Hosting a hybrid event? Here are tips to choose the right platform and physical venue, create an engaging experience and successfully market your hybrid event.
The event industry is constantly evolving. We spent 2020 learning how to host engaging virtual events. As we head towards Q3 and Q4 of 2021, organizers are ready to apply what they learned, to create hybrid experiences that combine the very best elements of virtual and in-person events.
While hybrid events have existed for a long time, there are many of you who will be hosting a hybrid event for the first time. To make your life a bit easier, we have compiled key considerations that you’ll need to keep in mind when you get started.
In this guide, we’ll tell you about the basics of hosting a hybrid event including:
- What is a hybrid event?
- Hybrid versus virtual events: which one should you pick?
- What are the benefits of hybrid events?
- Choosing the right hybrid event platform
- Choosing the right hybrid event venue
- Hybrid event planning: tips for hosting an engaging hybrid experience
- Tips to promote your hybrid event
- Last words: hybrid strategy versus hybrid events
Before we dive in, let’s begin with the basics:
What is a hybrid event?
A hybrid event is a conference, meeting, tradeshow, or workshop that features both “online” or “virtual” and “onsite” or “in-person” elements. Although hybrid events have been the major forecasted event trend this and next year, they’re not a new concept. Think of any award show or sporting event you’ve tuned into in the past, those have all been hybrid events.
What has evolved since 2020 is the vision of what a hybrid event experience should look like. This is partly because of the experience planners have gained hosting virtual events throughout 2020 and 2021. Organizers now know that their virtual audiences want more than content streamed to their homes. They want opportunities to meaningfully interact with other attendees and well as the brand or company they love so much.
So, in its latest exciting new iteration, a hybrid event is not just an event with both live and virtual components. Today’s definition of a hybrid event is much more expansive: it is an event that meaningfully bridges virtual and live audiences, creating a unified experience.
Hybrid versus virtual events: which one should you pick?
Before you begin planning a hybrid event, it’s important to understand what a virtual event is and more importantly what a virtual audience will expect from the virtual component of your hybrid event.
A virtual event is an online event that includes people interacting with each other and the event content in a virtual environment. A virtual event might include streamed content like webcasts , webinars, instructor led sessions and workshops, and more. Majority of virtual events in 2020 also included elements to engage attendees, like games, polling, in-session chat streams, networking rooms etc.
Picking between hosting a hybrid event versus a virtual event should depend on your event objectives as well as a realistic assessment of the resources and time available to you.
Hosting an engaging and audience-centred hybrid event is likely to be more labor intensive (and expensive) than simply hosting a virtual event. This is because, when you decide to organize a hybrid event, you are essentially committing to hosting two events (live and virtual) as part of one cohesive experience that brings your community together.
Your virtual audience cannot be an afterthought. After a year of attending increasingly innovative virtual events, attendees have come to expect a certain level of creativity when it comes to the delivery of content, and a level of quality when it comes to creating virtual-only connection experiences. So, your virtual audience will not be satisfied if all that is available to them is on-demand content. They will want the same or similar benefits as experienced by the onsite attendees.
So, if your event’s primary objective is to expand your reach, you always have the option to host several virtual-only initiatives throughout the year. You can experience all the benefits of a virtual event (expanded reach, reduced planning time, lower costs, higher sustainability, community engagement, better data insights, etc) without investing additional time and resources into hosting a hybrid experience.
That being said, hybrid events come with their own set of unique benefits. So, if you’re excited about planning a hybrid experience, keep reading.
What are the benefits of hybrid events?
1. Get the best of both worlds: the biggest motivation behind planning hybrid events is that you get the benefits of both virtual and live events in one experience. You get to expand your reach by making the event accessible to the largest possible participant base while deepening your relationship with your participants, by hosting them onsite and virtually.
2. Get access to more refined and precise audience insights: by the end of your hybrid event, you’ll have access to datasets that are not only larger in quantity (because of the wider reach of your event) but also more refined in quality. You’ll be able to gain precise insights about your community on everything from what content they like best, what time they’re most engaged, types of action they’re taking onsite and virtually, etc. This kind of knowledge will set you up for success as you grow your business strategy for the year.
3. Provide more sponsorship opportunities: hosting a hybrid event doubles the points of contact your sponsors can have with your audiences, doubling the value that your event can offer to your sponsors. Additionally, as an organizer you can also attract more sponsors by offering them a larger variety of sponsorship packages suited to various needs and budgetary considerations. Finally, your sponsorship package at a hybrid event is even more attractive as it comes with the powerful audience insights we referenced in point no. 2.
4. Reduced environmental impact: with fewer people traveling to the physical location of your event, you will reduce the carbon footprint and the waste that your event might have otherwise generated. This is especially true if you go with the model of hybrid event where you host multiple small sized and local in-person gatherings that feature a strong virtual component.
5. Feed your year-long content strategy by extending the life of your onsite content: Whatever content you produce for your hybrid event should be accessible to your virtual audiences. The great benefit of this is that content created at your live event is no longer approached as an ephemeral resource. Whatever you create can be reused throughout the year to feed your organization’s larger marketing and content strategy.
Choosing the right hybrid event platform
1. Platform that has experience with live events: In the past year there has been an explosion of event apps that emerged to meet the market’s need for virtual events platforms. However, many of these newer platforms don’t have experience facilitating meaningful live experiences. So it’s important that whatever hybrid event management solution you choose has been around the block of live events and can give you the support you need to run both the in-person and online components of your event smoothly.
2. Don’t trust the promise of an “all-in-one” platform: While it’s tempting to go for a platform that has everything you need (registration, streaming services, ticketing, networking options, sponsor booths, etc), keep in mind that no one platform can be great at everything. Be realistic about the strengths and limitations of the solution you choose, and build your event technology stack with other solutions that compliment your event platform. If your budget allows for it, don’t sacrifice one aspect of attendee experience for another.
3. Platforms that support easy integration: Given the point above, go for a platform that has most of the features you want, but can support integrating with other applications you might need to create a superior event experience. What’s important is that whatever platform you choose can integrate with other technology partners to provide a seamless user journey i.e. where your people have the ability to switch between your different event apps in a way that feels intuitive, easy, and organic.
4. Pay as you go pricing: Given the newness of the hybrid experience, it’s challenging to predict audience size even if you cap your registrations. Keep in mind that in the past year, virtual events have seen high registration numbers but comparatively lower audience attendance rates. Additionally, given the shifting nature of international travel restrictions these days, you can’t be 100% sure of how many people will actually show up to your in-person event. So, protect yourself by choosing a platform that offers a flexible pricing package.
5. Superior customer service: let’s be honest, hybrid events can be complicated to plan. Furthermore, many of your peers in the events industry will be hosting a hybrid event for the very first time in their careers, so you may not have easy access to the knowledge of your colleagues. So, make sure you get the support you need for success, and pick a hybrid event solution that comes with great customer service. You’ll want to look for a team that wants to actively collaborate with you and guide you with their best practices.
Choosing the right hybrid event venue
Picking the right venue for hosting your onsite experience can make or break your hybrid event. Jon Kazarian of Corporate Meetings Network provides a number of essential considerations to keep in mind when choosing the right venue for your hybrid event:
1. Compliance with latest social distancing guidelines: perhaps the most important consideration in picking the right venue for your in-person event is making sure that it is compliant with the latest social distancing guidelines as recommended by the local health authorities. The venue should be able to provide you with layout and space design options that can create a natural and comfortable flow of movement at your event, while still keeping your attendees safe.
2. Safety and hygiene protocols: Social distancing is just the first step towards creating a safe environment for your attendees. Your venue should have well established safety and hygiene protocols that cover everything from having temperature checks on arrival, hand-washing stations, hand sanitizer and medical mask dispensers, safe preparation of food, designated areas and staff to address anyone experiencing medical symptoms etc.
3. Having a strong power supply: The power supply at your venue should be enough to handle the needs of all your attendees, your workers, and your team. It should be able to support the demands of your AV equipment like speakers, microphones, projectors, screens, equipment to upload audio and video live for your virtual audiences, etc. Make sure to confirm that your venue is connected to a commercial power supply that can scale according to your needs.
4. Reliable and fast WiFi: Your venue should have its own internet service provider that is capable of processing high bandwidth and providing a secure and fast connection to all your onsite attendees. It’s crucial that the venue WifI can support your participant’s needs to not only work remotely (should they need to), but also be able to connect your participants via video or audio conferencing with virtual participants attending your hybrid event. Finally, make sure that your venue can provide you with dedicated bandwidth so that your team has consistent access to the internet throughout the event.
5. Right equipment and onsite tech + AV support: since you’ll most likely be streaming your onsite content virtually, your venue should come equipped with multiple cameras that can support high definition, live streaming of your content, screens of various sizes, high quality microphones, high voltage power supplies, ethernet ports, charging stations, hook ups for presenters, etc. You’ll also benefit from having dedicated AV support for each session, an operator who can ensure that video is being recorded at all times, being streamed successfully, and can provide immediate assistance in case anything malfunctions.
Hybrid event planning: tips for hosting an engaging hybrid experience
1. Have a strong value proposition
Unlike solely in-person events, hybrid events can’t guarantee that people will stay for the entire session. This makes it doubly important to have engaging and interesting content. Your in-person attendees have to find your content relevant, and online viewers have to find what you’re offering appealing so that they stay. We strongly believe that it’s the value proposition of your event that draws people in and keeps them tuned in.
Even if you have a number of different presenters and speakers, you should be able to take the lead and make sure that the overall content is relevant to your audience— and don’t forget to make it fun. One great example of this is the annual HubSpot event, INBOUND. The brand has successfully created a strong identity for INBOUND, making it known as the ultimate marketing event which isn’t just informative, but also lots of fun. They incorporate entertainment from musicians and even stand-up comedians into their program, which makes it all the more enjoyable for their audience.
2. Encourage active participation
Encouraging participation, regardless of whether you are holding an in-person or virtual event, is hard. So you can only imagine how much harder it could be if you are working on an event that combines both. One of the ways you can overcome such difficulty is by not limiting yourself to just discussions and breakout sessions. For instance, you can try running live polls for your virtual participants and, at the same time, have a quick Q&A session with your live audience.
Another way you can encourage active participation is by adding a mobile touchpoint to your event, say, for example, a mobile app. Doing so will present an avenue for both live and virtual participants to interact with each other and talk about their opinions on the topics discussed during the event. Whatever strategy you choose, make sure that it will encourage not just one but both audiences to connect, learn and engage.
3. Coach your presenters
Of course, there’s only so much event organizers can do when it comes to making an event engaging. Presenters also need to do their part in making sure each segment is lively. Running frequent speaker training sessions allows presenters to learn the best practices when it comes to presenting in front of a hybrid audience. Case in point, Inc. recommends using a maximum of 10 slides as a way to keep things visually engaging.
On that note, speaker Jay Acunzo notes that utilizing verbal cues and injecting humour into your presentations are invaluable when it comes to engaging audiences. The hard truth is that not everyone is comfortable presenting, so you might want to consider screening your presenters beforehand to see if they have the persona needed to make for engaging presentations.
Regardless of whether you screen your presenters or not, having a few coaching sessions beforehand can help ensure your event goes as smoothly as possible.
4. Keep timing in mind
Timing is also something to consider when it comes to creating hybrid events. Breaking your events down into 30 or 45-minute segments keeps attention high; after all, it’s difficult to stay focused when you’re sitting in front of your screen the whole day. From an organizer’s standpoint, breaking your event down into bite-sized segments also allows your team to recalibrate after every session and fix any bugs that might have come up. Such breaks will also afford live participants a few moments to walk around, stretch, take a bathroom break or get some refreshments.
This is also where coaching sessions come in handy. Running through each presentation beforehand can help organisers figure out just how feasible the current schedule is, and it will also help your team make the necessary adjustments should one of the presentations require technical help.
While you’ll want to avoid making any huge changes to the schedule, you might find that you’ll need to make one segment slightly shorter or longer depending on the practice runs.
5. Don’t skip rehearsals
Hybrid events aren’t exempt from technical run-throughs. In fact, it’s even more important that you rehearse for these types of events. You’re juggling two different sets of audiences. You don’t just have to make sure that your on-ground event is going smoothly, you’ll also have to ensure that your online streaming is working well.
This is why it’s important to have your materials ready ahead of time. Have your slides, presentations, videos, and other media designed in a way that’s easy to share online. They should also be visually appealing for in-person audiences. Iron out all the technical details from the camera placements to the clothing of people onstage and on-camera. If you’re using a green screen and are planning to do some compositing, which means you’ll be merging layers of media and videos together, then make sure to inform the people who’ll be appearing in front of the camera to wear colors that stand out from the background.
During your rehearsal, go through all the transitions, streaming shifts, and parts where you’re expecting audience interaction. Doing this as early as possible is a good idea, too, as this leaves you more time to adjust and re-strategize should there be a need for it.
6. Consult accounting professionals
It’s no secret that hybrid events can easily run up bills. You are essentially blending two events into one. You’ll need the usual production professionals and streaming services, yes, but one professional you may need for events like this, involving lots of cash flow, is an accountant. It could be tempting to budget everything yourself, but consulting with an accountant gives you a better idea of how to properly manage your event’s finances. While there’s currently a shortage of accountants, collaborating with these professionals will likely be much easier in the coming years as remote learning is becoming more widespread during the pandemic.
Not only does this help supply the industry with new professionals, it also trains them to become more digitally savvy. Online courses are also just as valid as traditional degrees with graduates prepared for the certified public accountant exam. Professionals with an online accounting degree have the know-how to identify worthwhile investments for your business, since they’re adept at thinking about finances in terms of business growth.
Furthermore, you can expect that they have the expertise to analyze and ensure that your finances remain healthy, even in the digital space. In hybrid events where you have to work with several suppliers and services, it’s important to manage invoices properly. They may even provide more benefits for hybrid event organizers since they’re well-versed in virtual collaboration. Consulting with an accountant is especially important if one of the goals of your hybrid event is to increase sales, boost revenue, or expand the business.
7. Include wellness breaks
Just because it’s a corporate event doesn’t mean that every segment has to be business-related. Indeed, including a mindful meditation break in between sessions gives participants and speakers alike a time to realign. This focus is necessary for hybrid events as you want participants to absorb as much information as they can.
Depending on how you want your event to go, you can also choose to simply start or end each session with a quick breathing break. This practice may seem unusual on paper, but offering these small mindfulness sessions sets your event apart from the rest.
You can even run through some short breathing exercises with your team to see which ones would work best with your event. There’s a lot of value in taking the time to deliberately pause everything and just focus on your breathing, which your team will probably notice right off the bat.
8. Ask for feedback afterwards
Our piece on How to Engage Virtual Audiences showcases the need to reward audiences for their participation, and to that end, asking for feedback after the event can give your company a roadmap to success for other events down the line. Before the event ends, give an announcement to remind participants to check their emails for a quick survey, or else hold one during the event itself. A mobile app can also come in handy here since such platforms will make it a whole lot easier to answer feedback forms for both audiences.
Whichever way you get this information, collecting feedback is non-negotiable. Stacking up participant feedback against your team’s internal reports is a good way to help you see the blind spots in your operations.
If your event has sponsors, you might also want to consider partnering with them to give offers to participants who fill out the feedback forms. This can be in the form of discount codes or even free giveaways that will be shipped to the participants themselves. You’ll be surprised at how much feedback you will get once survey respondents know they’re getting something out of it!
Ideas for promoting your hybrid event
1. Big names will attract registrations: Inviting big name celebrities or major thought leaders in the field will draw attention and create initial excitement around your event.
2. Community leaders will ensure engagement: While your celebrity line up will attract attention, it will not ensure engagement with the event and its various sessions. Instead seek out micro influencers, or community leaders that have a strong, engaged followers that are likely to follow their lead.
3. Keep virtual registration open until the day of the event: Due to ease of participating in virtual events, attendees don’t often feel rushed to register early for an event. So, most virtual events often see a -1 day spike. Make sure you capture this spike by leaving registrations for the virtual component until the day of the event.
4. Embrace social media: Use the power of social media to spread the word. Send each participant who registers for your event an attractive share-worthy graphic that pushes them to announce to the world that they’re attending your event.
5. Promote your event in online groups and communities: While promoting on your social media platforms is great, go further and get granular. Figure out where your audience is active and interacting with each other. Promote your event inside interest-based groups and communities on Slack, Facebook, LinkedIn, Discord etc to make sure you get your message across to a qualified audience.
6. Gamify engaging with event content pre-event: Incentivize pre-event engagement by rewarding participants for every action they pre-event, like signing up for certain sessions, sharing your event on social media etc. Leaderboards are a popular method of gamification used by many events across industries.
Last Words: Hybrid Strategy versus Hybrid Events
In a recent survey of over 2000 event planners, EventMB’s Virtual Event Tech Guide shared that while “the picture around hybrid events is getting clearer, not everyone sees them as the way forward…and the percentage of those not engaging in hybrid events is creeping up.”
This is because there are several challenges that need to be addressed to successfully design a successful hybrid experience like: creating content that engages both in-person and live audiences; having the right audio-visual equipment and a production team with experience working at virtual and live events; finding the right venue and right platform etc.
Unfortunately, many event organizers don’t have the resources or bandwidth to host hybrid events that can successfully bridge the gap between live and virtual audiences.
This is why, in the recent piece our Director of Sales Brian Philippe recommends building a hybrid strategy as opposed to simply hosting one-off hybrid events.
So what is a hybrid strategy?
A hybrid strategy is a long-term event strategy that includes hosting a mix of in-person and virtual events. Depending on the objectives of the event planner, it might or might not include hosting a hybrid event.
A hybrid strategy that doesn’t require hosting hybrid events might seem counterintuitive but at its core, a hybrid strategy is all about making the best of your IRL and virtual toolbox without feeling the need to use all of your tools every time you put together an event.
As Brian writes, “hosting a hybrid event might not guarantee you achieve your event objectives, but having a hybrid strategy sure will. Event planners have mastered the art of hosting great in-person AND virtual experiences. So, if you’re reading this, know that you already have all the tools you need to achieve your objectives!
So, if you’re not ready to make the pivot to hosting hybrid events, you don’t have to. Contrary to popular opinion, you will not be missing out on the opportunities of hosting hybrid events IF you focus on developing a hybrid strategy instead.”
Whether you’re looking for a great hybrid event solution, or want to brainstorm hybrid strategies, our team is ready and available to guide you as best as we can! Get in touch with us, and book a free consultation with one of our connection experts!