don’t forget your ‘live’ audience either! You don’t have to work as hard with your live audience, but don’t focus everything in your presentation on the virtual audience, in case the live audience feels left out.
Good luck using those tips and let me know if you’ve found any others which are useful for you – I’m still learning too!