What does it take to run a hybrid conference?

During the second hybrid conference for the Speexx Exchange I tweeted a picture of my setup for hosting the online portion – which got a lot of attention!

So I thought I’d tell you a bit more about it!

One: the biggest monitor you have space for and can afford

The more screen real estate you have for any digital work makes life exponentially easier. This is especially true for facilitating live online learning and webinars. For this hybrid event that was dialled up even further.

My specific monitor is not widescreen, which I find are not very tall, I wanted one that was a taller rectangle than the more popular widescreen monitors, especially good for longer documents or, as I have here, stacking one window on top of another.

As the monitor is big I also use Display Fusion software that helps break the space up differently to snap windows to. You can set it up for different uses, such as gaming, webinars, office work, spreadsheets or whatever you do. Admittedly I haven’t made use of it here and all the windows are set manually.

On this screen is the Zoom room, with the participants panel so that I can allow people in from the waiting room and big chat panel for managing that.

At the bottom left is a handy notepad document to copy and paste from quickly. Next to that is the all important run sheet of the day. This is the timing (down to the minute in some cases) with the speakers, activities, what’s happening on which screen at the event and instructions for the audio visual team, for my colleagues at the event in-person and for me online.

To the right of that is my document of things to copy and paste throughout the day, including the speakers, links to their Twitter and LinkedIn pages, books they’ve published, planned phrases to paste in chat, for example about breakout rooms, notes to remind me to give participants the rights to unmute for the breakout rooms and so on. Underneath that document (because I ran out of screen space…) was my Zoom producer document for any technical questions.

Two: laptop for backup and check view

When running my virtual classrooms this laptop is setup as an attendee so that I can always see what they see, check any settings (such as whiteboards not working) and advise of any menu clicks as the host display is different. In this instance this laptop did that job visually in terms of checking what was showing on the screen, but was there as my backup host computer in case my main one crashed.

As I do this work all the time I have a second broadband connection so I have redundancy in case one fails. Thankfully I hardly had to use this for the hybrid conference this week.

Three: second monitor

I love this monitor that sits above my main one. From a physical point of view it’s not good to look up to all the time, but it’s a good reference place.

For the hybrid conference, on the left of the screen I have the participant view of the Mentimeter question so that I could ensure we were on the right question as someone else was launching and controlling this in-person.

On the right is a Skype chat with my business partner Mike. He is the producer on all the Lightbulb Moment virtual classroom training, and he joined the first session of the conference as an extra technical support for participants. This is great placement as it’s just slightly right of my webcam (which isn’t easy to see as it’s black and is in front of the black bezel of the screen), so I can glance at any of his messages and still maintain good focal point when I’m speaking to webcam.

Earlier in the day I also used this monitor to run the PowerPoint welcome slides in a window rather than full screen, showing information as participants joined the session.

Four: a third monitor

A luxury? Overkill? A bit much? Quite possibly. This whole setup has taken a good few years to get to, and as I upgraded from the top monitor to something bigger (this one), it got relegated to a second screen. Then when I upgraded from this one to the main monitor, it seemed a waste not to use it. I had the space on my desk, but only if we turned it portrait. During normal working days this is great for my calendar and documents or websites I want to refer to but I’m not working directly on.

For the hybrid conference we had two WhatsApp groups we were using for running the day, so having it a glance away and where I could quickly and easily type responses and send screengrabs was great. And below it is Snagit, a really easy to use screengrab and screen recording tool.

Other essential tools

I also had my Elegato key lights (the other is on the right of the image where the clocks are) to reduce my shadows and highlights.

In the bottom middle of the picture is my great Shure PG-42 microphone and pop filter, that seems to give great audio quality.

There’s a flask of coffee and big bottle of water as didn’t have much time this day to pop to the kitchen.

On Twitter people have picked up on clocks for different time zones, my bling tin which has my live online makeup in (lip colours and eye liner that look good and defined on camera, but a bit more than I would normally wear), and of course my little Superman items for some personal fun.

Key takeaways

I’ve been specialising in live online learning for nearly a decade, and it’s what I do all day every day, so it makes sense that I’ve invested in things like a second broadband connection, excellent quality microphone and extra lighting. You need to invest in what’s right for your work, how much you use it and the space and budget you have available.

Key things to consider:

  • My best advice in terms of my own comfort when facilitating live online is screen real estate. Being able to see notes, webcams, chat, my PowerPoint and so on is so much easier than flicking between things or having them too small
  • Having a second device as a backup when you are hosting or facilitating something important gives confidence and comfort
  • If you are running virtual classrooms or smaller webinars, a laptop or second device for seeing the attendee view also helps your confidence. It could just be your phone propped up under your monitor and means you KNOW something is showing up correctly and don’t have to ask your audience to confirm
  • Lighting is important – consider where your natural light is coming from, what lighting is behind you that might wash you out and see what you can do to balance that. You could try plugin desk lamps or the portable desk lights you can get in hobby shops for sewing etc
  • Planning! My document with copy/paste notes of the day was seven pages to cover the day! It was three hours planning ahead the sessions, what I would need to put in chat and key elements I needed to get right and more, to make sure that the sessions ran as smoothly as possible
  • Communication with the rest of the team is a must. I had WhatsApp for the in-person teams and Skype for my remote colleague. You’ll have your own versions, but being in touch during the day quickly and easily was essential to flex in the moment
  • Comfort – you need a good chair, the right temperature, your beverages of choice and so on. The day was full on and focused, so it was working ahead and making sure I had what I needed

Need more ideas and help?

You can download the case study about how Laura Overton and I re-designed the hybrid conference experience, which got the above feedback in 2021! Download the free case study here.

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