Hybrid Event Agenda Design With Mahoganey Jones

by Daniel Mitchell.

I had the pleasure of discussing hybrid event agenda design with my special guest Mahoganey Jones, CMP, DES, HMCC CEO & Founder at Event Specialists.


Mahoganey shared some insightful ideas and debunked some myths around hybrid event budget and content delivery. Here are some of the highlights of that conversation. You can watch the full video below. 

Hybrid Event Technology
We’ve been using the pandemic as a crutch or as a limitation. We keep hearing that “we can’t do” or “we can’t accomplish”, versus how we can still accomplish our goals within the limitations that we have. We can use the limitations as a positive VIP level experience in-person, ultra VIP online… We can look through a different perspective. 

Technology was never meant to limit how we design events, it was meant to enhance what we’re doing while allowing us to hit our goals and objectives. But we’re looking at the technology first, and then designing our agendas to match the bells and whistles of a platform versus seeing what our agenda needs to accomplish, and then finding the technology that is best suited to deliver that message.

We’re putting the cart before the horse. 

In this process, I feel like we forgot about the goals and what we’re actually looking to accomplish. Not every platform is meant for every type of event and we’re literally just building based on what the platform can do.

Attendee Journey in a Hybrid Event
I truly believe that a hybrid event is one customer journey that you’re taking your attendees through, whether they’re attending in-person or online. I feel like the intersection is important, and that we design elements to make sure that each audience is getting exactly what they need, but also understanding that they’re an audience as a whole. 

There’s no one true experience. Not every session has to be delivered for the in-person audience and for the virtual audience. When we talk about the intersectionality between the two audiences, let’s think of how we can ensure that both audiences are getting the experience you’re looking for them to have. 

If you think of the analogy of a hockey game: the in-person audience is watching the game happen live, listening to the announcers, etc. The audience watching from home are not getting the same experience as the in-person audience, but they’re still part of the same event, just experiencing it a little differently

It’s about being mindful of how you’re ensuring your audiences are getting what they need from the event so that you’re not leaving anyone out. Not the entire agenda needs to be translated 100% between in-person and virtual. Virtual audiences don’t necessarily have to ask questions for every session if that may not be the goal of each session. We also don’t have to broadcast every single session.

We can be selective on the content that’s best delivered to each group. For example, entertainment can be great for both audiences, but workshops are not always great to be shared with two audiences. 

When you’re planning your event agenda, create a spreadsheet to see how the flow is going to happen. See where you can put those intersectionalities together so that the in-person audience and the online audience are getting a feel for that experience that you’re looking to deliver. 

In-Person X Virtual Event Content
One thing the pandemic has taught us as event producers is that it’s ok to shorten content. TEDx talks are short, concise, and 10-20 minutes long for a reason. I don’t know when all of a sudden, we decided that we needed 90-minute keynote sessions. But the pandemic has allowed us to shorten a lot of things. That five-day conference can be shortened, still deliver the same bang for your buck, the same valuable content, delivered in two to three days versus five.

For medical conferences and other conferences where there are CEUs or credits associated with the content, the sessions would have to be a certain amount of time to meet those criteria. But there is no hard and fast rule that says all of those sessions have to happen on one day. 

We should have a look at how that content can be best delivered. Spreading your content out doesn’t mean you’re diluting your content. It means you’re also opening your mindset and you’re opening your audience’s ability to attend different sessions that work for them.  We’ve opened up these opportunities to reach larger audiences, we’re truly global in the content that we’re delivering. So how can we best maximize that for our organizations? 

Hybrid Events Budget
Let’s debunk the myth that says you need two or three times more budget to produce a hybrid event. Pre-pandemic, we would normally have a pretty complete in-person agenda and then the virtual was always that afterthought. When you’re looking at your agenda, your event content should help determine what you can actually deliver online. 

Hybrid Event Planning Considerations
I was always a firm believer in lighting and sound. Without lighting and sound in any conference, it falls flat. For a hybrid experience, we have to ensure that the sound and the lighting of the in-person audience can be translated to the virtual audience. So using that to your advantage means you can use it as a design element for the in-person audience, but it also creates a beautiful feed for the virtual audience so that they’re able to see and hear the speakers with clarity. 

For example: have your presenters and audience Q&A using a microphone, so that the audio can be captured for the virtual audience. Or, alternatively, train your speakers to make sure that they repeat the question that was asked from the in-person audience to allow the virtual audience to hear it as well. Lighting is one of those things that almost always becomes an afterthought. 

Personally, I always work with the AV company, see what you already have in the room, see what you’ve already paid for, and see how you can allocate that to make sure that it’s meeting the needs of both the in-person and the virtual audience.

Also, reconsider the venues that you’re working with. The pandemic has allowed venues to redesign their own spaces so that they can work for you. Look at what is already built-in. Do they have the technology to support it? Do you need that massive room or can you go into a smaller room? We’re seeing the rise of these virtual studios that you can go to that have space and be able to accommodate what you’re looking to accommodate.

Event Planning Resources from Mahoganey Jones
One thing I like to start with is an exercise called the SSK Method: Start – Stop – Keep. It’s a tool that is valid when re-imagining what your event could look like. So you ask your team:

  • What would you like us to start doing? 
  • What would you like us to stop doing? 
  • And what would you like us to keep? 

And within that exercise we can actually make decisions and that you are hitting the mark from an internal perspective. You can pick up on some of those cues to see what you can start doing, what you can keep, and see what you can stop.

The one-page Event Business Plan (download free here) is how I like to drive what happens in the event overall. But I also use it as a tool to drill down what is actually going to land on the agenda and what is going to happen. The one-page business plan takes all of the different elements that you are going to cover in the event, drill down to one page so that you understand the mission, the target audience, the goals, and the KPIs you’re looking to meet. With that being listed front and center, and very concise, it’s a lot easier to understand your goals and to support your agenda decisions.

The pandemic is allowing us the opportunity to redesign and rethink what the in-person X virtual experience can look like. It’s allowing us to redesign what the event experience can look like, and to drill down to the core of what our agenda should and could look like. 

This is a good time to step back and think about your event goals first, and then find the best technology, the best attendee journey, the best content format, etc. to support those goals. We don’t need to provide the exact same experiences to both audiences, but the same outcomes. 

As a results-driven and innovative leader, Daniel adds value in building and leading high-performance, cross-disciplinary teams. His talent is finding strategic solutions to solve complex, high-level business challenges; working with senior and executive-level leadership to meet their corporate goals. His leadership experience includes over 15 years of operations and sales management. The common thread between the variety of industries that he has worked with is their innovative approach to business.

To Contact Daniel:  LinkedIn – Twitter – Website