Our industry continues to change
That's why we are all Googling, "How does a hybrid event work?"
Our industry is in uncharted territory. Conditions are changing constantly, and we’re all learning as we go along. Restrictions on public gatherings may be easing, but many obstacles remain for producing live events. Public safety protocol varies by state and even county. Many potential venues remain shuttered. Travel is still a hassle, and most importantly, it’s still way too early to tell how eager people will be to attend live events.
Sometimes referred to as cross-platform or integrated events, hybrid events have become the bridge to whatever normalcy will be going forward. Having gotten a taste for the benefits of hybrid events, participants have embraced what can be achieved in a virtual setting. Meanwhile, organizations question the costs associated with travel, lodging, and entertainment. They managed without it for a year—can they keep that savings going?
This is why event planners continue to turn to hybrid events to help navigate an uncertain future. We have put together this introductory guide to lay out some key considerations and best practices for hybrid event planning.
What IS a hybrid event?
At its core, a hybrid event is one with both an in-person and virtual component.
In response to rapidly evolving business goals from corporate clients, hybrid event planning has become our industry’s hottest topic. Hybrid events leverage technology to create deeper engagement with a broader audience. They offer greater opportunity to customize experiences and a more data-driven approach to event marketing—making it hard to ignore the benefits of hybrid events.
So, how does a hybrid event work? However you need it to. With the help of the right technology, live and virtual elements of a hybrid event can coexist and integrate to connect people together regardless of their physical location.
In-person and virtual attendees will have different needs and can be treated as different segments. Those focused on networking and relationship building prefer to be face-to-face. In contrast, online attendees may want efficient ways to access learning without distractions. If you consider them as distinct personas, your hybrid event can be optimized for both.
With some attendees in the same physical space and others remote, hybrid event management can seem daunting. Think about hybrid events as empowering, rather than as a compromise. Hybrid events bring people together to get business done most efficiently and most effectively. How you achieve that will be unique to each event. As you balance the live and virtual elements of your hybrid event, consider your audience, their overall comfort level with technology, how geographically spread out they are, and cost concerns that could impact in-person attendance.
For the foreseeable future, the live components of hybrid events will take place on a smaller scale than before. It’s hard to foresee the in-person event industry rebounding to the levels of growth that were projected in 2018 and 2019 . Ten thousand attendees swarming a convention center becomes two or three thousand in an event hall or hotel banquet room. Because of cost, risk, and convenience, the bulk of your participants will likely be virtual.
Using a hybrid event platform, virtual attendees will participate via live streams, interactive webinars, prerecorded content, and video communication. They will have more content options and greater control over their experience than a participant on the event floor. With live elements scaled down, you will increasingly find yourself aligning them to mesh with the online experience.
The key question to ask during hybrid event planning:
How do we best bring people together and get business done?
To answer that broader question, event planners should first consider their goals and objectives. We are used to planning for multiple personas, but now the personas have vastly different engagement as some are in-person and others are logged in from home. Beginning with the thirty-thousand-foot level, drill down to more granular concerns as you create the framework for your event.
- How does each persona derive value from the event?
- What is your primary event objective? Is the primary victory of the event building brand awareness, generating leads, building relationships, or driving key prospects to close?
- Who are your target personas, and what are you hoping to achieve for each?
- What percentage of attendees will prioritize education? What percentage will prioritize networking?
- Do you have adequate budget to produce a hybrid event that will engage both in-person and virtual participants?
If you produce or are attending an event seeking primarily to educate, the virtual setting offers huge opportunities. You can reach more people, offer a wider array of content to them, and yield enormous amounts of data about how participants engage during the event. We have also found that most people are better able to consume educational content virtually. They can interact more easily with presenters via chat. For prerecorded content, they can self-pace courtesy of the pause button. And they can do it all in sweats at home.
Virtual events were born out of necessity but are sustaining popularity. By scoring logins, attendance, and specific interactions, they create exponentially more high-quality leads than live ones. We believe this alone will result in all events having a virtual element moving forward. But if your equally important objective is to move prospects further into the sales funnel by networking, drive closed sales via hands-on demos, or create an opportunity to wine and dine a key prospect, you will want to consider an in-person component as well.
Your primary hybrid event management challenge then becomes connecting those experiences. How you do so will largely depend on your budget and what you want to achieve live on site. Before the pandemic, a lot of event business happened in bars and restaurants after-hours. That kind of activity will resume, but how much and in what format are very much still in question.
Where you best spend your in-person dollars will vary depending on if you’re trying to penetrate a new target market, build existing customer loyalty, or wine and dine some top prospects until they close. It will also depend on how much of your target audience is eager to attend a live event. We expect to see persistent reluctance to pay for travel for some time. As a result, maybe you’ll find yourself scrapping the plans for a thousand-person event and instead inviting your top one hundred customers for more of a VIP experience. Perhaps it will make more sense to hold regional shows with hands-on demos for key prospects.
We encourage you to be ready to conduct some of the three-martini sessions without the martinis, and to do that, you’ll want the most versatile hybrid event platform available.
What does my event tech stack need to accomplish?
Connecting in-person and remote attendees doesn’t happen by magic.
Your event platform needs to provide engaging experiences to both groups, and those experiences should be aligned as much as possible. One of the challenges that your hybrid event platform will need to address is that in-person and remote attendees will not only be focused on different elements of the event—they’ll have a different view of it. Consider a live event filmed for the home audience. If the performers aren’t paying equal attention to the camera and to the in-person crowd, one or both may leave feeling shortchanged.
The two audiences are at your event for different reasons. In most cases, in-person attendees will be heavily focused on networking and making interpersonal connection. Remote attendees will be there to learn. Recognizing this difference, your chosen platform will need to include remote attendees in live sessions—ensuring that comments and communication flow across the in-person/remote boundary.
Remote attendees might have different expectations for interactivity during presentations. Online events are known for instant Q&A with attentive speakers, while in-person attendees are used to Q&A only at the end of a session. Your platform will need to be able to address these hybrid expectations.
Your hybrid event platform also needs to bring in-person and remote attendees together by allowing them to network with each other and connect with presenters in real time.
To accomplish this, your event tech should include:
- A content management tool that allows for both in-person and virtual sessions with the same agenda.
- A platform that works across all devices: mobile, laptop, and in-person digital signage screens.
- A central hub for attendee and speaker profiles, for both in-person and remote attendees.
- The ability to connect and integrate with other necessary technology, such as badge scanners, live streaming, AR/VR, etc.
Don't forget about your vendors
If your hybrid event will be hosting vendors, your platform can provide additional marketing insights that cover both in-person and remote attendees. Vendors (and your own team!) will appreciate not only trackable leads but the ability to measure ROI across different attendee categories.
Marketing insights created by virtual elements of a hybrid event create the value that endures long after the last keynote presentation. When your event platform is available to all attendees three weeks to a month ahead of time, they can set up their online profiles and begin networking early. Meanwhile, you get a head start on post-event campaigns courtesy of the data they generate. Making the event content available for several weeks after the event will garner even more usable data and allow for additional follow-up networking.
Using a digital event as a social and content platform adds a rich dimension to all participants’ experiences. The hybrid event platform may be a departure from the traditional event, but it need not crimp that experience. Embracing a hybrid model optimizes the experience of every attendee—you can even use the digital capabilities to extend the value of the event organization beyond the time everyone flies home.
Bringing it all together.
Hubb, the hybrid event platform powering your next conference or show.
Though we are all still learning what events will look like in the coming months and years, one thing seems certain. For event planners, having the flexibility to create any and every type of engagement your participants require will be mission critical.
To do that, you need a hybrid event platform that can handle any situation. We built the Hubb platform to foster, enable, and encourage getting together—one on one, one to a few, one to many and whether people are face-to-face or remote. We give you a single platform to manage all your back-end planning tools and create immersive, engaging experiences.
In the future, there will not be live events, virtual events, and hybrid events. There will just be events, and they will be anything you want them to be. Hubb has merged the worlds of virtual and in-person, helping you create beautiful, impactful, curated experiences whether attendees are on-site, remote, or a bit of both.