Improving Hybrid Engagement at Zoomtopia 2021

How to improve future meetings, events, and collaborations



Colin McMahon


Many important topics were covered at Zoom’s annual conference, Zoomtopia 2021, including increases to platform security, an expanded ability to transcribe audio into other languages in real-time, and increased integration with the recently announced Facebook virtual reality (VR) app, Horizon Workrooms. That said, perhaps one of the most significant discussions had nothing to do with technology and everything to do with execution. Doug McKenzie and Ryan Oakes, two self-described magicians, led a discussion on hybrid engagement, stressing numerous methods and techniques that made the digital arena more interactive and compelling. With many businesses experiencing a shift to hybrid and remote workflows, these lessons are critical for continued success.



The Hybrid Experience Must Be Built From the Ground Up

Every year, the Super Bowl draws millions of views from around the world, despite being a live event that can only seat a few thousand. With so few able to enjoy the in-person experience, how is the Super Bowl still successful? It begins in the planning stages. No one in television ever thought of just pointing one camera at the field and calling it a day. Numerous cameras are used, entertaining advertisements are recorded to fill the downtime, and a halftime show is planned to not only help keep people entertained but also help draw in a larger audience.


This is how businesses (regardless of industry) should view their hybrid experiences. Digital cannot simply be an afterthought or that is exactly what it will feel like. It is unrealistic to say that the exact same experience can be provided across different communication mediums, since each channel has its own strengths and weaknesses. However, with planning and an understanding of the communication medium, it is possible to plan an experience—whether it is a meeting with five people or an event with 500—that caters to everyone equally through unique experiences that optimize each channel.


One of the key components (at least, according to McKenzie and Oakes) is to do it live. As they said: Many people want to watch the Super Bowl; very few people want to watch a recording of the Super Bowl—especially if they already know how it ends. Part of the engagement comes from the feeling that the attendee is part of the experience. To return to the sports metaphor: think crowd noise, think the fan cheering at home, think of yelling at the screen or praising a good call. Even knowing they don’t have any real influence, the fan at home still wants to engage.



Mastering the Tools and Types of Engagement for Hybrid Experiences

So okay, you say, but that’s a major sporting event and we’re only talking about a day’s work. There’s a big difference, right? Yes and no. It’s true, the Super Bowl is an annual event, which helps heighten the excitement. It’s also (at least in the US) a shared cultural occurrence—different people from different areas can come together to talk about their love of the game in one way or another. But at its core, the Super Bowl is just another show. The main difference is that one event is run by entertainers looking to engage by design, another is often run by business professionals who don’t think in those terms, even if it would greatly benefit the information they want to convey.


To this end, much of McKenzie and Oakes’ talk centered around the tools and types of hybrid experience engagement. They wanted to give their audience the tools to succeed, all while frequently demonstrating how said techniques worked throughout their half-hour presentation.


Engagement comes in many forms, including psychological, physical, community-building, educational, emotional, and inspirational. Not every hybrid experience needs to use all types to succeed—part of putting on a good show requires knowing the audience. For instance, a CEO should not be speaking to their employees like they’ve never met before, but instead using community-based interaction to drive home that everyone involved is part of a team working toward common goals.



Digital Transformation Relies on More Than Technology

All of this is to say that, while technology adaption is a crucial part to moving further into the digital transformation of the workplace, it is not the only component—nor even the most important one. Everything begins at engagement, whether it is completing a day of challenging work or creating a compelling hybrid experience.


People can be engaged without spending millions on musicians or fancy marketing. Even asking a well-placed question can keep your audience thinking, rather than tuning you out and moving onto the next distraction. For example, when McKenzie and Oakes talked about engagement, they didn’t list examples—they asked their audience for them, prompting people to write messages into the chat window. They also knew the value of time. While their talk filled the half-hour, neither McKenzie nor Oakes expressed interest in taking it further. An experience without breaks (no matter how initially engaging and educational) can overload the brain and turn off the audience. The duo stressed that a one-size-fits-all method of engagement was always destined to be less successful than a varied and well-segmented one.


The new world is increasingly one of blurred lines. Games aren’t just something to be played by children, but are a powerful business tool in their own right. The business world needs to learn that it isn’t just what you’re selling, but how you’re selling it. Whether you’re selling the importance of last quarter’s financials or a new wide format device, there is a plethora of ways to engage and motivate your audience. Future industry leaders will make that effort, while those stuck in old ways of thinking will miss all the new opportunities that hybrid experiences bring to the table.


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