Crafting Moments That Matter: Powerful Dramaturgy for Business Events On- and Offline

in-person, online, or hybrid?

In the past-pandemic world, we often have the freedom to decide for in-person or virtual versions of business gatherings before starting the design and planning process.

As stated in an earlier blog post, the choice isn't easy, maybe it helps to go through my quick checklist to consider key aspects.


There will be good reasons, finally, why you choose one of the three options (or completely different ones in times of increasing asynchronous work concepts), and they all come with pros and cons


With a dramaturgical approach, you will be able to strengthen the pros and overcome format challenges. It is no rocket science if you focus on the key elements of the participants' journey and adapt those accordingly.


Let me give you a quick overview of how to ensure the best experience.
In general, the aspects are valid for any kind of business gathering, as even weekly team meetings deserve a purposeful design and flow framework, and should consider the needs of individuals and the group, but let's agree on the following parameters for what is called an "event" in this context:

  • Corporate meeting,
  • > 50 participants, internal and/or external stakeholders
  • bidirectional, content and interaction driven
  • perceived as being outside of day-to-day workflow and regular work relationships

There are more markers to classify events and develop the best design for each of them, to dive deeper sign up for more information about my upcoming DRAMATURGY MASTERCLASSES FOR EVENT DESIGNERS.

For key dramaturgy aspects find  below overarching guidelines, followed by one or two per the three formats, hybrid, in-person, or online.

An infographic with 5 aspects
My Format Decision Framework


As we all know there's no second chance for a first impression, so I recommend crafting the invitation and pre-communication phase with dedication and empathy. This will set the tone for the success of the whole event. 

  • Humans have an inherent need to 'belong' and to 'be seen'. Cater to it with maximum personalization.
  • Be specific about who is inviting. It can be the 'owner' (usually the highest level person who asked for the event to happen), and it can also be a person or team on behalf (e.g. Comms or HR). In modern communication, a real person with a name, contact data, and an individual voice is the gold standard.
  • Take the time to draw a customer journey timeline and think about the pieces of information and attraction the invitees need and when.

🖥️🪑 Hybrid: It is only fair to transparently let people know about the mixed format, even if they have no choice but to attend the one or the other way. Make it clear that both will get the full experience, but maybe in different ways, and add specific bits of information that are required.


🪑In-Person: Attending in-person tends gets earlier awareness, requires more planning, and sometimes traveling. It is a chance to use the organizational touchpoints to add content messages and prepare participants' minds and hearts for the gathering.


🖥️ Online: We all know the annoying automated 3 to x reminders for online events. Still, sometimes it helps to last minute get that link again, and be gently reminded to come prepared or to enter a community upfront. It's all about striking the balance between service and overdoing.


Something I keep repeating over and over for years is the distinction between a host, a moderator, and a facilitator.

For every event with a mixed audience and/or a duration of more than one day, or format complexity (e.g. nonlinear program elements) I recommend having a (semi)professional host on top of hosting owners or content moderators.

  • The host is the 'trusted face' and 'knows-it-all-person', guiding the audience, speakers, and all other roles through the program, navigating pitfalls, and steering the collective energy. Internal people can do well, with some training and experience.
  • Moderators, from my POV, know about the topic, e.g. to moderate a panel, or (and) come a method competence. If you choose one or more internal moderators, good guidance and some preparation time can help them shine.
  • Facilitators focus on interaction, and the background depends on the desired outcome; it may be content expertise, but some methodological experience is certainly helpful.

🖥️🪑Hybrid: A hybrid event means two connected events and needs two hosts, full stop. A lot more to say on that, but I leave it for another blog post. 


🪑In-Person: Having everyone physically together offers more options to combine roles and play with them, by handing over, changing perspectives with young talents moderating, and more. 


🖥️ Online: Virtual hosting and also content moderation require a certain level of experience to not fall flat. Tech-savviness (and/or a good team in the background) is a must for the host, we all went through the hell of 'not-getting-in', 'not-hearing', 'no camera', 'missed breakouts', and other side effects of this brave new world.


Tipp: Ice Melting expert Jan Keck offers free resources for everyone facilitating smaller or larger online meetings and also great facilitation masterclasses.


I explained my point of view in a video interview about event dramaturgy, a short version can be found HERE. An appropriate and well-functioning technical environment is a prerequisite for any major event, regardless of format Five years ago, you would have always hired professional support, but since the pandemic, everyone can have 'online meetings', supported by handy Microsoft solutions - forcing people in different corporate roles to spend time and effort learning the event settings and features.

For larger events, as above described , I would always suggest bringing in external, professional competencies, and checking if a Teams Live event or 'pimped' Teams meetings are the only way, or if a different studio- and streaming solution serves better the purpose. For any external tech partner, of course, a good briefing is crucial, and sometimes an additional technical advisor on top of the budget eventually saves a lot of money. 


🖥️🪑Hybrid: A good hybrid experience requires more than a camera streaming out the stage action. A bi-directional feed of video and sound, additional interaction features to connect both audiences, and a separate media concept adds a lot of value for everyone.


🪑In-Person: There's more to it than a central screen and conventional sound. With a physical presence, attendees come with all their senses - why not use them all in new and surprising ways?


🖥️ Online: My paradigm for online conferences is 'people first': interviews instead of presentations, studio presence instead of remote talks (if possible), 'real people' doing 'real things', e.g. graphic recording, whiteboard brainstorming, storytelling activities or similar methods to foster visual and cognitive understanding.



Are you up for a short exercise? 

Close your eyes and take a deep breath. In for four counts. Out for four counts. Re-open your eyes.

Now go to the website of Luca Locatelli's Circle Project and click on the first movie (sound on!)

Do you feel how you're being sucked into these images? How the artist's statements sink in, without passing the cognitive stage gate?

Luca's photos were shown as a slide show with drum beats as an introductory medium for the WCEF conference, in the venues and online, a perfect example of an emotional opening.


Storytelling through media with a bold story is one way to start a conference. This also works on a desktop or mobile screen, but of course, the physical experience in a conference room, surrounded by sound and other people is more powerful. Also, the first words spoken are highly important, Priya Parker and Jan Keck offer inspiring methods to shape a beginning with purpose.


Due to the human brain's wirings, a well-crafted ending is equally important - the latest impression is memorized most - but pretty often neglected.

It is worth to take the time and plan for a closing that sends people off with a community feeling, makes them keep and spread the event's insights, and helps them anchor the experience. My tip is to start some of the design and planning meetings with the ending, to ensure attention for an aligned order of wrap-up, feedback, final reflection, acknowledgments, and outlook.


🖥️🪑Hybrid: Consider how different the time before and after the gathering is for the two audiences and find ways to level their attention and emotional involvement. 


🪑In-Person: You may also decide to intentionally NOT send a starting signal, but - guided by a professional facilitator or host - to allow the audience to find a starting point and 'move' in a less centralized and staged way. 


🖥️ Online:  I have to admit that I just don't get it that even on big platforms and with reputated organizations no one seems to care about the 'before' and 'after' of online events. You get an agenda and 'click here' instruction, that's it, later a 'don't forget to rate us before leaving' message. A chatbot or movie intro can help to warm up, a moderated online conversation guide us 'out'.  In the stream it's very easy to share, for example, the moments in the broadcast studio, blurred, so that you can 'feel' what's happening, like the excitement of the speakers, the faces behind the cameras and the scenes, the laughter and the relief.

connection & interaction

For me both, connection and interaction, are the key features and added value of events, compared to other communication channels and measures, hence should have the same relevance as presentations. When we aim for transformative effects, the balance between information and interaction should be even in favor of the latter, since each event offers unique opportunities for focused conversations, bold aha moments, and emotion-fueled memories.


🖥️🪑 Hybrid: In hybrid settings, it is most important to connect the two audiences in a meaningful way. The voices of remote participants should be heard (maybe even their faces be seen), but it is mainly the task of the moderators (plural! see above) to honor the different ways of presence.


🪑 In-Person: My secret sauce is quick moves, like short one-on-one chats, buzz groups, and walk & talks. Peer learning is a strong force and can lead to incredible transformation in the shared time and space.


🖥️ Online: During the pandemic many tools and methods were developed to connect virtually, but they seem to be forgotten now, as I experience a lot of virtual conferences as a functional series of content pieces with chatboxes as the only way to interact. Do we really want these to become 'let's connect via LinkedIn' spaces only? Especially in a global context and in topic-driven communities I wish for more attention to the individual participants and opportunities for exchange and connection, during the event and afterward.


Through the dramaturgic lens content is not the number 1 aspect to look at, but it is still far from being 'that stuff that comes as it comes from the experts'. When you are not mandated to reign in regarding the length and format of the delivered content, there are still many dramaturgic opportunities to improve the reception, e.g. by inserting short reflection or (W)rap-up sessions, visual recordingor quick polls and surveys. 

Again, the host and moderator roles can't be overrated to guide people toward a topic, challenge overly talkative panel guests, and foster the participants' reflection by asking investigative and provoking questions.


🖥️🪑Hybrid: Seeing a speaker live on stage together with his content is quite different from experiencing it on a screen. Smart video direction can help to balance, there are way more options in streaming presets than putting a small speaker pic next to the slide...


🪑 In-Person: The effect comes with the real presence of a speaking person, so whenever possible, reduce slides and increase conversation time. The strongest way of anchoring is by getting participants to wrap up, repeat or vary the messages themselves, e.g. in a short role-play.


🖥️ Online: The shorter attention span in an online setting requires an adapted dramaturgy. To develop a strong one I recommend to learning from TV Shows like 'Höhle der Löwen/Dragons' Den', podcasts and YouTube shorts , to understand the mechanism of catching attention and creating involvement.



Thank you and goodbye" is not the end of the story, and I think sharing a slide deck, a roughly edited recording, and a standard post-event evaluation is a poor way to communicate after an event. There is no need to differentiate between formats for this aspect: Every moment of togetherness, even virtual ones, creates an opportunity for future connection and collaboration.


In the era of broadly accessible Artificial Intelligence tools, it is so incredibly easy to get content summaries, video edits, and playful follow-up content - not much effort for the event organizer but a huge added value for everyone participating (yes, also meeting owners and speakers should receive custom documentation and feedback).


Evaluations can be executed right during the event with AI - although I wonder if mood detection is the best way to do so - plain text feedback clustered in seconds, and LLMs deliver compelling dashboards including learning and follow-up suggestions.


I can't wait myself to further explore those opportunities!


Talking about AI: I expect the embedding of AI-generated content and AI-enhanced access, distribution, and personalization to alter event experiences in the years to come. Please reach out when you are interested in a conversation or teaching on the topic.



Bonus for my German-speaking readers' community: To envision what may come, I recommend this Metaverse-Event Story by Vok Dams global Chief Creative Christopher Werth, written in 2022, not yet reality. Do you like it?


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