Executing Hybrid Events in Pittsburgh

“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat.” – Steve Jobs

It’s easy to get lost in the varied changes the meetings and events industry has had to wade through throughout the last year. These changes, though, have opened doors of opportunity, including the evolution and application of hybrid meetings. 

Many organizations have reaped the benefits of hybrid for quite some time, but some are new to the concept and have questions. 

Sometimes MY head spins with how much information is out there on virtual and hybrid events; I can only imagine how my event organizer colleagues feel in today’s environment as they navigate cancelling, postponing or reconfiguring their existing meetings and events. Questions they must answer include: 

Should we go virtual? Should we try for a smaller, in-person meeting? What online platform should we use for our event? How much will all of this cost my organization? Can I convince my board of directors that going hybrid is justified and sustainable?

Thankfully, event organizers have a secret tool in their back pocket – me! I have dedicated my 17-year career in the hospitality services industry to servicing and assisting event organizers in the planning of their Pittsburgh events. To that end, I earned my Digital Event Strategist (DES) certification through PCMA in the summer of 2020 so I could talk the talk with my clients. Jennifer Vacek, MeetPITTSBURGH’s Director, Convention Sales, also earned her DES, as did many of our colleagues within the Pittsburgh hospitality community. 

We are ready to help you! 

Hybrid Events

We all keep hearing that hybrid events are here to stay, but what does that mean for face-to-face meetings? Will hybrid events lead to lower attendance for those in-person events?  

Not necessarily. Marrying a face-to-face (F2F) event with a virtual event allows event organizers to reach new members and grow as an organization. It also means organizers can target an audience they had not quite considered yet, possibly because of geographic restrictions, to attend meetings virtually. Finally, hybrid events allow organizers to capture footage from a one-time event and use it for on-demand content to bring in year-round revenue for their organizations.  

Right now, lower attendance at events and meetings can most likely be attributed to the global pandemic. Unfortunately, this pandemic will lead decision makers to press forward with virtual meetings over F2F meetings for some time. But, I am certain that eventually, F2F meetings will bounce back. There will always be a demand to physically gather and learn. 

Inclusive Meetings

While inclusivity and accessibility have been on event organizers’ minds for some time, many are now dedicated to finding solutions to make hybrid events more inclusive and accessible to all virtual attendees. I recently had the pleasure of attending an MPI Pittsburgh Chapter event on this very topic - Making Virtual Meetings Inclusive and Accommodating: People with Disabilities at Meetings and Events by Rosemarie Rossetti.

Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. presenting at the MPI Pittsburgh Chapter hybrid meeting.

Rosemarie provides event organizers a toolkit of resources to help ensure events and meetings are held in an accessible format for all attendees and that everyone walks away with the same, equal experience. 

In addition to adhering by Rosemarie’s tips, it’s important that meeting planners also ask the right questions to best prepare for all attendees. A lot of information can be gathered through the event registration. An example - ask attendees if they have any special needs for viewing or accessing content. Then, follow up with respondents to learn more about their needs.

Additional tips for an accessible meeting include: 

  • Use closed captioning and also verbally describe any imagery in a slide presentation to the audience, whether in person or virtual.  
  • Use a sign language interpreter for virtual events and “pin” the interpreter so that they are just as prominent as the person verbally speaking. 

There are so many ways meetings can accommodate attendees with disabilities. I highly recommend using Rosemarie Rossetti as a resource. 

Pittsburgh Community

The Pittsburgh hospitality community is coming together in a true partnership and pivoting to help re-establish our thriving business meetings sector. So many amazing event planning partners call Pittsburgh “home,” and they can assist you with virtual/hybrid events planning. In fact, many of them have been producing hybrid events for years. 

The David L. Lawrence Convention Center quickly saw the need to build The Confluence, An Event Studio to meet the needs of local organizers and corporations. Event organizers can now live stream and pre-record footage in the studio, as well as host hybrid events. And for those national and international conferences and meetings, The Confluence can be an asset to your exhibitors and sponsors as well. Though the mobile studio can be built anywhere within the Center, its primary location is the third floor of the facility - a nice, quiet spot with an amazing view of the Allegheny River. 

Hybrid events are here to stay, and as an industry, we need to embrace the change and strategically plan for hybrid. The MeetPITTSBURGH team is here to help you with all your planning needs. And, don’t forget to ask me about my Hybrid/Virtual Events Cheat Sheet – I’m happy to share my favorite 2020 virtual platforms! 

Published January 12, 2021