Whether you’ve never planned a hybrid event or feel pretty confident in your abilities to deliver a seamless experience, there are strategy and design techniques for hybrid meetings that you can use now to elevate your next event.

Just as you measure your in-person events’ success by stakeholder experience and event metrics, the same can be said for hybrid. The delivery may look different, but the opportunities to reach a larger audience and provide new engagement levels are greater with hybrid.

Let’s uncover the opportunities found with each challenge and go over strategy and design tips that appeal to your audience and other stakeholders.

Designing For Two Modes Of Delivery

One of the challenges and opportunities in designing hybrid experiences is activating in two different modes of delivery. Event planners are well versed in creating live event experiences, and most are very excited to get back to familiar territory. Many have experimented in the digital world over the past few months and are gaining confidence in crafting virtual experiences.

As we transition to designing more hybrid events, planners will draw on their successes in both delivery modes, creating hybridized experiences. Developing and executing high impact content, networking, and community building strategies form their newfound understanding and the benefits inherent in both methods.

Let’s Do The (Virtual) Time Warp Again

Many planners are already making their content accessible post-event, but the value it brings to your attendees bears repeating. Allowing event attendees to access content after the ballroom doors have shut has enormous benefits!

Benefits include revisiting topics to reinforce their learning or access sessions they could not attend during the live experience because of time conflicts. By extending the life of your content, planners can provide additional value to their attendees, speakers, sponsors, and other important stakeholders.

Virtual Data Will Cross Over Into Live, In-Person Events

We have all learned the benefits of tracking how attendees navigate our virtual platforms. Data and analytics help planners refine their delivery and articulate measurable value to event owners, exhibitors, and sponsors.

As we move back into in-person experiences, savvy planners will use strategy to explore how to activate data collection for their in-person attendees. For instance, activating technologies that enable devices to act as second screens for real-time feedback and deploying attendee tracking technology to understand how their attendees navigate the trade show floor and meeting spaces.

New data, combined with their virtual data, will apply agile development strategies to improve the outcomes from their live and virtual experiences.

Rethinking How We Manage Content And Time

We have all recognized, and most have experienced ‘Zoom fatigue.’ One positive from the forced digital transformation we have gone through is understanding and managing attendee psychological capacity and engagement.

Many planners and event designers are re-thinking their content programming and scheduling. We now understand that most attendees cannot effectively absorb 10 hours of content, day after day, without leaving a large amount of information on the meeting room floor.

Savvy live event planners will start to schedule “white space” time, allowing attendees to reflect on the content and relax, providing space and time for them to slow down and leave “mental room” for the next round of knowledge. By allocating this time, they will allow the remote attendees to manage their fatigue and open up networking opportunities between remote and in-person attendees.

Get Ready For The Rise Of Hybrid Networking Pods

Hybrid networking pods are technology solutions that bridge the gap between the in-person and remote attendees, allowing them to network face-to-face. As a strategy and design tool for hybrid meetings, hybrid networking pods combine onsite TV stations with cameras and apps within virtual platforms. By enabling in-person attendees to chat in real-time face-to-face with remote attendees, you break time and space barriers, making more unified community-building experiences.

Presentation Stages™ And The Television Aesthetic

Our Presentation Stages™ kicked off the merging of broadcast TV and events. As we move more into hybrid, this will continue to grow and evolve, requiring us to set the stage for both the in-room and virtual audiences. Savvy planners will take inspiration from broadcast television and award show aesthetics, with stage sets and lighting plots tailored for multiple camera angles with even reliable lighting. Immersing the in-room audience in vivid color and movement ensures the camera looks good for the remote viewers and video on demand post-event.

Branding Across Modes Of Delivery

For a long time, we have known that your event branding and color scheme are essential for setting tone and mood at the event. As we transition to hybrid, creative teams will invest time and energy to align the visuals and color schemes across both live and virtual settings. This consistency helps all attendees feel the same connection and mood, however they choose to participate.

Sending Out The Swag

Many have experimented with mailing event collateral and swag to virtual attendees. Some have used home delivery to provide educational tools like workbooks and additional reading material. Simultaneously, other planners and event organizers have allowed exhibitors and sponsors to send samples and swag to help them connect with people in their homes.

Starting the event experience with some sort of mail-out will likely continue. Still, we predict event designers, planners, and exhibitors will refine their strategy, focusing more on the message behind the mail-outs. The key is seeking and providing meaningful connections and opportunities to educate and inspire, rather than sending yet another traveling coffee cup that fails to deliver a compelling reason to connect with a brand.

Attendee-Curated Experiences In A Live Setting

Attendees have been spoiled in the virtual world. We have allowed them to pick and choose what they participate in and when. This causes stress for planners who are used to controlling the behavior of their onsite attendees. As we move to hybrid, the challenge will be in finding a compromise. Allowing attendees to choose their own journey while managing the attendee flow ensures that critical content and messages are received and adopted by as many as possible.

Neuroscience As A Strategy And Design Tool For Hybrid Meeting ROI

2020 gave many event designers and planners a chance to re-educate themselves about experience design, psychology, and neuroscience. Learning how others process information empowers them to create more meaningful experiences that ensure content is not only delivered but absorbed and turned into repeatable retrievable capabilities.

By deploying storytelling techniques, planners will build on their understanding of the power of peer-group learning. This will create more confidence in managing community structures, creating mental alignment, and making positive collaborative cultures. Neuroscience as a tool translates into the ability to articulate better the long-term benefits of event owners and what organizations can expect from their event investments.

What’s Next

With news that an effective COVID-19 vaccine is around the corner, the number of hybrid events will continue to rise as the industry responds in its level of comfort to meet in venues. I hope these strategy and design techniques for hybrid meetings help you feel empowered to take them on!

Are you looking for more information on planning a hybrid event? Read last week’s post or fill out the contact form below.

In February 2020, Hargrove was officially announced by the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) to serve as the Event Management Firm for the 2020 National Convention at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. As in 2012 and 2016, we were once again responsible for the infrastructure necessary to make the convention possible.


An event in transition

With boots on the ground and planning well underway, we had to hit the pause button as the pandemic gripped the nation. A series of decisions made by the DNCC as the situation evolved—changes in dates, venue, crowd size, schedule, and even the event format—required us, as their partner, to continuously adapt, redirect, and rescale our support. What the world experienced in August was a compelling, inclusive virtual convention; in reality, the Democratic National Convention was the first large-scale hybrid event since the onset of COVID-19 in the U.S.

With a digital-first mindset, the hybrid part of the convention flew under the radar. At Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Center, the convention’s new ‘Center of Operation and Command,’ infrastructure requirements were altered as the definition of a ‘safe environment’ included new, rigorous health requirements. As if making the convention possible wasn’t enough, with the whole world watching it had to be successful even before the first minute of broadcasting and streaming began.

Partners in safety

What was the secret for success? It was doing what we do best: be part of the solution. We dug in with the DNCC to establish procedures and design solutions to create a safe environment and deliver a successful event for the physical participants. Everything from space planning and structures for daily testing to furniture and equipment for operational areas that was easier to keep clean, we took our existing knowledge of past conventions and our new knowledge from MeetSAFE™ guidelines to develop client-guiding solutions.

The convention-wide commitment and adherence to health and safety guidelines was paramount to our collective success in Milwaukee, as well as in Delaware, in support the local broadcast teams. It enabled the on-site work to get done while ensuring the safety of our team and our client. Staffing and procedures were modified, taking on a village mentality. With staff working in teams both at the convention center and remotely, not only was the health risk further mitigated, but accessibility to critical staff increased, helping to shorten decision making.

Realizing success in the new norm

The 2020 convention was equal parts preparation and reimagining with a foundation of constant collaboration between teams. The successful production of a multi-day, prime-time program from across the country was made possible, and our client enjoyed a potential record-breaking audience across all platforms for their virtual event-defining convention.

What can you take away from the Democratic National Convention to apply to your hybrid event? Be flexible; plan the digital and live components with the same amount of attention and effort, and partner with people who are equally invested in the success of your event. Successful hybrid is about more than just the technical aspects. The behind-the-scenes production is integral to building a solid foundation—and, when well planned, produces the opportunity for and greater audience engagement and success.

Ben Erwin, President and CEO of our parent company PSAV/Encore, provides his perspective on the current state of the events industry due to COVID-19, the impact to the business, the strategic adjustments we have taken, and his vision for the future as our new CEO.


Don’t just plan an event . . . DESIGN an experience! Event producers are being told, “You’re an experience designer.” But what does that actually mean? – especially when it feels like the world turned virtual overnight (even though virtual and hybrid events have been around for years – for more perspective read our recent post).

The good news is whether you are designing conventional events or virtual events, meaningful content and design is the key to making strategic choices that resonate with your audience, brand and mission.

So how do you do that? It starts by reviewing our 3 simple tips to start thinking differently about your event design-experience.

  • Unconventional: Get outside your comfort zone
  • Unexpected: Create memorable moments that stand out from the noise
  • Unbuttoned: Design that places audience engagement at the center of the experience

Unconventional: Because different can delight and engage in unexpected ways.

Tip 1: Shake up your space. Breakouts, learning sessions, networking, online environments – they don’t all have to look the same. Your audience (even in virtual) needs a change of scenery. Create immersive moments of escape and play within the architecture. Polling, gamification, word clouds, social engagement are great ways to do this inside your virtual event OR create smaller chat rooms for networking that combat screen fatigue by allowing attendees to shift focus, move their mind and engage across the event.


Tip 2: Let’s get weird! Ask yourself, how can you give an unexpected experience? We recommend combining virtual and physical elements in all your events. For example, virtual attendees receiving a pre-event package with content they can use during the event to get some pre-buzz energy flowing OR maybe the audience members have the option of designing their very own event avatar to show off during the event. Whatever the solution, it starts by asking how are you planning to give your audiences “you had to be there” moments that they can’t get from anyone else?


​Tip 3: Get emotional. You don’t need to deliver complex content in order to create a memorable feeling. Simple statements stick with people when they are accompanied by a feeling​. “Design is not just how it looks and feels, but how it works” – Steve Jobs​. Allow your brand to show up authentically, and attendees to express themselves, their passion in what they do and how you can affect that, positively. Acknowledge that, we all want to feel good – question what that means for your audience and celebrate it in the moments that they are convening. ​Unexpected methods of content delivery – voices from your subject matter experts; your partners; your customers; your attendees​. Ideas such as creating curated partnership stories featured as a gallery or give speaking opportunities to more junior members of your organizations to get to the heart of the why you are connecting. If budgets are an issue, production value can be forgiven if the content is striking the right chord for your community. Try something new and go for it! Authentic voices build connection and that’s exactly what you are trying to do!

Design of visitor experiences is considered central to the delivery of any successful event.​ This places Marketers (YOU) in a new role – driving the design decisions and processes forward.​ Creating a differentiated experience is what will elevate engagement, drive community and deliver the desired actions of others.

So, how will you stand out in future events?

Experiences must be "On Brand" and Authentic

A Rise in Hybrid Meetings and Events

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges to the event industry. But, with crisis, often comes innovation. As automobile manufacturers have quickly changed their business model from building cars to building ventilators, the events industry is responding with different ways to use technology to connect organizations and people.

One of the impacts of the pandemic is that people everywhere have become more comfortable with virtual technology. Our children and teachers have adapted from classroom instruction to online learning. Our colleagues kept collaboration and teamwork alive using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx and a host of other applications. While the Millennial generation has grown up with FaceTime and video chat, now even my 76-year-old mother has become proficient at setting up family Zoom meetings. These new realities are propelling the use of virtual technologies forward.

You may recall after 9/11 and the Great Recession when planners, venues and technology companies expected video conferencing to become a part of the new norm and invested significant capital in that direction. We learned quickly that the industry at large was not ready to make the move to this type of virtual approach. But today is a new era. People’s behaviors have changed, and their everyday routines now revolve around technology. Great advances have been made over the past decade in technology, hardware, connection speeds and the use of the Cloud to enable virtual events. Most importantly, meeting and event participants are now more comfortable using technology to connect virtually. COVID-19 has prepared us for a technological pivot in the meeting industry.

However, we must never underestimate the importance of human connection. The ability to read body language and meet face-to-face is important. The opportunity to socialize before and after meetings is crucial. Technology can never fully replace face-to-face communication, but it can become a tool to help us through challenging times, and the answer might just be a combination of in-person meetings connected by technology.

Humans, whether Millennials or Baby Boomers, are social people.  We must meet, in-person and often to create true connections.

Hybrid meetings allow us to connect event participants while simultaneously providing peace of mind. More than ever, attendee engagement strategies need to be front and center as we transition from live events to virtual and hybrid events in the post-COVID-19 world. In order to create successful events, creators need to be focused on designing touchpoints that resonate, developing timing strategies and engineering experiences that allow for two-way conversations.

In-person meetings will evolve to become more inclusive. While just a few months ago, a venue may have welcomed 500 people into a ballroom for a general session, the opportunity now exists to welcome 50 people into a more intimate setting in 10 rooms that can be spread out around the world. Connecting rooms or venues with virtual technology will allow this to happen. It will also allow options for participants who may be concerned about their health or have a pre-existing condition.

Additionally, as small, mid-sized and even large companies have become accustomed to employees working from home, our role in connecting people will be even more important. Square, Twitter, and Nationwide are a sample of some of the organizations who plan to continue to offer remote working arrangements. This will present a new opportunity for venues to sell space so that team members of companies who have left the brick and mortar office behind can come together to meet. Working from home can be isolating and the need for team members to create face-to-face connections will increase.

This has created a tremendous opportunity for planners, venues, and technology companies to work together to meet these needs. It is our job to educate the industry about the possibilities of coupling in-person meetings with virtual technology to create hybrid events. Our role in connecting people is suddenly more important than ever. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that even though we can work virtually we crave social interaction. Our job is working together to make that happen for our clients.

By Mike Stengel

What will meetings and events look like following the COVID-19 pandemic?

For everyone in our industry, that’s certainly been the question on our minds. And while it’s easy to say “I don’t know,” the meetings and events industry as a whole is too important to accept that as an answer – 10 million jobs worldwide directly depend on it.

Instead, Hargrove, along with PSAV and our family of brands and industry partners, are looking to help get the live event industry, event planners, and our teams back to work and begin the road to recovery. In order to do so, meeting safely will undoubtedly be our top priority.

With nations and individual states slowly releasing stay-at-home orders, now is the time to envision what our return to live and hybrid meetings will look like. As risk and health are two key considerations for businesses and associations, physical distancing and enhanced cleaning procedures will remain an essential part of making people comfortable with gathering again.

But we can’t go back to “business as usual” right away. An anticipated phase one recovery for our industry likely represents smaller meeting sizes in alignment with evolving government guidelines. For this reason, we have created specific guidelines that focus on smaller meetings and events to take cadence with the reopening efforts happening nationally and internationally. Please be on the lookout for phase 2, which will be focused on larger scale activations and how to produce them safely and responsibly. Our experts are developing plans for every aspect for events in the future.

So, how will meeting safely in the early stages of recovery look?

Working alongside our partners, Hargrove has designed a series of meeting formats, equipment packages, and recommendations that address how to reduce risk, increase confidence, and promote well-being within the meeting space.

Our MeetSAFE™ guidelines address examples and options for meeting designs, room layouts, traffic flow, technology considerations, and enhanced cleaning procedures, with the goal of making the meetings and events industry stronger and healthier than ever.

We know this is just the first step on the road to recovery, but we also know our industry is resilient. Together, with your support, we’re confident our industry can show great leadership throughout the comeback.


By Scott Finlayson

MILWAUKEE—The Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) today announced the selection of the construction and event management teams for the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. The teams will be responsible for transforming Fiserv Forum and the surrounding area for the convention. The DNCC has selected Hargrove to serve as the Event Management Firm for the convention. Hargrove will manage locally-owned JCP Construction as Construction General Contractor and Populous as its Event Architect. Populous will partner with Milwaukee’s American Design, Inc.

“The eyes of the country will be on Milwaukee during the 2020 Democratic National Convention and we are intent on ensuring attendees and viewers alike feel the energy and excitement of our host city,” said Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Joe Solmonese. “The top-notch event management team we are announcing today perfectly blends the experience, creative vision, and ties to the community necessary to craft an experience that breaks the mold and brings everyone in.”

“The city of Milwaukee has a tremendous amount to showcase when we welcome the convention this summer and I am pleased that will include the local expertise and talent that has been selected as part of the Democratic National Convention Committee’s construction and event management teams,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “I look forward to seeing how this visionary group ensures the character of our city permeates this historic event.”

“I made it a personal mission that our community enjoys the economic benefits of hosting the Democratic National Convention,” said Representative Gwen Moore. “I am excited that this mission is being delivered upon with the selection of these companies, which reflect our diversity. I know they will bring a caliber of excellence that makes our city shine proudly.”

Hargrove, is a full-service, creative and experiential production company serving every segment of the live events market and as a member of the PSAV family of brands. They bring to life high-impact, face-to-face experiences for some of the world’s most recognized corporations, associations and government agencies.

“Hargrove is honored to be selected as the Event Management Partner for the Democratic National Convention, for the third consecutive time,” said Tara Higgins, President of Hargrove. “Our focus will be to deliver a successful world class experience while working closely with the DNCC to create a lasting legacy for Milwaukee.”

JCP Construction, LLC has been selected as the DNCC’s Construction General Contractor. The Milwaukee firm was established in 2008 by brothers James, Jalin, and Clifton Phelps. Together, they bring decades of combined experience to the convention and provide an array of services including pre-construction, general contracting, and construction management. Their company focuses on commercial, adaptive reuse, and large residential construction. JCP Construction has been a part of some of Milwaukee’s flagship construction projects of the past decade including Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee Mitchell Airport, and Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons.

“We are pleased to be named the construction general contractor for the upcoming Democratic National Convention being held at Fiserv Forum this summer,” said James Phelps, JCP Construction President. “This is an historic moment for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Midwest. The opportunity to be a part of this event is further recognition of our leadership in this industry and commitment to be an inclusive employer in our city.”

The DNCC has selected Populous as the convention’s Event Architect. Populous is the architect of record for Fiserv Forum and has extensive experience planning the world’s largest marquee events like the Super Bowl, Olympics, and Warrior Games. This year’s event will be the fifth nominating convention for the firm, three of which were hosted in Populous-designed venues. Populous’ lead event architect will be native Wisconsinite and Associate Principal Lisa Opper, and the team will partner locally with American Design, Inc.

“We are honored to partner with the DNCC as the event architect of a historic event in one of our historic facilities,” said Lisa Opper, Senior Event Architect and Associate Principal. “As both architects and event specialists, we are experts in designing places that bring people together for memorable experiences. Fiserv Forum is the perfect venue to host this event and we look forward to working with the DNCC to deliver the 2020 Democratic National Convention.”

“American Design is pleased and honored to join the team that will bring this significant event to Milwaukee,” said John T. Williams, President of American Design, Inc.

The construction and event management team will be led by DNCC Senior Director of Hall Management Jeffrey Wexler. Their work together has already commenced and will continue as we count down to welcoming 50,000 convention guests to the arena July 13-16.

Hargrove, the long established but rapidly growing experiential events, exhibits, and expositions company, is thrilled to announce the hiring of Scott Finlayson as the new Senior Vice President of Operations.

Finlayson came to Hargrove with a wealth of experience from world-class organizations such as Disney and Universal Studios. 

Scott started his career at the Disneyland Resort in California where he managed Operations, Stage Shows, Parades & Fireworks, Stage Management & Talent Operations. He later served as the Director of Entertainment Operations for Universal Studios Hollywood, where he was responsible for the delivery of all shows in the park, cartoon character and atmosphere entertainment.

Most recently, he was the Chief Operating Officer for Blue Man Group, where he also served as Senior Vice President, Theatrical Productions, and Senior General Manager, Live Productions throughout his decade of service to the company.

“Scott is an inspired leader who in known for his ability to create working relationships at every level of the organization. His superior management style, strategic oversight and deep understanding of the inner workings of events, theater production and fabrication, make him a perfect match for Hargrove and our commitment to operational excellence in all of the creative fields we play,” said Tara Higgins, President.

As part of the ongoing evolution of the Hargrove brand, the services offered, and how the company continues to scale within the industry, Finlayson will be leading the company’s four production-related departments, while fully realizing the power of the proprietary technology the company has to achieve more streamlined operations and efficiencies that benefit the company’s operations as well as each and every one of Hargrove’s diverse client base.

His experience in this space is vast, having developed back in the early 2000s one of the first software solutions for theatrical operations as the owner and Chief Architect of Theater Management Tools Inc. Now focused on Hargrove operations and systems, the software provides an invaluable asset as it leverages technology into the day-to-day operations of live events.

New president to drive company’s vision and growth

Hargrove announced today the hiring of industry veteran Tara Higgins as President of the growing experiential events, exhibits, and expositions company.

Tara brings to Hargrove more than 20 years of experience leading results-driven teams in the events, exhibitions and experiential marketing industries. She spent most of her career with George P. Johnson in increasing areas of responsibility and where her last role was Executive Vice President of Global Operations.

“There is no doubt that Tara is the business visionary who will lead the company in its next chapter of growth. Consistent with our focus on inventive solutions for customers I am confident that she will drive and further define the vision of Hargrove’s future as one of the leading experiential events and expositions company,” said company CEO Tim McGill.

With a career working on multiple continents, Tara worked closely with some of the world’s leading brands in supporting their business objectives with cutting-edge agency solutions. She has a successful track record on both the client and agency side of the industry and leading growth through client consultation and data-driven insights.

“I was introduced to Hargrove through a new business network built for a start-up in which I was engaged,” said Higgins. “The more I learned first-hand of the company and its dedicated team of event professionals, I realized it is a hidden gem in an ever-changing landscape of experience marketing and consumer engagement. Its recent client wins and global brand work over the past couple of years is testimony to that. The company’s rich heritage, current diverse client base, and business direction is in an exciting place. I’m eager to work with the team to take it to the next level, meeting client needs today and into the future.”

Tune in to this week’s GatherGeeks, “A Primer on Planning Major Events: Branding, Design, Security & More,” to catch an interview with Hargrove’s own Ron Bracco, VP of Events.

Recorded at the Meridian International Center in Washington, DC, BizBash C.E.O. David Adler, Zkipster’s Alex Carter and Ron explore how Hargrove’s rich history empowers our team to successfully produce everything from the G8 Summit and AIPAC Conference to brand activations and corporate events.

Our friends at GatherGeeks note that:

Ron goes in-depth in the planning process, sharing details on event design and layout, branding, security, and more. He also discusses how to create environments that promote dialogue, the different between “feeling” moments and “wow” moments, and more.

You can tune in at the BizBash website, Apple Podcasts, or search GatherGeeks on your podcast app of choice.