Hopefully if you have been following my blog posts on the secrets of delivering successful virtual events, you will be well geared up now for what comes next...
Although it doesn't seem like it at the moment, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and though it is a tunnel that might be a few months long, now is the time to start planning for....hybrid events!
So, first off, what exactly is a hybrid event? Well, very simply put, a hybrid event is an experience that brings together people at a physical venue, where everything is taking place, with a virtual audience alongside. It’s essentially the best of both worlds, particularly in a time where the world is struggling to fight against a pandemic.
A hybrid event allows you to gather a certain group of people physically, according to the restrictions put in place. This will, of course, vary from city to city and country to country. But just the fact that you can bring back a certain aspect of in-person is great! And it’s even better because you can harness technology capabilities to add a virtual audience to the experience.
What Are The Advantages of A Hybrid Event?
Now more than ever, the biggest advantage of a hybrid event is that it will allow you to have a certain level of genuine human connection and interaction going on. After so many months of mandatory social distancing measures, people are hungry for feelings of togetherness and touch – even if it’s in small clusters.
One of the best things about hybrid events is that they give you the power to reach a much wider audience than in-person events ever could. Not only are you catering to people who are physically present, but you’re also giving people all across the globe the chance to be a part of this amazing experience.
If the goal of your event is to raise brand awareness or generate leads, hybrid events truly represent the best of both worlds.
But creating a successful hybrid is not simply a matter of streaming sessions from a socially distanced venue. Looking at some recent successful hybrid events, I have pulled together some top tips to help you navigate into this new evolution of events.
First Things First
Preparing your attendees for how the event experience will look and feel, whether the gathering was face-to-face or digital is now especially important when you are combining the two.
This means making sure your virtual guests know how to log in and are given clear guidance on the platform you are using, and that your live guests know there will be a virtual audience. This ensures that they both know how the agenda will play out.
All promotions should make it clear that the event will have both digital and in-person elements and audiences, allowing prospective attendees to select the delivery option that fits their comfort level and current ability to travel. Likewise, try to keep your registration flexible. Travel restrictions are changing from one day to the next, so host organisations need to allow participants to change their plans easily. Someone who might not be ready to commit to attending in person today might find the prospect of traveling more appealing in a few months. Make it easy for registrants to upgrade to in-person attendance if circumstances allow — or to shift from attending in-person to joining virtually if new restrictions keep them home.
It is also key to engage all attendees in a meaningful way from the very outset of their event journey. Setting up an interactive platform with a live-chat element long before the event will both stimulate engagement, and possibly also allow attendees to submit questions and suggestions during the registration process. This way your audience feel like they have been involved and you are allowing them to help guide the content.
Keep Virtual Attendees Top of Mind
When making decisions about speakers, room layouts and the flow of the day, digital attendees should be considered first. It is important to recognise that a remote attendee is just not going to have the same level of attention span as those who are there in person. You also need to consider that the digital audience will need to be able to interact with those at the in-person sessions — asking questions of the speakers, meeting with exhibitors or networking with all other attendees.
Shorter, more focused sessions keep attendees' attention better, which benefits all audiences. Make sure you have a good variety of content - presentations, panels, fireside chats, breakout discussions, informal groups, sponsored sessions and networking areas all keep delegates moving between activities and create a flow for the day. And don't be tempted to revert back to a long conference day format - 10am to 4pm is about the maximum time you should consider running a hybrid event for to keep everyone's attention.
How Do Physical & Virtual Attendees Interact?
Facilitating interactions between the remote and in-person audiences is the true challenge of hybrid events. Solving the dilemma might mean putting a screen onstage to allow remote attendees to take part in a presentation or ask questions; or providing individual tablets to in-person attendees for one-on-one exchanges with digital participants. Integrating a platform like Hopin or Socio is a great addition to your event as it enables meaningful connections to be made via networking. It's important to blend audience engagement throughout the sessions as much as possible, to keep them all equally involved. This is where a strong moderator comes in - they should take as many questions from the in-room attendees as from those online, no matter the numbers.
Ice breakers or networking games should be geared toward getting both types of participants talking with one another. You can also try to gamify audience involvement, awarding points when people sign up for the event app, join in meetups or sessions, etc. Those with the most points can win a prize, be entered into a raffle or simply be recognised for their engagement during the meeting.
Social media channels, hashtags, and email submissions also go really far in making sure everyone is included.
What about the Entertainment & Educational Elements?
Deciding on the entertainment and educational sessions might be slightly more challenging than it would be if this were an in-person or virtual event. With hybrid events, you’ll have to consider how well the content you provide in-venue will translate into virtual. Very loud sounds and dark rooms make for a great live experience, but not so much for a good remote one.
Where possible you should make every effort to bring the presenters to the physical event, particularly when arranging panels and other sessions where a lot of back and forth takes place. The interaction and energy onstage become far more authentic and credible done in this way and are a lot more engaging and effective than virtual panels.
Not every type of session will suit both audiences, so it is fine to simultaneously run features and sessions that have been crafted specifically for the virtual audience and the in-person audience. This way, everyone feels included and grateful that someone took the time to create seamless experiences for both circumstances.
Does this mean double the planning?
The concept of a hybrid event does involve some extra planning – certainly more than an in-person or a virtual one would. Obviously, you’ll have to take the time to outline a strategy for the virtual audience and one for the physical audience.
Everything you’d have to consider for an in-person event is still relevant – the venue, the speakers, the entertainment, the catering, and so on. And simultaneously, the production aspects pertaining to virtual events will also require attention – the platform, the engagement, and the technology. But don’t think about it as planning two different events - it’s the same one, only heightened and elevated to new levels.
So this is where it is key to ensure you have the right project management team and suppliers on board. Hybrid events demand a higher level of production than standard ones do. Your venue/and or production company should offer robust Internet with good speed, high quality cameras and microphones, onsite technical support, and the ability to test and rehearse as many times as possible. Remember that technology can be a dangerous pitfall if you don’t put enough thought and resources into it.
Some event hosts have worked with venues and suppliers who have gone that extra mile and have converted breakout rooms into production studios, where in-person producers can create content going out to remote attendees or on social media channels, and where videoconferencing can be set up for private meetings between those at the venue and those joining remotely.
At the end of the day, your hybrid event can be as large or as small, as involved or as simple as you like. The main thing to remember is to work with the right project manager who will guide and support you through the process.
Get in touch with me for a no obligation chat and to see what is possible!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.