The previous post on this blog was about the pitfalls of hybrid meetings and events, and as you might recall I’m not a fan of hybrid in general.
However, it seems I have found a hybrid event design that actually works, so I might have to change my opinion. But hey, change is good, right?!
The concept: “Open lectures in natural sciences“
First, let me take you through this concept and design that seems to work so well: Open lectures in natural sciences from Aarhus University (links to a Danish site).
The concept is developed by one of Denmark’s main universities: Aarhus University, which is located in Denmark’s second largest city (Aarhus, that is). The main purpose of the concept is to bring natural sciences closer to everybody by making it more accessible to attend events around this – very broad – topic. They offer six events each semester, and this semester brings you topics as diverse as space safari, bats, the brain, and climate change.
Each event is set on a specific date where the university invites an expert on the topic. This expert gives his/her lecture from the auditoriums at Aarhus University with a live audience of about 800 people all the while it is streamed to about 300 locations across the entire country. The locations are libraries, community centers, schools, companies etc.
The university requires nothing more from these locations that they stream in good quality, that they have a host and that the event is open and free for everybody (you can charge a minimal fee if you include a snack, drink etc.). Of course, you have to be enrolled in the program, but that’s really a minimal effort.
The perfect hybrid event?
You could argue that this concept is not a hybrid event since the attendees don’t get to interact across venues, but the term hybrid event is described as “an event that combines a ‘live’ or in-person event with a ‘virtual’ or online component” … which this is.
You still have networking, interaction, and conversations – these just takes place in each hub as opposed to across hubs. And in my humble opinion, I think this networking and these conversations are of higher quality since it’s between people who are gathered in smaller groups. Most people don’t care for online engagement when you can have the real deal.
Another upside is that asking questions for the lecturer is one system for all. You can either text or Tweet your question, and it doesn’t matter if you’re attending the event from the auditorium at Aarhus University or in one of the remote locations. This creates equal opportunities for all attendees, which is very important for hybrid events.
In order to create a sense of community, the university opens up the streaming about 15 minutes before the event starts. During these 15 minutes, the remote locations can see the lecturer set up, the auditorium being filled with people, information about upcoming events, as well as a map with some of the locations for the hubs (they obviously can’t show all 300 of them). It does give you a sense of being part of something bigger and opens up for networking and small talk at the hubs even before the event begins.
Last, but definitely not least, the host at the auditorium at Aarhus University is very aware of the fact that this is a hybrid event. They make sure that everybody can see the host as he welcomes everybody, gives directions as to how the event will run, introduces the lecturer etc.
Being the host at a hybrid event is no easy task. Many events only have one host – usually a person who is present at the in-person part of the event – who then has to address both the in-person and online audience. And even though these science events only have one host (I’ll always recommend having both an online and an offline host for hybrid events), he does a great job, and it works well like this.
Remember the test – it’s crucial!
So, why is it that this concept works so well? I believe that some of the reason this concept is so great is that it’s been tested over and over again. Never underestimate the value of testing!
For each semester, the university plans two test nights where they show a specific recorded test event that has color, music, speech, charts etc. etc. so that you as a venue can check if your internet connection can handle it, if people in the back rows of your meeting room can actually see what’s on the screen during the event, and if you have the right sound equipment for the streaming.
On these two test nights the university has support staff on call – just as they do on event nights – and they live test the question part where you can text to ask the lecturer your question.
As a venue about to have its first live streaming event, it was fantastic having these test facilities at your disposal. It gives you an inner calm as a host that you’ve tried the format and that there’s a whole system of testing and supporting ready for you. Everything is in order and systematized which warms the little heart of an event planner as myself!
Testing is crucial and yes, it takes time. It took me some time to setup the profile to be a host/venue and to test the technical setting at our venue, but that ‘expense’ is nothing compared to the gain of delivering quality lectures to our members … and the added joy of experiencing them loving the concept.
Innovation or disruption?
I spoke to the man in charge, Jens Holbech from Aarhus University, and he told me that initially it was a series of lectures in the auditoriums that expanded to a few cinemas and local community centers because of a change in the ferry schedule from Aarhus to one of Denmark’s islands off the coast of the city.
So, you could say that the original initiative got disrupted – but hey, that’s usually how new innovation is brought to life, right? Indeed, it did in this case, because what was initially a major set-back became a new opportunity to distribute the lectures. The good people at Aarhus University reasoned that if they could stream to this island off the coast they could just as well stream to other locations as well, so they did!
By 2018, about 100 locations/venues were on board … and the rest is history! It seems the university found a gap in the market and they closed that gap. They adapted to change – which, to be honest, unfortunately isn’t a given i the meetings ad events industry – and not because they were forced to do so (like many players in the industry during covid), but because they wanted to offer a service. Hats off to that!
Multi-hub could be the future
So, these educational events are both hybrid and multi-hub, which is a concept that I believe we’ll see much more in the coming years as a consequence of covid (the trend says smaller events, more local events and micro-events, which I’ll touch upon in an upcoming blog post).
It does take more work (ask Jens from the Aarhus University – they have 2½ employees working on this all year round, as well as a handful of volunteers during the events), but your message will be distributed on a wider scale, and you will provide a service to your audience.
As part of my job at the Danish Society of Engineers, I manage a network of bioscience-interested people and I added the society’s venue to the list of locations where you can follow these lectures in order to bring these topics closer to our member base. And I must say that it has been a success!
So far, it’s only been possible to have one event within this concept, but the attendees loved it. We got a 9.5 score (on a 1-10 scale where 10 is the best) and had a great evening around the functions of the brain while we sleep. There were lots of networking during the break and I got a lot of positive comments about opening up the concept to our members in and around Copenhagen.
The plan is to up the ante and host all six lectures in the upcoming semester. I’ll let you know how that goes, but it’s looking promising so far.