Hybrid events are not new. Before COVID-19, most live events were streamed for a virtual audience. But because of the pandemic, hybrid events have become an essential part of any organization’s marketing strategy.
Although a vaccine is already available, more event planners are still considering the hybrid experience because some aspects of virtual events are worth keeping around. As a result, today’s hybrid events have evolved, going from straightforward live streaming to fully engage both virtual attendees and in-person participants through networking, chat, and more.
The COVID era also created a reverse wave of innovation in the way people imagined events. When people saw their attendance rates skyrocket by sevenfold, or their budgets halved and the highly-profiled made accessible, they started thinking bigger, newer, more. There’s also necessity. To rekindle human connection, people began incorporating elements from the physical world, like food & beverage for virtual cooking and mixology classes, or a mailed robot-making kit as one poet did for a virtual reading. New art forms were born, and public demand is likely to be on its heels.
Society may emerge from the all-virtual era with not only new gizmos and techniques, but with new reasons for having events. And, of course, they’ll be hybrid.
Why Hybrid Events?
Hybrid events cater to both an online audience and physical attendees. Going hybrid expands the reach of any physical event, and compels event planners to create a separate and (at least) equally satisfying experience for anyone not in person. The games, polls and virtual cocktails are not just gimmicks. If done right they can resonate with the brain’s need for reward, anticipation and belongingness as in-person experiences do. It is also the perfect solution for programs that can be done onsite and online, such as conferences, trade shows, global town halls, or even sales kick-offs.
The hybrid experience also provides numerous benefits for your organization and the event sponsors. Below are some of the advantages of this event format.
Expanded Reach and Increased Attendance
According to a recent study, almost 98% of hybrid event attendees don’t plan to attend the live version, which means you can reach a new attendee base who are either unable to make the live event or are not sure of the benefits of going in-person. This doesn’t mean organizations shouldn’t plan for the physical aspect when we become a safely vaccinated world. If anything it means the physical experience requires just as much – or more – magic, since those attendees demonstrate a greater commitment to the cause than most.
Furthermore, based on a 14-month research project, 23% of event organizers who hosted hybrid meetings said more attendees participated in future events, and 65% said they saw no change in onsite attendance.
These numbers prove that a hybrid event lowers the barrier of entry for both virtual and on-site attendees. This provides your organization with a larger audience than it could be in person.
Better Sponsorship Opportunities
During the COVID-19 crisis, most corporate sponsors shifted their budgets, which means they are open to new opportunities. As long as they can effectively reach both onsite and remote attendees, they will be interested in participating. What’s more, investing sponsor dollars in events with a virtual reach comes with all the obvious rewards of, you guessed it, more visibility.
Because of this, more sponsors acknowledge this event format’s value. They can communicate face-to-face with interested participants while interacting in real-time with virtual attendees, expanding their lead pool.
Another reason corporate sponsors are jumping on the hybrid train is that the format provides them with more opportunities. Aside from sponsoring collateral on-site, they can also sponsor event apps, virtual sessions, live streams, and more. This also provides you with more flexibility in your sponsorship plan, as you can have virtual sponsors, on-site sponsors, or both.
Another great reason sponsors are getting into the hybrid experience is the access it gives them to measurable metrics. Digital domains provide the data to justify their expenditures.
Reduced Environmental Impact and Costs
Along with the worldwide lockdowns imposed by the pandemic came the realization of what reduced travel can do for the environment’s health. Emission levels have declined in some places as previously gridlocked cities saw empty streets and fewer flights.
While no one can discount the power of face-to-face meetings and in-person networking opportunities, going hybrid is an excellent way to help decrease our collective carbon footprint.
Furthermore, this gives you the option to reduce the number of live event participants so you can save costs in areas like catering and even disposable accessories.
Better Return on Investment
Return on investment (ROI) is difficult to calculate at in-person events because it consists of many moving pieces. But because of their increased reach and scalability, hybrid events offer increased ROI.
This event format also allows you to cut down on your live event costs while expanding the virtual component. This way, you reduce costs without compromising on your reach, which boosts your margin.
Some Notable Hybrid Events in 2020
Now that you know some benefits of hosting hybrid events, you might be thinking of organizing one. Below we outlined some ideas executed by other companies that have successfully implemented this event strategy.
ON24 hosts Webinar World, which they have hosted in the hybrid format for years.
ON24 offers excellent sponsorship opportunities for its partner companies in a way that benefits both parties. Previous Webinar World events saw sponsors host their own sessions, giving them more exposure in the website conference keynote slides and within the conference’s promotional emails.
However, in 2020, ON24 didn’t host the physical event. But if we’re going to go by the success of its previous hybrid iterations, Webinar World is proof that hybrid works. This is one conference that has mastered the art of designing engaging experiences for everyone, whether they’re physically present or watching on their screens.
Apple Events were among the most awaited annual announcements by Apple fans, tech enthusiasts, and competitors. Since its inception, Apple always live-streamed to audiences worldwide as it has always been their goal to reach as many people as possible.
Social Media Marketing World
Every year, Social Media Examiner hosts Social Media Marketing World, a conference that features great content from some of the most respected social media marketing names.
Although the 2020 event has already taken place, anyone who bought a ticket can watch the session on-demand. Those with virtual tickets also have access to a private networking group where they can meet and communicate with peers and colleagues.
Social Media Marketing World is proof that you don’t have to forego networking sessions, which is vital in most professional conferences. Successful hybrid events don’t stop at providing great content; they also offer virtual attendees the chance to connect no matter where they are in the world.
Producing Your Own Hybrid Event
With today’s technology, producing a great event, both in-person and online, is fairly easy. All you need to do is keep in mind the following points for a seamless hybrid production experience.
Tools and Platforms
One of the first things you need to consider is the right virtual streaming provider. Although there are a lot of providers, you need to narrow down your list. For live virtual events, make sure to choose a platform with low latency streaming so that video content can be delivered without delays. You might also need a video content management system, so your audience can easily search for what they need. Of course, a secure platform is a must.
At hybrid or virtual events, your content is under the spotlight. You need to ensure that both your in-person and virtual participants are engaged and involved throughout the event. One way is to ensure this is to manage the content and general agenda in your speakers’ presentations. You will also need an excellent virtual emcee so your virtual audience won’t feel left out.
Design a Virtual Experience
You need to think carefully about the experience and journey for both your in-person and online attendees. Plan for continuous content, like interviews, behind-the-scenes content, or feedback, when the conference is on break. Don’t let your online participants look at an empty space.
Engagement and Interaction
For question and answer or discussion segments, plan for inclusivity. Build some buffer time in the program to allow your online audience to think and respond. Ask your virtual attendees to share their thoughts through your chosen streaming platform’s comments tab or social media. Remember, the online response may not be as immediate as from those within the room.
If your hybrid event has a networking element, you can use an appointment scheduling tool to block off times on the participants’ calendars. Participants can also set up times to meet directly through the tool. This is an efficient way to network virtually as attendees can easily see when another person is available.
You can add a physical element for your online audience. If, for example, you’re hosting a food tasting event, you can arrange for the food to be delivered or picked up. This way, virtual attendees still get a sense of belonging to the event.
Hybrid Events of the Future
Event technology will certainly continue to grow to meet the increased demand. And one area where we will see an improvement is in the relationship-building aspect. Speakers and sponsors can chat with the virtual attendees via a video call. Online and offline attendees can find other attendees who share the same interests and connect with them.
Mobile apps can decrease the gap in virtual networking. With the presence of an app designed specifically for hybrid event networking, attendees can do away with the awkward small talk and determine ahead of time who they want to connect with based on interests, schedule, or field of expertise.
As more organizations turn to hybrid events, the best way to stand out is to raise the bar for every facet of your event, particularly the quality of content and networking experience.