For a blended event, BYOD

As we approach the first Urban Arena event hosted by DRIFT in Rotterdam and online on 28 and 29 November 2019, we aim to offer a 3E experience effective, efficient and enjoyable — for everyone involved.

It will be a blended event, also known as a hybrid event. This is an in-person event that includes participants who cannot travel or choose not to travel for environmental or other reasons. It’s a standard meeting, workshop or conference with participants on site and others who join remotely using fully interactive 2-way audio and video communication, from the beginning to the end of the event—during plenaries, breakout sessions, and sometimes even during social breaks, meals and fringe encounters.

The way I’m picking up the signal, this is the emerging ‘new normal’ for all kinds of events on a planet coping with human-induced climate breakdown that makes flying shame popular. Some call it telepresence.

Giorgia Silvestri, DRIFT, participating remotely in discussion during the plenary session at the ECOLISE 2019 General Assembly (click on the picture to enlarge).

Similarly to video conferencing, blended events are like beer — an acquired taste. You need to experience one blended event that’s actually effective, efficient and enjoyable for YOU— and that creates value for everyone involved while minimizing stress — before you start to appreciate them. In ECOLISE (the European Network for Community-led Initiatives on Climate change and Sustainability) we are experimenting a lot with video conferencing and blended events. We are all over Europe, we don’t have many opportunities to meet in person, we want to minimize our personal carbon footprint by travelling less, and many of us are following climate activist tradition of choosing not to fly.

We encourage event participants to self-organise using devices we all normally use—laptops, smartphones, LCD projectors , external microphones, speakerphones, tripods, selfie sticks, etc. Hence we have a BYOD policy — bring your own device.

In addition to BYOD, for a blended event to work well everyone involved needs to do something differently compared to a traditional in-person event. Everyone needs to become remote-ready.

On-site and online participants getting ready to take a group photo at the ECOLISE 2019 General Assembly (click on the picture to enlarge).

How to be remote-ready

If you are online participant, no multitasking, and make yourself seen and heard! To create or get value from participating in a blended event you must remove distractions from your immediate physical environment and from the screen you are using to connect. Join from a quiet and well-lit room (so that people on site can see and hear you well). And think about how to look good on webcam.

If you are an on-site participant, remember, online participants have priority! It is very easy to ignore online participants. For that reason everyone in the room is invited to direct some personal care into including them. Event organisers must make them visible in the room at all times and whenever there is activity facilitators must invite them to speak first. During breakout sessions, small groups and outdoor activities, you are invited to use your own device in order to include remote participants.

You are a facilitator? Focus differently! Blended event facilitators have the particularly demanding task of directing their attention not only to people that are sharing the room with them (which is natural for human beings), but also to people on the other side of the screen (mediated communication is not really natural for us). For that reason we add a new co-facilitation role to the event team: one or more virtual hosts taking care of online participants’ needs. In the room, at every small group table, or a virtual host may walk around with a smartphone showing closeups of people talking or doing an activity. Sometimes almost everybody is a virtual host for one or more online participants, for example, ‘taking’ them outdoors on their smartphones.

You are the event organizer? Design well! A blended event is one event, one space, that aims to provide a meaningful experience for all participants, whether on site or online. It needs to be designed as such from the very beginning. Ask organisers with experience, look for good practices.

I’m looking forward to meet you in Rotterdam or online — let’s make this event truly 3E: effective, efficient and enjoyable experience!

And remember: BYOD.


Knowmium Hybrid Live Video Series

An honest* guide to planning and facilitating successful hybrid events by Deborah Rim Moiso



Nenad Maljković
Blog on Sustainable Just Cities

Network weaver and group process facilitator with "Towards regenerative cultures through dialogic collaboration" motto. Based in Zagreb, Croatia.