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Why hybrid events are the new future in a post-Covid-19 business world

Alan O'Neill


'I was never a big fan of virtual meetings or conferences, but circumstances have converted me' Stock Image: Getty

'I was never a big fan of virtual meetings or conferences, but circumstances have converted me' Stock Image: Getty

Getty Images/Blend Images

'I was never a big fan of virtual meetings or conferences, but circumstances have converted me' Stock Image: Getty

A video link arrived into my WhatsApp messages a few days ago. My daughter, who lives in Dubai with her family, sent me their version of the TikTok dance. Not only was it hilarious, but I also saw the potential in three-year-old Freddie's moves. Watch out Michael Flatley!

That video was very welcome at the end of a busy week where I had already spent more than 30 hours on video calls. Some of that time was spent in a culture refresh programme, briefing teams across Europe to ensure we maintain momentum. I also presented several one-hour masterclasses to various clients and industry associations. Now none of that was particularly taxing, until I got a call from a UK-based corporate. It asked me to facilitate its strategy for returning to work and for the rest of 2020.

That was a challenge. We agreed to hold a full-day video conference with the full executive team. I was concerned about how to ensure strong levels of participation, protocols to ensure one person spoke at a time, wifi consistency and so on. I'm delighted to say it worked way better than I expected.

As a consultant and keynote speaker, I have always had a hands-on approach. After all, people are at the core of all that I do. I was never a big fan of virtual meetings or conferences, but circumstances have converted me. Although I can't wait to get back out there to the real world, I also believe the foreseeable future will be a hybrid model of business interaction.

I spoke this week with Des O'Leary, the managing director of Catapult, which started out in life 21 years ago as a production company for corporate events. As time went on, it developed a full-service offering that includes creative and production. In the corporate world, it now hosts full-service events for Mastercard and its customers around the world. It also supports Samsung in bringing its brand and products to consumers.

When the crisis started, Catapult was stopped in its tracks. Its very packed pipeline was put on hold and the company was facing some hard decisions. After the initial shock, the team came together - virtually, of course. Over the following few days, they brainstormed how they could continue to support their customers.

They now have a new business that is groomed for stardom. Rather than fall under the proverbial bus, the team came up with a new offering that would ensure their customers could continue reaching out to their customers, in a new normal. Building on its past experience of streaming, the company invested further in new virtual technology that enables customers of Catapult to reach their own customers and people in a new way.

In the last few weeks, the company has run global online events for several corporate clients. Those events included webcasts, conferences and other information-sharing events. Other events in the near-future include summer parties, with interactive games and streaming to TVs in the home.

Benefits of a hybrid conference model

• Organisations that normally have events can continue to do that. The restrictions are, of course, a barrier, but one to be overcome. Don't be afraid to try virtual.

• Virtual events have a lower cost than live events. We're all familiar by now with the casual video interviews on TV where we find ourselves looking up the nostrils of celebrities or we see work colleagues working from home, with terrible lighting. But it doesn't have to be like that. You can have a professional event and achieve great results with proper advice from experts, simple at-home guidelines, and quality production.

• Virtual events have a wider reach. If you want to reach a global audience that normally entails significant travel costs, you can do that online. That medium also ensures consistency of message.

• Hybrid events are the new future. While virtual events on their own will never have the same impact as a real event, a hybrid model will offer a great solution in a future new world where social-distancing will prevail. The combination of a hotel or a conference centre, coupled with live streaming is not a new idea. But it will come to the fore as soon as restrictions are lifted.

The last word

There are two distinct messages that I am taking from the Catapult story. Firstly, I'm highly impressed with the tenacity shown by this young and creative team.

In the face of adversity, they kept their cool and rose above the negativity. They embraced the new reality and pivoted their business model in order to adapt. Rather than going under, they re-invented themselves without changing their core business. They just got on with it.

The second piece of learning for me is that a hybrid model is the new norm for the foreseeable future.

In preparation for the new realities of a post Covid-19 world, embrace a hybrid model that involves hotels, conference venues and digital steaming.

Sunday Indo Business