As vaccines continue to roll out, the events industry begins to breathe a sigh of relief. Hopefully, the 2021 events season will see people gather again in person with minimal disruptions. However, the pandemic shaped the industry in major ways over the past year. As organizers pivoted planned in-person events to virtual, attendees saw that they could experience the events they loved without leaving the comfort of their homes.
This new event experience and in-person gathering limitations will lead to a surge in hybrid events in 2021. Therefore, organizations planning to host events and hoping to record an expanded reach need to create a solid hybrid strategy.
In this article, we’ll consider how you can successfully implement a hybrid strategy to engage both in-person and virtual attendees. We’ll walk through the basics of hybrid event planning in 2021, including the following:
Read on to learn the best practices for your next hybrid event.
What Is a Hybrid Event?
A hybrid event is an event experience designed and organized for both in-person and online attendees in ways that connect both audiences in an organic event environment.
Before the pandemic, organizations planned hybrid events to allow online audiences to join an in-person event experience through live streaming, teleconferencing, and other virtual means. In such settings, virtual audiences often had limited access and a limited event experience compared to in-person attendees.
However, in a world impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, hybrid events must be deliberately planned to give both in-person and virtual audiences a full event experience.
Hybrid Event Planning 101
For starters, hybrid events require more strategy and planning than virtual or in-person alone does. However, considering the benefits of going hybrid, those efforts are always worth the extra attention. You can expand your reach and capture new audiences, and also engage them in new ways. Follow the tips below to plan your next event.
Start with dedicated hybrid event tech
A hybrid event is not two different events but a singular event with two experiences. Therefore, before thinking about venue and other logistics, ensure that you have the appropriate event technology to execute a hybrid strategy.
When considering software options, choose one that allows for various types of event engagement, interaction, and networking. Focus on features such as:
- Live chats
- Breakout sessions
- Video and group chats
- Interactive sponsorship and exhibition elements
- Customized branding and more
An ideal hybrid event solution combines a virtual event platform and mobile event app in one solution. The platform provides virtual attendees the opportunity to be present virtually and to interact. In contrast, the mobile event app provides on-the-go access and interactive tools for engagement between both virtual and in-person attendees.
Pre-event marketing is critical
Build anticipation for both in-person and virtual attendees by letting them know exactly what to expect. Most importantly, convince virtual attendees how you intend to make them feel engaged as though they were attending in person.
You can tailor your value proposition to in-person attendees to include:
- The ambience of the environment
- Special networking sessions
- Other exclusive access
For virtual attendees, talk more about:
- Livestream and production quality
- Interactive and networking tools
- State-of-the-art technology
- Digital or shipped swag and takeaways
Talk about how these features will make attendees feel connected to the event. It’s a best practice to make a clear outline of the unique and common features to the two audiences so that each will know what to expect. This way, your attendees can plan ahead for which sessions are most interesting to them and schedule their experience accordingly.
Consider what time zones will impact your hybrid event
When building your event agenda, consider the time zones that will work best for your virtual audiences. If your event targets audiences in a similar time zone as the event location, this may not pose a challenge.
However, if the time zones vary significantly, try and put main track events and networking sessions around the time convenient for all attendees. You can also consider running multi-sessions so that attendees can choose which sessions work best for their time zones.
Plan for social (physical) distancing for in-person venues
There are a limited number of persons allowed for physical events. Therefore, check with your venue to know the recommended capacity so you can plan accordingly for spacing and admittance. It will also determine how many tickets you will place on sale for in-person attendees. Once those slots are exhausted, interested attendees can continue to sign up for the virtual option.
Decide ahead of time: live or pre-recorded content?
For in-person attendees, most of the content should be live, except for short video clips and commercials necessary to be produced ahead. However, there might be a need to engage your virtual audience with additional content that they can view on-demand.
Alternatively, you can pre-record the main track sessions and place them on the platform for virtual attendees as a backup plan in case technical issues arise while streaming live.
Plan for varied content to maximize engagement
Online audiences tend to have a limited attention span. Therefore, you should plan for a mix of content types to keep attendees engaged. Keep content interactive and moderate in terms of length.
Use interactive tools such as Q&A, polling, and gamification to keep the audience active during sessions.
Hybrid Event Management
Once you get the basics sorted, the next focus will be to make your event run smoothly. Let’s consider the following touchpoints that will make all the difference in your hybrid event management.
Practice Makes Perfect
Prepare speakers ahead of time for the hybrid experience. Start with the event platform you have chosen and ensure speakers can reach your virtual and in-person attendees using the platform. Also, allow your speakers to practice on the stage or in the space where they will be recorded. Remind them to make eye contact with the cameras once in a while so that virtual audiences can feel connected.
Ensure that everyone is 100% comfortable with the platform that you have chosen. This is because if speakers are familiar with the platform and stage, they can efficiently work around any technical difficulty that might come up.
Make registration, check-in, and log-in as seamless as possible
Using a cohesive solution that combines a virtual event platform with a mobile app will ensure that both virtual and in-person attendees can easily navigate your event space. Integrating your registration software with your event platform and app will also help create a smoother user experience. This way, attendees can check-in and login to your platform without hassles.
Make sure that everyone can interact across the in-person and virtual divide. Do this through online chat rooms, message boards, and in-app communication options. The idea of a community is what makes the event hybrid, and if there is no cross interaction between the two audiences, virtual participants won’t feel as much connected to the event experience.
If your only way of engaging attendees is having them passively watch speakers, you’ll lose your virtual attendees’ attention fast. Ensure that there are ways to interact during sessions with options for reacting to things, voting in polls, or contributing questions.
You can go a step further by allowing in-person attendees to share live videos of moments at the event venue with their virtual counterparts via the event app. If your event venue has breakout rooms with hi-tech audio-visual capabilities, you can have a mix of in-person and online attendees in the same breakout rooms.
To achieve this, set up the rooms with smart 360-degree cameras that show everyone in the room and that highlight anyone speaking. In turn, set up screens in the rooms to display and highlight the faces of those participating online.
End your hybrid event with a splash
Don’t let your attendees leave, or log off, without putting careful thought into your closing remarks. Do you want to end with your best speaker? Or with a performance from a musician or other entertainer? Finish with something that will keep attendees reminiscing about your event.
Following Up: Maximize Your Hybrid Event’s Long-Term Impact
The gains of your hybrid event will come mostly from what you do after the event has ended. Take the following steps to ensure that you maximize your event’s long-term impact.
Stay in Contact
Keep communicating with your attendees through email touchpoints. Start with a thank you email and highlight key takeaways from the event. You can also share a post-event website where they can view session galleries and high points. If you have additional resources you want them to download or view, provide the links to those resources in your communication. You can also allow sponsors and exhibitors to continue reaching out to attendees.
Ask for Attendee Feedback
You need feedback to know whether your event met expectations or not. Send out post-event surveys and ask attendees what they think about specific aspects of the event like:
- Sponsors, and other areas
You will learn a lot of lessons from the feedback that can be useful for planning future experiences.
Offer continued access to evergreen content
Your organization can nurture both in-person and virtual attendees by providing continued access to evergreen content on your event platform year-round. Such content can be the recordings of live sessions or fresh pre-recorded content. By keeping the attendees engaged, you can retain their loyalty for the next event year. You can also reach out to them with additional offers regarding your next hybrid event.
Maintain Your Community
The community aspect of your event is the interaction and networking. Encourage attendees to continue the exchange on the platform. You can also create conversation forums where attendees can discuss topics about post-event realities. Enable email or mobile notifications when there is a new post or interaction on the platform. This is an excellent way to get invaluable data on your attendee’s opinions and viewpoints.
Measure Engagement and ROI
During the planning process, be clear about key performance indicators (KPI) you’ll track for the event. This way, you can use them to measure ROI after the event. When you track how attendees engaged with speakers, content, sponsors, and other attendees on your platform, you will find insight on which aspects of your event resonated with your audience the most.
Like virtual events, hybrid events will continue to evolve. Therefore, your first attempt might not be a perfect one. However, take note of your audiences’ feedback, and talk to your technology provider to harness additional features that will best suit your unique hybrid event experience. You might also consider attending other hybrid events both virtually and in person to learn from other organizers.