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Interpretation & Captioning during Hybrid Events: 5 Tips for success

By Giovanna Serrano
October 18, 2021

Since March 2020, we have seen two major moments in event planning. The first moment was going from fully in-person events to fully virtual. This was difficult in the sense that very few companies had experience in how to organize a fully virtual event. There were so many unknowns, including the ability of people to sit for hours on their couch attending an event from their laptops, mobiles, or desktops. Companies scrambled to offer virtual content to their traditionally in-person audiences, while meeting planners and audio-visual engineers tried (with varying degrees of success) to morph into virtual event planners. 

The second moment is now. After almost two years of working remotely, more organizations are moving back to in-person events, while many are not ready to leave its virtual audience behind. This is the whole concept of hybrid. Hybrid events are where part of the audience or presenters are in-person in a ballroom or convention center, and the other part of the audience (or presenters) attend remotely from their homes or offices.

In both scenarios, Universe Language has observed trends that can help interpretation or captioning service users organize their event strategy with great success. 

1) Selecting suppliers with hybrid delivery experience. Onsite and in-person events are very different experiences. Not all companies were able to transition well from in-person to fully virtual at the start of the pandemic. Likewise, not all companies were able to invest in the research and development needed of its staff and services in order to accommodate for the new “hybrid event” concept.  

It is very important to ask for video content from your supplier to see what they have done in the past. Since Universe Language has been holding virtual events, everything we have done has been video recorded. Companies organizing hybrid events are now able to keep a library of content they have interpreted, captioned, or narrated. 

In addition, the more varied the experience of your supplier is, the deeper their knowledge will be of potential pitfalls. They will also be able to better engage all aspects of the hybrid experience. Here at Universe, all of our interpreters, captioners and technicians are being trained and working regularly in hybrid environments to ensure they understand how the work must flow from physical to virtual experiences.

2) Selecting the right virtual platform. Not all platforms are created equal. As such, clients must be aware of the features, capabilities, and limitations of each one of their options. Some questions to consider are:

  • Does the platform offer features for virtual and in-person audiences to engage with each other using the same Apps? 
  • Does the platform allow for producers to build-in audio channels for interpretation?
  • Does it accommodate iFrames to place captioned content? 
  • Does it allow you to switch from a human captioner to AI captions in an emergency? 
  • Is the platform powerful and nimble enough to reduce lag time between in-person, live events and a virtual experience?

3) Selecting the right venue. Just like a virtual event platform, the physical environment is just as important when it comes to supporting hybrid events.  

Woodland hotel - Conference hall with neatly arranged seats-1

Some key items to consider are the bandwidth of the location to support multiple video streams, as well as having enough connectivity for the number of people attending the event in-person. The venue must also offer the right infrastructure to accommodate a hybrid experience. This includes studio space, internet and electrical backup plans, and technical support knowledgeable in video content production and streaming.

4) Agendas and time zones. One of the biggest pitfalls of the virtual component of a hybrid experience is trying to offer a dense agenda, or scheduling a program without paying attention to time zones. The experience of a person having to sit and watch an 8-hour program from their laptop is very different from a person who is present in an arena or convention center ballroom. The energy is different, the sensorial experience is different, and as such, they must be treated differently. 

For attendees going virtually to an event, the content must be trimmed down and curated with multiple engagement opportunities. This will allow the attendee to feel they have more direct participation in the event. The same applies to time zones. Meeting planners must be careful to schedule general or plenary sessions at times that are reasonable for most of the virtual attendees around the country or globe.  

Breakout or region-specific sessions can be scheduled during business hours for people attending virtually. With the ability to record and stream content on demand, this becomes a possibility. The virtual attendee can have access to breakout sessions which can be recorded live during the on-site event. In addition, content for the virtual audience can also be pre-recorded with the appearance of panelists at the end of the segment for engaging Q& A sessions.

5) Prepare, test, rehearse, repeat!  Meetings were held pretty much the same way for the past 100 years. Then in March of 2020, every single point of reference in terms of what we know of meeting and event planning was challenged. The hybrid environment is still in its inception and planners, clients, and content producers are developing and implementing new ideas every day. 

Preparation, testing, rehearsing, and repetition are crucial to deliver a professional and seamless event experience to audiences, whether that be in a ballroom or online. One key item you will want to prepare are your speakers. Make sure to bring the speakers to the studio and ensure you are providing them with the right microphone headphone. You will also want to check lighting, setting up microphone levels and conduct a rehearsal of their presentations. 

Additional items you will want to prepare for are testing streams, checking for lag times, verifying safety controls for electrical supply and backups, as well as verifying internet bandwidths. This will help eliminate opportunities for error and increase the chances of having an engaging, seamless experience for your on-site and virtual audiences. 

Redefining events for the future

Suppliers in the event and content planning world have seen the earth shift under our feet. We are not 100% where we will end up after the pandemic and its sequelae are over. However, hybrid events are 100% here to stay. There was already so much uncertainty with moving to virtual events, so understanding the appropriate steps in order to avoid mistakes going from fully virtual to hybrid events is key. 

By hiring a company with expertise in navigating both environments, making sure both the virtual platform and actual venue have the right features to hold a hybrid event, leaving ample opportunities to test, prepare and rehearse, and ensuring you have the right content strategy to present to each audience are all items that will set you up to have a successful hybrid event. 

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