Interview: Fanny Senez on Organizing Hybrid Events

Thanks to the progress of vaccinations and the removal of most travel restrictions, hybrid events are currently a major trend. However, there are only very few event organizers who already have experience with this type of event, unlike their virtual equivalents. Accordingly, the organizers of the International Young Lawyers’ Congress in August 2021 played a truly pioneering role.

About AIJA

AIJA is the world’s only association dedicated to the interests of lawyers aged 45 and under. It has over 4,000 members from 90 different countries. At the annual International Young Lawyers’ Congress, dialog and sharing knowledge is at the forefront. 

Congress website

AIJA Congress - Hybrid event

"We focused on the virtual aspect first. A Congress that works online is compelling for in-person attendees, too."

We talked to events manager Fanny Senez about how hybrid events succeed and the role played by local partners.

Fanny Senez, we’re really interested to know: did more people attend the Congress online or in person?

Around 480 people attended the event in Zurich, while 150 people registered online. However, it also has to be said that we had no idea what to expect when we began planning the hybrid format in April this year. It didn’t become clear that we could welcome a substantial number of people in person until the Swiss government announced the relaxation of restrictions on event capacity for 26 June 2021. Attendees included many members from Europe, but not only from there: some lawyers from further afield made their way to Zurich. Due to the ongoing uncertainty, we see that as a huge success, and we’re delighted that our program managed to reach many people online on top of that.

How did you ensure that the Congress worked in virtual form, not just as an in-person event?

One thing was clear to us from the outset: we didn’t want the two different formats to run separately. We wanted both groups to actually interact with each other. To achieve this, we focused on the virtual aspect first. After all, we believe that a Congress that works online is compelling for in-person attendees, too. We provided comprehensive training for the representatives of the committees who provided the speakers. With the help of an external specialist in hybrid events, we indicated which particular aspects need to be considered in this format. For instance, sticking to the timetable is much more important than at a regular event, as you shouldn’t leave the audience waiting in front of a dark screen – there’s a huge risk of losing them that way. Secondly, this is also crucial to the work of the technical team, as their job is much more complex at this type of event than a usual in-person presentation. We also familiarized speakers with the tools they had at their disposal to get the online audience engaged, such as games and surveys.

Are there any other take-aways with regard to planning hybrid events?

It’s worthwhile adapting to the new conditions personally, too. In contrast to planning an online-only event, the hybrid format involves dealing with two different events – which means twice as much work. I was lucky to be able to hand over the online element to a new colleague. He dealt primarily with the technical aspects, ensuring everything ran smoothly. Hiring a presenter purely for the online aspect of the Congress also paid off for us. She got attendees into the mood for sessions before they began and closed them out nicely. We also had to consider the interpersonal aspect of the program as well as the professional content. We also offered a suitable social program for online participants. For instance, we held our closing ceremony online. Although we don’t know the exact number of people who attended, initial feedback confirms it went down very well. However, as an events manager, you have to be aware of differences in time zones. And host cities could also improve in this regard. The relevant virtual offerings are few and far between. There’s room to fill this niche.

How did you benefit as an organization from hosting the event in a hybrid format?

Our members especially enjoy in-person contact. After 18 months of the pandemic, we also sensed a great deal of screen fatigue. People really wanted to meet in person. At the same time, there were people who were still unable to travel for various reasons: because their firm didn’t permit it, because travel restrictions were still in place or because they themselves didn’t feel safe enough to do so. Making it possible for both groups to take part brought us a great deal of goodwill. We also think the hybrid format gives us the opportunity to gain new members in future. Online attendance offers a low-stakes opportunity to try out AIJA without having to travel far.

Was it difficult to find sponsors for the hybrid event?

Luckily, no. Our sponsors were very flexible. Although it wasn’t clear how many in-person attendees we would have in the beginning, support was already guaranteed. However, I must say that budgeting was much more challenging than in previous years, not only because a lot of factors were uncertain for a long time, but because we didn’t want in-person attendees to pay more to fund the hybrid aspect of the event. However, thanks to careful planning, we managed to pull it off – and I’m proud to say that we managed to cover our costs overall.

What was your experience of working with local partners and Zurich Tourism?

Great. Due to the current situation, it was essential for us to have first-hand information on the applicable legal requirements in our Congress’ host city at all times. Zürich Tourism was a huge help to us in this regard and helped us and our members with travel restrictions and so on. We also held an online event in advance where a representative from the Hotel Marriott and Vanessa Reis from the Convention Bureau provided detailed information on the event.

Last but not least, did you enjoy the host city of Zurich?

We really did. Our members were especially delighted that Zurich is a city that’s easy to explore on foot. People mentioned how much they appreciated how quick and easy it was to get to the city from the airport. Some of the places we visited were a huge hit, too: we held the opening gala in the Swiss National Museum, where we got to catch the Rundfunk Festival. During our time in Zurich we also visited two brand-new locations, the Kongresshaus and The Circle – an exciting experience for visitors from both the city as well as further afield.


6 Learnings from Organizing AIJA as a Hybrid Event

  1. Focus on the virtual: don’t just broadcast the conference but involve your remote audience (e.g. virtual social programs, special speakers, games, surveys).

  2. Plan your resources: hybrid means two simultaneous events have to be organized. Ideally, there are two event managers, one for each format.

  3. Consider your budget: don’t let in-person attendees pay more to fund the hybrid aspect of the event.

  4. Stick to a timetable and remember the different timezones of your audience.

  5. A local partner is key. The support of a local agency or convention bureau is invaluable to stay on top of rules, regulations and to benefit from a strong network as well as in-depth knowledge of the destination.

  6. Destination still matters. An attractive destination makes a difference for on-site attendees. But your remote audience can benefit from virtual programs offered by a host city, too.