Speakers and the Hybrid Environment: A Planning Status Update

Pivot, adapt, and reimagine were the manifesto of 2020, but they remain relevant for 2021. With uncertainty still defining our present, organizations are having to embrace new ways of planning events.

This is top of mind for DallasHR Manager of Education Erin Swain, who shares a behind-the-scenes look at planning with members in this update. Erin develops, implements and delivers education and professional development for both DallasHR and the HRSouthwest Conference.

What are the trends shaping events in 2021?

Erin noted hybrid events are here to stay. “Right now, it’s about maintaining all necessary safety protocols,” she said. As part of every event, DallasHR surveys participants to determine their comfort levels with in-person live events. “We’re seeing a 50-50 split, even when we ask members about summer event attendance. It’s really about comfort level.”

Ultimately, hybrid event formats are opening engagement for members who may not have been able to attend in-person formats in the past. “Almost all of our events will be offered in a hybrid format going forward, even when we are able to return in person without limitations for health and safety protocols,” Erin said. “We’re seeing it opens up opportunities for members. We’re meeting more members’ needs now, so that’s been a silver lining in this difficult year.”

What do speakers have to do differently to communicate with both in-person and virtual participants?

Hybrid events pose a real challenge for presenters: how to adapt their audience engagement for dual face-to-face and virtual attendees. Erin shared, “It’s easy to engage face-to-face participants, but remembering to interact and engage with the virtual audience isn’t necessarily second-nature.”

Fielding questions simultaneously from live and virtual audiences can be complex. DallasHR staff, including Erin, have found through trial and error the most successful approach is to have a live staff member or volunteer ask questions on behalf of the virtual audience. Erin notes a feature of DallasHR’s platform allows virtual attendees with the same question to emphasize it by ranking it for the speaker. This can draw the speaker’s attention to the question.

Tell us about virtual speaker certification.

As part of their professional pivots, many speakers are taking courses to become certified as virtual presenters. “One of the most popular is called Certified Virtual Presenter, offered by eSpeakers,” Erin said. The course ends with a speaker assessment in a virtual environment. The instructors provide feedback or approve the presentation, which results in the certification.

“While we’re evaluating presenters with a variety of experience,” Erin noted, “HRSWC is emphasizing this kind of credential as we plan the fall. It’s not a must-have for our events or conference, but it’s definitely a benefit.” 

How are speakers adjusting?

“I’ve seen a few trends to share,” Erin said. “There are presenters who have spent their entire careers in face-to-face events, and some of them are taking a hiatus, regrouping, maybe waiting this out. Others have really taken it upon themselves to reinvent their programs to fit what’s happening right now.” Erin concluded by engaging a new member demographic with virtual programs, DallasHR has pivoted, too. “Reaching new audiences for our programs has been possible only because of flexibility and innovation.”

View DallasHR’s full schedule of upcoming education events.

DallasHR is one of the largest SHRM affiliate chapter in the nation. With more than 2,000 engaged HR professionals, the Chapter has been Advancing the Value of HR since 1939 through cutting-edge education, fun networking events and opportunities to share best practices with others in the field of HR. The Chapter powers The HRSouthwest Conference, one of the largest regional HR events in the U.S. hosting more than 2,400 attendees in Fort Worth annually. DallasHR events are held in both Dallas and Collin Counties. Visit us at dallashr.org to join or hrsouthwest.com to register and follow us at #DALLASHR, #HRSWC.