Beyond Virtual: Hybrid Events and How to Plan Them

Post by 
Karen Ashwin
Published 
September 1, 2020

2020 has been a year of rapid reinvention. People across the planet have been forced to face the difficult reality of what a pandemic means for the modern world, with strict lockdowns and social distancing massively impacting life as we know it. It’s certainly called for creativity in the working realm and has forced business owners and managers to ask the poignant question: “How can we adapt our offerings to thrive despite the circumstances?”.

Against this backdrop, it’s not surprising that businesses quickly turned to virtual events. Not only did this format prove to be an immediate and excellent alternative to in-person gatherings, but virtual events also have a host of other unique benefits.

As parts of the world are starting to open up once more, many are now wondering, what does the immediate future of events hold? The most probable answer: a rise in hybrid events.

What Is a Hybrid Event?

Hybrid events—be it conferences, seminars, exhibitions, or trade shows—combine in-person components with online elements. For example, a training seminar that involves an intimate gathering at a physical venue as well as elements that are live-streamed to a virtual audience, would be classified as a hybrid event.

Creating hybrid events is far more complex than simply including a virtual component, however. The real objective would be to ensure that all attendees, both online and live, have a similar experience of the event as a whole. You’ll need to ensure that your virtual audience can also ask questions, interact with the speakers, and network.

Hybrid events are not new ideas. They have been in existence for decades. While they can be technically challenging to execute seamlessly, there are various software programs and technologies (as well as event experts) that can assist you in creating a memorable and successful hybrid event.

Hybrid Events Boast Incredible Benefits

Long before the chaos of 2020, event planners and marketing managers were noticing the myriad benefits of hybrid events which is why they’ve been growing in popularity for some time. And as the world starts to open up, we believe this trend is set to continue.

These are five of the top advantages of hosting a hybrid event:

  • They are not limited by location: Because of the digital component of hybrid events, they allow planners and marketers to get the “best of both worlds”. For example, with this format, you can offer the incredible experience of a live event and make the most of the reach of an online offering.
  • You can include world-renowned speakers in your event: In-line with the point above, given the digital element of hybrid events, you can even bring in top speakers, artists, and entertainers from around the globe to enhance it further (yes, even some of your speakers can join in virtually).
  • They can be cost-effective: With hybrid events, the cost per head is exponentially less than if you hosted all interested parties in a physical space, which could also lead to increased ROI. They also allow for reduced transport and accommodation costs for many people, which might even extend to certain crew and sponsors. That’s not to say they are necessarily cheap however, with some of the online platforms asking a pretty penny for their virtual event software.
  • They offer ample opportunities for audience engagement: During a live-only event, you might be limited with the opportunities for direct engagement. During events that combine physical and online components, however, you can better encourage engagement both during and after the event. From polls and Q&A sessions to encouraging social media activity (perhaps incentivized by a competition) and networking events (online and offline), there are wonderfully creative ways to encourage audience engagement with hybrid events.
  • They allow you to track and analyze data: Much like virtual events, the data derived from the online portion of a hybrid event is hugely valuable. It allows you to make more informed lead-nurturing decisions and you can use the data to better your future events.

How to Plan a Hybrid Event

Hybrid events require as much preparation and meticulous care as their physical counterparts, and if done properly, they are incredible tools that can be used to maximize reach and engagement. Here are 6 steps to remember when planning a hybrid event:

  • Plan for two audiences

For any event to succeed, hybrid or otherwise, preparation is key. Approach your event as you would any other—make sure you have clear goals and KPIs, and let those inform the decisions for the rest of the event. Keep in mind that you’re essentially planning one event for two audiences. As such, the venue, content, keynotes, software used, moderators, etc., will all need to be chosen with both audience journeys in mind.

It might be best to approach the event from the virtual audience’s point of view initially and see how that can expand into an incredible physical element as well. Do your research on the best platforms to use for your hybrid event and think bigger than Zoom or Google Meet for an extraordinary event.

To promote seamless integration of both aspects of your event, pick the best speakers and moderators, use high-quality microphones, and ensure that the physical venue has fast internet and on-site tech support. For a hybrid event to run smoothly, give yourself four to six weeks to plan, prepare, research, test, and tweak accordingly.

  • Hire an experienced emcee

When you host a virtual event, it’s crucial to have a facilitator that can bridge the gap between your live and virtual audiences. It would be ideal to have a virtual event host and an emcee on the floor to make the transition even smoother. This way, each of them will fully understand their role and can agree on how to ensure the virtual host conveys questions and comments from the virtual audience. For a successful hybrid event, it’s essential to keep the virtual audience online and engaged.

  • Make time for a dry run (or two)

Once you have ironed out all the event details, it’s vital to rehearse it before the go-live date. Ensure that you and your team (especially the speakers) know where the cameras will be, can test the lighting and tech equipment, and have a chance to ensure that everyone is on the same page about how to integrate the virtual and physical components of the event.

This is a crucial time to ensure that your speakers are comfortable with being on camera and to outline exactly what will be expected of them on the day. Remember, not everyone is used to or comfortable with being on screen. Speakers that might be exceptional on stage could suddenly freeze in front of the camera. Give them enough time to practice, test out the technology, and understand the space.

  • Actively involve your online audience

Your virtual audience wants to feel as much a part of your event as your live attendees, so make an effort to involve them from the get-go. Brief the presenters to acknowledge the online attendees and specifically welcome them as the event starts.

You can also bring the online audience “into the room” by letting everyone know how many virtual attendees are joining, where they are tuning in from, and by adding their questions to live Q&A sessions.

During break times, consider opening up special virtual discussions, arranging for exclusive interviews, polls, surveys, never-seen-before content, or some other interactive options for virtual attendees. You can use programs such as Icebreaker and Brella to help you engage with the audience in interesting ways. Keep in mind that if your online audience is left with nothing on screen, you’ll probably lose them.

  • Encourage engagement on social media

One of the best ways to generate some quality social media content while keeping your attendees engaged and connected is to encourage the use of different social media channels, such as Twitter. This only works if you have a clear strategy that is properly communicated to attendees so they are encouraged to participate. You could even add an incentive or prize for their engagement. This will also give you additional data to look at when you calculate your event’s ROI.

  • Keep to the program

As is the case with any event, you must stay on track with the program and in the allocated times to ensure attendees, both online and in-person, catch the presentations they are interested in. If you mix these around on the day it could lead to confusion and high drop-off rates online.

There’s no doubt that hybrid events can be powerful communication tools both in the current business climate and into the future. If you are looking to create a seamless hybrid event that will delight attendees—online and in-person—then contact us. With a host of hybrid events under our belts, including the FIFA World Cup draw in 2010, you can trust that with The Event Production Company, you are in excellent hands.

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