Top Tips for dealing with the challenges of designing virtual or hybrid cross border events.

Top Tips for dealing with the challenges of designing virtual or hybrid cross border events.

In person events are once again taking place, but many are still preferring to keep to virtual or potentially hybrid spaces.

However, through our experience of designing, facilitating and producing virtual and in certain circumstances hybrid events, we observed that whilst there are many benefits to these (eg. increased footfall), there are some notable issues, many of which we have already highlighted in a previous blog, “Ten top tips on how to put some much needed va va Zoom into your virtual meetings and collaboration – Part Deux!”

In this blog, we wanted to go a step further and concentrate on some of the challenges we’ve faced with virtual or hybrid cross border events and share some top tips based on our learnings.  

  1. Time Zones

Virtual

Time zones can provide a particular challenge when hosting virtual or hybrid cross border events.

In the UK for example, where an in-person event might take place over a couple of days, running between 9:00 and 17:00, to get the best out of a virtual event with a similar amount of content, it may need to be spread over 3 or even 4 days in shorter daily time segments to ensure individuals can manage their energy and focus appropriately as they are participating via a screen and that they are truly engaging in the event. However, when you run a virtual cross border event, the number of days over which the event needs to be spread may need to be extended even more, as you are not only having to account for the aforementioned but also that you are dealing with shorter windows of time when participants based on their geographic locations are able to join. This means a one day in person event could potentially last between 4 and 5 days if you want to have the desired engagement and geographic participant spread.

When creating virtual cross border events, it is important to fit your key content and speakers into the time of the day that is most accessible to the highest number of participants in the geographies you are trying to cover with your event. We have found that 13:00 to 15:00 CET is the best time for key content like key note addresses, panels etc, as it can be viewed in both the Far East and much of America live.  

A further idea to help with time zone challenges when hosting cross border events  can be to host “local virtual hubs events” facilitated by local facilitators in the relevant time zones for all the geopgraphies you are trying to cover with your event, all linked to the central event. It encourages participants to join in with others in their relevant time zone and language. These can be run either side of the main sessions to great effect.

Another tip can be to pre-record some of the content or record sessions and immediately upload it so it is available on demand as part of the event, and should participants due to their location/time zone be unable to participate live, they can still access the content.

Hybrid (all of the above stands but additionally…..)

When creating hybrid cross border events, it is less likely that much of the content will be available pre-recorded/on demand, as most of it will be delivered live. It is even more important therefore, that the aforementioned “most impactful part of the day” is used appropriately, so that the most participants irrespective of the geographic location/time zone joining the event can participate live.

  1. Cultural / Language

Virtual

Whilst English typically remains the dominant language for business events, frequently there is a need for multiple languages at events.

The simplest way we have found to meet different language requirements is to set up “breakout rooms” where participants can be assigned or self select participation in their preferred language allowing them to really participate and make the most of the event.

Additionally, using closed captions in English for all the plenary sessions can work well as it helps non-native English speakers, who often have a better understanding of the written word, to feel involved and engaged. This can also be useful for participants if a speaker has a strong accent, or English is their preferred language but they are hard of hearing. Many platforms (eg. Zoom) now provide this free of charge.

If time is available, you may wish to also consider splitting the same event into separate events with different languages. We ran a very well received series of the “same events” in French, German and English, the latter being run twice in different time zones over a series of days. 

Depending on where you are planning to host your event you may also wish to consider different cultural needs, such as religion. Certain times of the day or even days may prove problematic for some of your participants and you may wish to design your event around these. (eg. prayer time for Muslims.)

Hybrid (all the above stands but additionally…..)

If you are considering using simultaneous translation, be aware that those attending the in-person part of the event will be listening to it through headphones. It is also possible to provide the simultaneous translation to those joining virtually via the livestream, but in our experience, it is important to mute the sound of the main speaker when doing this in order to avoid the listener having to distinguish between the two voices at once.  

  1. Bandwidth and Accessibility

Virtual & Hybrid

In our experience this can be the trickiest element of planning cross border virtual events, as often participants, especially from emerging economy countries have issues with broadband access and stability(this includes certain countries blocking platforms). Selecting a platform like Zoom, Teams, Remo or similar can be a difficult process as there is no easy solution to this challenge so whatever you do lots of testing is a must!

  1. Facilitation

Virtual

Typically, we have a different approach to design, facilitation and production of virtual events compared to in-person events – you can read about this in our previous blog, “Five top tips to plan and host virtual meetings and events”. Additionally, when hosting virtual cross border events, we recommend you consider using a facilitator who is knowledgeable of the cultures, and wherever possible, languages of participants. And,  ideally the team they are working with should also be too.

We also recommend you consider using facilitators who truly represent the participants at your events (eg. gender, ethnicity, age). It is no longer acceptable to use the middle-aged white male for everything!

Another important thing for you to consider, is how different cultures like to engage virtually. Some may be much happier using the chat and Q&A functions available in the platform, whereas others may prefer to raise a virtual hand and be invited to speak. Facilitators need to be experienced with these issues and ideally work with a co-facilitator or producer to assist them with monitoring communications.

 Hybrid (all the above stands but additionally…..)

For hybrid events, facilitators need also to be practiced in engaging simultaneously with both those participating in person, as well as those via the livestream. In our experience, having an experienced facilitator and production team here is invaluable.    

      5. Networking.

Virtual

Virtual event networking has proved to be one of the revelations of the last 18 months. When running virtual cross border events, you have some extra potential opportunities when it comes to networking that you don’t have when it comes to in-person events – indeed many are starting to prefer virtual networking at events! If you are using breakout rooms for example for networking, they can be set up as follows;

  • Language
  • Geographic Location or Time Zone
  • Topic
  • Or whatever else you can think of

 

  • You can also decide whether to pre-allocate participants or let participants chose which room to join.

Wherever possible it is always good to keep networking interactions timed to create pace and energy. Keeping numbers small can also help as quieter participants may feel more comfortable speaking up.

Hybrid (all the above stands but additionally…..)

Networking is possible at hybrid events but requires careful planning. It is possible to run separate networking sessions for those attending in person and for those attending virtually. Alternatively, if the two wish or need to be mixed for the networking, then it is best to assign specific allotted times which allow for in person participants to find a quiet spot to log on and join the virtual delegates in the breakout rooms (or whatever platform/app you are using) to network. You will need strong and stable WiFi and possibly event “quiet booths” that participants can use for this purpose if this is your chosen approach.

 

It is terrific that we have adapted so quickly in the world of virtual events. Without the pandemic, we would not have been so open to experimentation and learning. One of the benefits of virtual events is we can include so many more participants – hopefully by applying some of these tips, you will be truly able to engage all of your participants regardless of their location or time zone. And remember, if you are creating hybrid cross border events, always consider the needs of both your audiences, those in the room and those on the livestream – it’s so easy to forget or prioritise in-person participants of those participating virtually.  

James Hasler and Rebecca Hill are both principal consultants at HaslerHill Consulting, an organisation specialising in moderationfacilitation and curation of events, as well as as presentation skills and public speaking skills training. If you would like to learn more about the services they offer and how they can be of benefit to your business, please get in touch via the HaslerHill Consulting contact page or call +44(0) 7773 229909



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