The events industry has gone through significant changes over the past few years, with the pandemic forcing us to find new ways to gather and connect. While virtual events demonstrated the power of technology in bringing dispersed people together, they also proved the unmatched value of in-person interactions.
Luckily, hybrid events marry the best of both worlds, providing an inclusive and sustainable event that is rich in data and dynamic for organizers and participants alike. These events also pose a unique advantage to event organizers looking to increase ticket sales, by being able to expand their events reach to a larger, global audience.
However, running hybrid events requires crafting two distinct, yet synchronized, event experiences under the guise of one cohesive event.
Characteristics of Hybrid Events
Hybrid events have been around for decades – think, televised sports, award shows, political events, or concerts. But more recently, the format has expanded to include seminars, trade shows, career fairs, conferences, and more.
Hybrid events combine aspects of traditional physical events with virtual components to create a coordinated and inclusive experience for on-site and online audiences. The in-person portion of the event includes a physical venue where people gather for workshops, presentations, networking activities, etc. And, the virtual aspect of the event includes streaming platforms, event apps, or software that allow for participation from anywhere in the world.
While hybrid events offers two distinct experiences, they should look and feel like one event granting every attendee a valuable experience. Achieving this requires proper integration of technology, synchronized agendas, and engaging content.
Benefits of Hybrid Events
There are many benefits to hosting a hybrid event. First, hybrid events eliminate barriers to entry by allowing attendees to participate either physically or virtually. This flexibility helps overcome geographical, financial, and logistical challenges of attending an event. It expands the event’s reach to new audiences and presenters and can bring in extra ticket revenue.
Hybrid events also help event organizers meet sustainability goals. By offering virtual options, organizers can limit food waste and travel, reducing the event’s carbon footprint while serving larger audiences.
Additionally, these events give event organizers access to a wealth of data. Due to the gamification components required to engage both audiences, organizers can capture important analytics from click details, logins, watch times, poll responses, and more. This data becomes extremely valuable in demonstrating the event’s return on investment to stakeholders.
In this way, hybrid events also unlock new sponsorship opportunities. Features like virtual booths, clickable banners, or online sessions enable sponsors to collect valuable attendee and engagement data to demonstrate ROI on funding. Event organizers may also use data gleaned from activities to justify charging more for future sponsorship packages.
A final value added through hybrid events is their ability to extend beyond the event. Content such as recorded sessions, downloadable resources, or interactive platforms can all be made accessible after the event. Event organizers may even choose to repurpose some content for use in other marketing and communications initiatives.
Planning Content for Hybrid Events
A key challenge in organizing a successful hybrid event lies in crafting compelling and inclusive content that resonates with all participants. This can be a time-consuming process.
Hybrid events require diverse content formats that cater to different learning and engagement preferences. Event organizers should consider incorporating a mix of lectures, panels, interactive workshops, pre-recorded content, Q&A sessions, polls, and networking opportunities across physical and virtual platforms.
Proper planning and use of technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing seamless, synchronized interactions between in-person and remote audiences. Utilizing interactive technologies that allow for live feedback and correspondence is a must. And, speakers and presenters should be prepared to engage audiences effectively across platforms.
Beyond content planning, human connection is cornerstone to any successful event. In-person, this comes naturally due to the proximity attendees have to one another. But virtually, it must be made more intentional. Thus, planners should integrate virtual networking sessions and discussion forums for online attendees to forge connections.
Best Practices for Hybrid Event Management
With proper planning and thoughtful execution, event organizers can create a seamless, interactive, and inclusive hybrid event experience. To summarize, some best practices include:
- Consider the costs and requirements needed for two venues – one physical, one virtual.
- Be aware of time zone differences between in-person and online participants.
- Make clear the features of online versus in-person event experiences within event marketing and communications. This way, attendees can evaluate which experience is right for them.
- Choose appropriate technology solutions. Select virtual event software that allows for live streaming, interactive discussions, online exhibitions, and breakout sessions or networking. Be sure to hire and train staff to offer technical support throughout the event.
- Prepare for technical issues. Test technology prior to the event, and set up contingency plans in case something goes wrong during the event.
- Create engagement opportunities for both audiences through live polls, Q&As, breakout sessions. And, keep track of participation data.
- Provide access to recorded sessions, presentation materials, and resources to attendees after the event. Then, repurpose content in other marketing and communication initiatives.