Thanks to the ubiquity of smart devices, hybrid memorial services are easier than ever to achieve. Although the idea of holding a hybrid memorial service might seem daunting at first, a little practice and preparation can ensure your memorial service goes smoothly.
The tips and processes we suggest here are only a handful of ways you can go about holding a hybrid memorial service! Just like every funeral or memorial service, it’s going to be unique to the honoree and those gathering for the service.
Please take what information in our article is applicable and fruitful for you and discard the rest. There is no ‘one size fits all’ to memorial services and this is especially true for hybrid ceremonies!
How to Hold a Hybrid Memorial Service, a Step-by-Step Guide
What is a hybrid ceremony
A hybrid memorial service, funeral, or ceremony is one where guests and participants attend in-person as well as virtually. Unlike a livestream, where guests who are in attendance virtually can only view the service, a hybrid ceremony offers the opportunity for those in virtual attendance to share, speak, and join in as well. Even if speakers offering the eulogy or sharing their memories may not be able to attend in person, they can still contribute virtually!
What are the benefits of hybrid memorial services
Hybrid memorial events are a wonderful way to establish that everyone is included. They can bring closure to guests who otherwise would not be able to attend in person. Guests might not be able to attend in person due to issues including travel, logistics, illness, finances, pre-existing commitments, or other constraints. Families spread across coasts, seas, and nations are common. With a hybrid memorial service, those who wouldn’t have been able to afford a plane ticket or take enough time off can still memorialize their loved one.
An acquaintance of the honoree might want to pay their respects, but could feel that they were not “close enough” to attend an in-person service, however, a hybrid memorial would allow them to be present virtually, offering them that opportunity. By allowing these guests to also be involved, the service and the grievers are able to feel a sense of support, community, and togetherness.
Why are memorial service events important
By choosing to make a memorial service, celebration of life, or ceremony, hybrid, you are offering an invitation to those who otherwise would not be able to attend, or may not feel as comfortable attending, and consequently opening and extending the circle of support.
A hybrid memorial event adds accessibility, ease, and consideration for your guests. A hybrid memorial service can also make for a simple way to record and save the ceremony. Many platforms one might use for the virtual component of a memorial service will readily allow users to record the service. Having a recording can be valuable for many reasons- you can rewatch any warm and heartfelt moments, share it with those who were unable to attend, and revisit it over the years, and as younger generations enter new chapters of their lives, it can be a gift.
If you’ve wondered how to host a funeral or memorial service online for some guests while simultaneously hosting it in person, here is our step by step guide to make it possible.
Step 1 – Choose the location
Once you’ve decided that you’d like the memorial service, funeral, or celebration of life to be hybrid, you will need to consider the location. To make certain that the virtual branch will work smoothly, you will either need access to WiFi or a very generous data plan connected to the devices in question. It’s recommended that the WiFi speed be 1.0 Mbps/600kbps (up/down). For about an hour long service, you would need approximately 2GBs of data.
Some excellent locations for the in-person location of your hybrid service can be:
- The home of a family member or friend
- Event venue
- Place of worship or sacred space
- A community center
- A restaurant
- A library
- Park or garden
If it’s going to be outside, keep in mind that you probably will have to rely on the data plan and to make sure all devices can run without being plugged into an electrical outlet. Wind, rain, and other elements could also interfere with the streaming quality. If you have access to unlimited data and battery operated devices on tripods, outside can be a beautiful choice- especially if it is somewhere more intimate or meaningful to the honoree- like the neighborhood park where they took a treasured weekly stroll.
Step 2 – Determine your tools
Your on-site setup is fairly customizable, but the general goal is to find a combination of devices that will allow your virtual guests to watch and hear your in-person guests and vice versa. If you are having the in-person gathering at a community center, church, or event venue they may have technology available for your use, such as a projector and microphone. If so, we recommend using their tried and true setup.
If you are hosting the event in a domestic space or an area without devices, no worries at all. It only takes a few smart devices to put together a sophisticated and smooth service- such as a fairly modern smartphone, a laptop, a monitor, and a bluetooth lapel microphone, for example. Keep in mind that if you have multiple devices on location that are receiving or sending out audio, you will get some weird feedback loops, so make sure to only have one device unmuted at a time!
As a friendly reminder, please make sure the battery is fully loaded on any and all devices that will be used if they will not be plugged into a power source during the service.
Once you’ve tested your tech set up, you will want to select what video communications app you will use. We use Zoom, as we’ve found most users are already familiar with it, and there is less of a learning curve for those who aren’t as technologically inclined and might have worries about how to watch a funeral online. However, there are many to choose from so consider your needs (how many people will be logging on and how long the meeting will last) before moving forward.
Tip: If you are short on supplies, many cities have tool libraries that will include free use of materials like projectors, laptops, and usb microphones. Many of these tools can also be found at a low cost online as well.
Step 3 – Select date and time
With hybrid services, it might not be possible to accommodate everyone’s schedule, but this is true of any gathering. We recommend prioritizing those who were inner circle or closest to the honoree, such as close loved ones and cherished companions.
If you have family and friends in different parts of the world, you may want to consider holding the service at a time no earlier than 9am and no later than 9pm for your guests. For example, when holding a service for guests in California, Toronto, and Paris, noon ET is a reasonable hour for all.
When possible, schedule the hybrid memorial service at least a week in advance, especially if you are doing it yourself without enlisting any professional help.The sooner you make the decision for the date and time, the earlier guests can set it on their calendar and coordinate as needed.
Step 4 – Assign roles & responsibilities
Facilitator or Host
This person will act as a guide for the service, welcoming guests at the beginning, introducing speakers, and leading the structure of the service along. Sometimes it can be best to bring a professional in- such as a funeral celebrant, a religious leader, a death doula, or other community figure, as they aren’t as personally affected by the loss and may have experience hosting memorial services.
On-site tech person
The on-site tech person is responsible for ensuring all of the devices are up, running, and connected properly. They should test the set up, ideally a day or two before the service, and set up at least an hour before the event begins. They will communicate with the virtual tech assistant throughout the duration of the service to confirm all is well for the virtual guests. They should be aware of the structure of the event so that they can anticipate what will happen next.
Tip: This person may need to step away from the service if there are any hiccups, so it’s best if this is not a primary loss for the person in the on-site tech role. If needed, professionals can perform this job.
Virtual tech assistant
Similarly, the virtual tech assistant is the point person for all matters related to the virtual experience. They will communicate with the on-site tech person prior to the event for the test run and the set up, and stay in touch with them throughout the event.
The virtual tech assistant is responsible for muting guests, spotlighting the correct device or speaker at the correct time, and playing any media or movies for virtual guests and/or all guests. Additionally, they can provide technical support to any virtual guests who may be experiencing issues and have questions about how to view the funeral online.
Tip: This person will need to communicate with the on-site tech person and handle any issues that may arise. We recommend that the person charged with the virtual assistance not be particularly close to the honoree. Again, professional support is always an option if there is no one in your community who may be available.
Generally speaking, having 2-3 pre-appointed speakers is a manageable amount of people.
We recommend that you request speakers focus on sharing some of their most treasured stories about the person, instead of having everyone attempt to give an overview of the honoree’s life. If anyone would like to share but is feeling overwhelmed, this approach can be really anchoring.
If you choose to have an open forum, where all guests are invited to share a favorite memory or say a few words, it’s useful to have one person ready to go first! In our experience, lots of people will want to share, but rarely does someone want to break the ice. Having someone assigned to kick things off can make the experience smooth and welcoming for all.
Tip: If someone would like to share but has public speaking anxiety, have them read a poem, prose, or some verses to alleviate that anxiety and offer a way for them to speak with less apprehensions.
Step 5 – Determine a structure
Now you can begin crafting the structure of the event, or the order of service.
The order of service can be as malleable as you want and need it to be! When planning a hybrid memorial service, it’s vital to try to balance the virtual and in-person elements. You don’t want your in-person guests to feel like they are attending a webinar, but you don’t want your virtual guests to feel like they are only livestreaming the service.
A way to achieve this balance is to braid the different spaces together. For example, have the first two speakers be in-person guests, and the third and fourth speakers be virtual. For the open forum, invite your guests who are attending virtually to share first, and then invite the in-person guests to share one at a time.
Tip: In-person services often start a few minutes later than anticipated, typically folks are greeting each other and can take a moment to find their seats. Plan ahead for this and have the virtual tech assistant play a slideshow of photos of the honoree to some of their favorite songs for the virtual guests during this period so their experience can be more dynamic.
When considering the order of service, all of the parts can be tailored to make the ceremony sincere and special. We recommend including an introduction or welcome, some pre-appointed speakers who are either sharing recollections or reading selected prose, and closing remarks. Many services also include an open forum and some type of media, such as a slideshow of photographs set to two or three favorite songs of the honoree.
Tip: You can make the service special by including a gesture or activity that was important or symbolic of the honoree! For example, asking that all guests wear the honoree’s favorite color. If the honoree was fond of revelry, you can include a toast in their honor. Lighting a candle at the beginning of the service can also be a meaningful gesture. If you’d like to include a gesture that requires any materials for your guests that you won’t be directly providing, let them know prior to the event so that they are prepared.
Step 6 – Share the details of the memorial service
Event pages are very helpful when planning a hybrid memorial service because it enables you to share details of the service and provide a direct link to the video conference as well as supply the address for the in-person gathering. People are able to RSVP and ask questions about the event if they have any.
Online memorial pages, such as Keeper, are also one central place where you can write an obituary or a biography, upload photographs, videos, create a family tree, and add as much information about your loved one as you’d like. Friends and family are able to share their own tribute messages, stories, and upload their photographs. If you record the event, you can upload the recording there as well to share with those who would like to revisit it or if anyone was unable to attend.
Building an online memorial page is not necessary to host a virtual memorial service, but it can be an excellent tool. We would recommend creating a memorial page before the memorial service because it is a simple and centralized solution for your community to send their condolences and share their pictures (which is especially helpful if you are creating a slideshow for the service). Furthermore, you are able to revisit these memories and stories years later and share it with future generations.
If your community, friends or family have a Facebook group, you can post an announcement about it as this can be an easy way to get the word out about the service.
Step 7 – Event rehearsal
There are two types of rehearsals you will want to have before the hybrid memorial service: a tech rehearsal and a ‘dry run.’ With the tech rehearsal, your on-site tech person will need to set up all of the devices, connect them accordingly, and confirm with your virtual tech assistant that everything looks good on their end. If there are any media components, such as videos or slideshows, those should be tested out as well. We strongly suggest that you have this at least 48 hours before the hybrid memorial service in case you run into any snares, it will give you enough time to find a solution and adapt.
The second type of rehearsal is a ‘dry run.’ Prior to the dry run, all pre-appointed speakers should receive the order of service. At the dry run, anyone who is sharing or has a participatory role can practice, ask any questions that they have, and everyone can go over the order of service to make sure they fully understand when they will be participating and what to expect. If you have any pre-appointed speakers who will be attending virtually, it’s helpful to host the dry run on the platform you will be using for the hybrid service so they may test our the controls, if they have not already done so.
Example of Set Up
The devices you will use will depend on what you have available to you and the limitations and abilities of where the in-person gathering is happening. Keep in mind that for a hybrid service you want all virtual guests to be able to see and hear the in-person guests, and for the in-person guests to have the same interactions from the virtual guests. As an example, here is a set up we recommend:
Device 1: For virtual guests to be able to see/hear in-person service.
- Phone/Tablet on a tripod, facing the podium/speakers.
- Connect to audio to hear in-person speakers
Device 2: For virtual guests to be able to see in-person guests.
- Phone or tablet on a tripod, facing the attendees at the space or a visual arrangement, such as the photograph of the honoree with some candles and flowers.
- No Audio connection, keep on Mute at all times.
Device 3: For in-person guests to be able to see/hear virtual guests.
- Connect device to a television or projector, and display Zoom.
- Connect Microphone from PA system to Computer as audio input.
- Connect Computer to PA system for audio output – via HDMI or Aux cable.
Tip: Keeping all devices on tripods will result in a better quality view for virtual guests and help take away some of the on-site efforts.
Example of Structure
Again, each hybrid memorial service will have a different structure! Please feel welcome to carve one that suits you and your guests needs. Having the event host introduce each speaker or element before they happen can give the service a seamless element and put your guests at ease.
Here is an example of an order of service we suggest:
- Slideshow with music playing for virtual guests while in-person guests find their seats
- Introduction and welcome from event host
- Eulogy from in-person speaker
- Reflections from virtual speaker
- Reflections from in-person speaker
- Video montage for virtual and in-person guests
- Open forum with virtual guests
- Open forum with in-person guests
- Closing remarks from event host
If reading through this guide made you feel like you are certainly not prepared to host or plan a hybrid memorial service, that’s perfectly fine! You can reach out to your local funeral home, funeral celebrant, spiritual leaders, and community figures and they may be able to assist you. Many venues that you might be considering for the in-person gathering may be able to help you as well.
Our sister site, Keeper Memorials, offers turnkey virtual memorial services as well. Click here to learn more about how you can have someone coordinate and host a memorial service for you and your family.