- The moments before an event are equally important to the audience as the event itself, as it creates the space and energy to take in the information presented during the event.
- A playful chat environment invites the online audience to be more actively engaged with each other and the livestream.
- It is important to find different ways to connect the onsite and online audience with each other, for them to find a sense of belonging.
We believe that solely streaming your event does not facilitate the best hybrid experience. Our aim is that the experience of the virtual audience is not inferior to the experience of the physical audience. How? We don’t know yet, but we’re definitely trying to find out. There is so much to learn about creating meaningful and vivacious hybrid experiences. For example, how do we connect a physical and virtual audience? Should the experience be the same for virtual and physical visitors? How can we give online visitors a sense of place? Since the fall of 2021, The Hmm have been actively experimenting with hybrid events as we delve even deeper into the internet cultures that shape, complicate, and transform our lives—further blurring the boundaries between the ‘online’ and ‘offline’ worlds.
Below, we list the formats we’ve tested, what we’ve learned from each experiment, and how visitors experienced it.
inti-mate – A buddy system
Our first experimental hybrid event, The Hmm @ Real Feelings, where we invited eight speakers to give pecha kucha style presentations, physically took place in the exhibition Real Feelings, fittingly about emotion and technology, at MU in Eindhoven. MU was also our collaboration partner for the design and implementation of the experiment. For the experiment, we linked individual online visitors – via their phone – to a visitor physically present in the exhibition space. To start the evening program, the physical guests guided their online buddies around the Real Feelings exhibition and brought them into contact with other visitors. During the presentations, which the online visitors were following via our live stream website, the online audience could only ask questions to the speakers via their physical host. Each physical visitor ‘hosted’ one of the online visitors— creating a more intimate one-to-one experience. We offered all kinds of experimental devices and prototypes to mount a phone to ‘host’ a virtual buddy hands-free, such as headbands, extra limbs and tripods.
Something that went well: As organisers, we didn’t feel that there was a big difference between the online and the offline speakers. When working with hybrid formats before, we felt that the audience might consider online speakers secondary to in-person speakers. However, in our experience, the audience was just as engaged with the speakers who joined us remotely as they were with those physically present.
Something that went wrong: We experienced technical issues with sound. We learned that with hybrid events, there is several different audio inputs and outputs from different sources simultaneously. It is crucial to test all the configurations in advance for the different scenarios, be prepared to troubleshoot and solve technical issues on the spot, and have backup plans just in case.
Visitor says: YasBirb – Embracing the chat
During The Hmm ON Online Fandom – one of our more in-depth and focused events with only three speakers – at Felix Meritis in Amsterdam, we wanted to explore the power of the chat. Instead of streaming on our livestream platform, which – at the time – was quite limited in functionality, we used Twitch for this event because of the playful chat interactions Twitch offers. To give the online audience a literal place in the room, we placed two screens on stage, displaying the live chat. The physical audience could see the conversations happening in the chat, and we also invited them to join them. We added custom emotes to our Twitch channel related to the topic of the event. The emotes people sent popped up and floated across the livestream online and the projection in the physical space. As always, we had a chat moderator, who oversaw the live-stream chat on Twitch.
Something that went well: The chat was really active and was experienced as ‘fun’ by our audience. In our feedback form, one visitor said that seeing their messages appear in the chat on stage made them feel important. Because the emotes appeared on the livestream, the audience got the opportunity to give direct feedback on what was being said. We were inspired by Twitch’s possibilities and updated our livestream website to have more options for interaction by the online audience.
Something that went wrong: There could have been more interaction between the physical and virtual audience, as the physical audience was not really participating in the chat. There could also have been more direct interaction with the chat. For example, the moderator could start a conversation with the online audience active in the chat by addressing them directly through the camera. Several online visitors told us they would have loved to see more of the space and not only the stage.
Prepping – A warming up for online visitors
When we visit a physical event, we get dressed up, maybe grab a drink, and travel somewhere. This process automatically ensures a particular type of dedication to the event and a clear separation from other things happening in the day. These pre-event rituals have gone missing in the process of organising online events. To visit an online event, you simply open your laptop or turn on your computer. We usually have several tabs open and see e-mails popping up, creating a situation where we often do other things while following the event. During The Hmm ON Screen New Deal, a more in-depth event about the tech sector’s growing influence on the world, especially after the pandemic, we invited artist Annika Kappner to prepare our online audience for this program—linking us together between the digital and the analogue worlds. She prepared a guided meditation to watch from the livestream to get the audience to engage with their bodies and environment and make space for the event in their night.
Something that went well: The ritual created a focus for our event. During the event, we discussed politically dense topics. The meditation was a nice counterpart for it. By reminding people to declutter their digital environment and give attention to their bodies and the space from where they were watching the event, the audience could locate themselves and focus on our program. And the fact that all viewers participated in the meditation brought them together. They were commenting about their experience in the chat.
Something that went wrong: Because of new COVID-19 measures introduced shortly before the event, we couldn’t do this event in the hybrid form we had planned but had to do it solely online, so it was difficult to get a sense of how this could have worked in a hybrid format. The advantage was that everybody could experience the guided meditation. Some visitors also noted that because they had long days, the guided meditation put them into an almost ‘too relaxed’ state, and it was difficult to fully follow the talks. We had also intedend to remind the audience of the meditation again during the break, but because of time delays with the presentations, we decided to get rid of the break.
* This article was originally published in The Hmm’s Hybrid Events dossier here: https://thehmm.nl/the-hybrid-formats-we-tested/