Alone Together: Researching Togetherness in Hybrid Experiences

Equally on-site & online
Wildly experimental
Take some breaks


  • Design moments of connection in your event.
  • Add a common ritual.
  • Make sure also the online audience feels seen.
  • Dancing or moving together adds a feeling of connection.
  • The power of a good host.


Through our research and experiments one specific insight emerged: the most profound and impactful moments in hybrid events occur when we unite audiences. These are the instances when individuals, both online and onsite, become genuinely interconnected and feel like they are together in the event. Be it in the form of group gatherings or intimate one-on-one connections, the power of bringing people together at events is clear. In such moments  networking opportunities arise, where individuals can engage in vibrant discussions about the theme of the event. The feeling of being together can enhance the experience of an event when an online visitor joins solo from their living room. Furthermore, a collective experience significantly boosts participants’ commitment, engagement, and active involvement, creating a dynamic and inclusive atmosphere that truly comes alive.

“Knowing more people are present at the same event is nice, but meeting them or chatting with them, or somehow interacting with them, is really nice for me as we can discuss the topics or just meet each other. Or else I can just watch a live stream and be easy distracted.”

Online participant of the experiment The Hmm @ 4 locations.

A tinder for events: making one-to-one connections

The experiment ‘The Hmm @ Real Feelings‘ facilitated one-to-one connections between onsite and online participants. What made this event most interesting was that both onsite and online participants experienced certain advantages based on their respective situations. For instance, the onsite participant had a better view of the exhibition, making them an excellent tour guide for the online visitor. Meanwhile, the online visitor didn’t have to wait for a drink at the bar and could easily access their own fridge at home, but the onsite participant had the opportunity to meet more people at the bar. The connections formed during the event were so strong that the couples decided to meet up more often, continuing in the same hybrid manner.

During The Hmm @ Real Feelings, where we paired people with one another (one onsite, on online) there was a sense of togetherness, so I wonder if proximity is also a part of it, that there is a limit for how ‘together’ you can feel as a big group.”

Lilian Stolk

Dancing together

At the DuoDisco (hybrid) event, onsite participants formed a group of dancers along with online visitors. Due to the large projection on the wall, it often felt like one united dance floor. By introducing a game element and connecting to different dance partners for each song, it reinforced the sense of togetherness. The gamified element worked surprisingly well and was seen as a means of connecting the online and onsite participants. When the web app briefly malfunctioned for the onsite audience, they immediately paused and inquired about when they could rejoin the game to find new matches with online participants. The online participants felt as present at the onsite party, not much different from if they were physically there. We truly recognized the power of dance parties here, uniting people through music, movement, and, in this case, the screen. 

In the experiment ‘Metaverses Cha-Cha-Cha,’ we also used dance as one of the factors to foster a feeling of togetherness. The experience was not as equal to the power of a physical dance floor, as dancing together can’t be easily replicated online, and in your living room. However, the dance floor in the Metaverse, where everyone gathered with their avatars to dance, undoubtedly enhanced the sense of togetherness and added a significant fun element to the event.

It was kind of strange, almost like how in covid you talk to someone, but you would never actually see them. Cause they’re wearing a mask and it’s almost like we met so many people without really meeting them. It’s kind of that sensation. Of meeting someone without actually having met”

An online participant of the Metaverses Cha-Cha-Cha experiment

Moving in groups

The experiment Counter Consideration invited online and onsite visitors at a timed event to visit a site-specific radio station. This took place in a park in Eindhoven (part of STRP festival) but also online with a special designed webapp for phone or desktop to navigate the radio channels. The fact that everyone was visiting at the same time added a feeling of togetherness. The spatial positioning of the sounds onsite also had a positive impact on the feeling of togetherness as everyone was together in discovering the different channels and moving around them. In this experiment the feeling of togetherness was stronger onsite than it was online as there was no visual indication for the online audience that other people were also navigating the channels. The onsite audience also found a limit in the feeling of togetherness in the fact that everyone is wearing headphones. You are experiencing together but still the headphones don’t invite you to approach each other and speak to each other.

“I would have liked to talk to other participants during the experience but didn’t know how to do it because they all had headphones”

Onsite participant Counter Consideration

Smelly connections

At the event, ‘The Hmm @ 4 Locations,’ a unique scent played a significant role in creating a sense of togetherness. This event unfolded across four different physical locations and an online platform. Each physical location was equipped with a specially designed scent dispenser, including a special designed scent of the internet. Online participants had the option to purchase this scent in advance, thereby becoming part of the shared olfactory experience. However, not all participants ordered the scent in advance, which meant that not everyone could partake in this sensory act of togetherness. Nevertheless, several other elements contributed to the overall sense of togetherness during the event, such as the initiation of a communal wave.

Similar to experiences at ‘Counter Consideration’ and the ‘Metaverse Cha-Cha-Cha’ party, the feeling of togetherness was not entirely equal, as online participants remained invisible and, consequently, couldn’t engage in the wave.

To have a binding factor wherever you are, helps in making this feeling of togetherness and connection. This could for example also be done through sending a package with some items to all participants beforehand, or through a participatory performance.

One of the events that we did, The Hmm ON Screen New Deal, we invited Annika Kappner to link the online and onsite audience through a guided meditation.”

Margarita Osipian, The Hmm

“To warm up the participants of the online workshop, we translated our physical performance into an online format. In this setup, the participants were guided by a ‘character’ in the video conferencing chat. The small physical exercises helped combat Zoom fatigue and eventually led to human data visualizations on the screen, which were aligned with the theme of the workshop. This was a playful method to bring everyone together through the screen.”

Klasien van de Zandschulp, affect lab

The power of chat

Something that is often underestimated, but from our research and experience we have observed the chat as a powerful tool for creating a sense of community and togetherness. The Hmm events always ensure that there is a chat host who constantly monitors the chat to respond to everyone and provide additional information. At the Metaverses Cha-Cha-Cha, the chat played an important role in staying in touch with online participants during the dance party. During the online Distance Disco dance parties, the chat formed a crucial part of community building, where community members asked questions such as ‘Where is everyone from?’ and ‘What is your favourite song?’ Eventually, a WhatsApp chat group was even established by the community, including the most dedicated Distance Disco fans, to stay in touch before and after the disco parties.

Follow the chat as if it whispers”

– online participant On A Lighter Internet

“An active chat is very important to get a sense of togetherness with your audience. It’s important that it’s low key to join the chat and let people feel welcome. […] We’ve had events with The Hmm where people in the chat really felt like a community. They shared interesting articles, based on the presentation of speakers. […]. This was mostly during full online events.”

Lilian Stolk, The Hmm

Group tickets

With the experiment ‘On a Lighter Internet,’ group tickets were offered to people at a reduced price. This was partly to connect with the theme of the event, which focused on how to create a lighter and less polluting internet. Surprisingly, it worked out extremely well for the sense of togetherness. Naturally, you feel a sense of togetherness with the group you are having this watch party with, but by watching with multiple groups, there was a feeling of togetherness shared among different groups watching together in different locations.

“We tried to create a sense of togetherness by offering group tickets (reduced price) for people who decided to watch together online, like a watching party. This also matched the environmental topic of this event.”

Lilian Stolk, The Hmm

Feeling seen

Simple forms of just everyone being visible also add a lot to the feeling of togetherness. For example, in the live stream interface created for our experiment ‘On a Lighter Internet,’ the online audience is simply visible as an emoji by choice. Just like what we know from popular live stream apps, during the event, the audience can constantly send emojis to react to what is happening. These emojis are visible to online and on-site audiences on the screen. Such a simple interaction increases the feeling for the online audience of being seen in a very low-barrier way.

“Sharing the emoticons was fun […] the website and the interface made it feel like I was more attending an event not just a ‘zoom lecture’ ”

Online participant On a Lighter Internet

Another example is the online experience of Nite Hotel, a 3D online space for performances created during the pandemic. Their first project, called ‘Swan Lake,’ played with a nice and subtle way to create a feeling of watching a performance together. Each visitor was represented as a purple animal ‘avatar’ floating in the space. This created a fun, intimate, and low-barrier way to feel the presence of other audience members. Everyone was equal as anonymous purple avatars, which also matched the design of the space and didn’t distract from the content of the event in any way.