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When you want to really connect with your audience, nothing beats a face-to-face conversation. But communicating effectively to internal audiences dispersed over many locations - possibly even worldwide – can be a major challenge for leaders and communicators.

Traditional tactics to address the issue include leadership roadshows or streamed video to satellite locations. These tactics work to an extent, but there are clear disadvantages: employees in satellite offices may feel ‘second class’; regional tours take a serious time commitment from time-poor leaders; and in an increasingly digital world, employees may expect communications to be frequent, interactive and to offer a similar experience from home or head office. Welcome to a solution: the multi-location hybrid event.

Hybrid events are a combination of face-to-face and virtual communications. Typically they involve some large group events, such as ‘townhall’ style meetings in key locations, plus virtual access for smaller offices and remote workers.

IoIC London recently hosted a seminar where presenters Jez Paxman, Creative Strategy Director at Live Union and Paul Swanton, Communications Delivery Directorat the Post Office, shared their experiences of hybrid events.

Jez outlined some of the new technologies that allow virtual communications, and then described a large hybrid event for Unite Students, a student accommodation provider spread over 26 UK locations. They wanted to galvanise support for their new brand to 1,000 employees, demonstrate the organisation’s scale, and embrace the digital world. As Jez described it, they wanted “a moment, not a roadshow”. That ‘moment’ turned out to be three hours of creativity, energy and interactivity, which led to an immediate and significant jump in employee engagement.

Paul followed with his experience of using hybrid events in an organisation that is naturally cautious and cost conscious; with some 11,000 branches nationwide; and where the diverse employee base has as many older employees as millennials. He described an iterative process where they started small, saw problems as learning experiences and now produce engaging Team Talk Live events, delivered from a bespoke Google-style facility, as an essential part of the internal communications strategy.

Key learnings:
  • Hybrid events can deliver an experience that feels modern and relevant for all sorts of organisations, not just technology giants.
  • Content is still king. Get the messaging right and use the technology to aid delivery. 
  • Create some guiding principles, such as: no one should travel more than 90 mins; make everyone feel special; make it easy enough for anyone to participate, regardless of technical expertise.
  • Have a back-up plan, especially when you’re relying on the internet.
  • Be clear on objectives: deliver an employee experience; improve engagement; reduce cost; etc. Note: hybrid events can offer cost savings but can also be more expensive depending on the scale of the event.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail; less than perfection can still deliver a good experience for employees and a learning experience for communicators.

Countless studies show that people want to hear from their leaders in person. No doubt many a leader has wished they could be in several places at once. Now, thanks to hybrid events, they can!
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