Hybrid and digital events are quickly becoming the go-to solution for event planners looking to host events that cater to the widest possible audience. Between COVID-19 variants and rising gas prices, there are plenty of reasons attendees may opt to stay home. Conversely, after two years of pandemic-related social guidelines, just as many attendees are elated at the thought of finally learning, interacting, and networking in person. The answer to satisfying both crowds is a hybrid event. In fact, did you know that 72% of professional association members expect their organizations to offer all or mostly hybrid events? That’s a significant enough statistic to sway even the most hesitant event planner into looking at hybrid formatting.
Remember that a hybrid event is an experience designed and organized for both in-person and online attendees in ways that connect both audiences in an organic event environment. It is not two separate events, but a singular event providing two experiences. In this way, hybrid events have the potential to combine the best of both in-person and virtual events. However, planning for a hybrid event presents its own set of needs and challenges that need to be addressed to truly succeed. Do you have the right tools to accomplish your hybrid event?
There are countless tools and resources available to event planners but sifting through each one to determine what is necessary for your event can be a painstaking process. But don’t worry! We’ve filled this toolkit just for event planners like you, full of the kinds of technology, software options, tips, and tools you need to build your next hybrid event and make it a success.
Tool #1: Vision & planning
Envision your event with laser-like accuracy
When hanging a frame on a wall, the best way to ensure it looks as straight as possible is to align it with a laser-level. Can you picture how you want this frame to look? Can you imagine how other people will see it when they walk into the room? This is what you’ll need to do to begin planning your hybrid event. Imagine your ideal event process, from every touchpoint, for both audiences. What will the check-in process look like in-person? How will check-in look for virtual guests? Do this for each milestone of your event to start aligning what the end result of your event should look like. Make note of any special software, apps or technology you may need to pull it off.
Tool time tip: The pros are never afraid to call in for support! Make sure you have a support team to guide you throughout the planning process to ensure you don’t miss a thing.
Tool #2: Technology
Any successful project starts with the right materials
Just as lumber quality will affect the outcome of a woodworking project, the quality of your event technology will determine the outcome of your event. There are plenty of event management platforms to choose from, but select with care, as some are more inclined to facilitate in-person events, and others are geared for virtual. Remember that a hybrid event is not two events, but a single one. Find an event management platform that specializes in hybrid events.
What should you look for in a hybrid event management platform? Consider one that allows for diverse event engagement and offers a mobile event app in addition to a virtual event platform. Special features to look for include gamification, live/video chats, breakout sessions, polling, custom branding, interactive exhibition elements, and more. By using a cohesive approach that combines the virtual event platform and mobile app, your virtual and in-person attendees will be able to easily navigate the event space.
Moreover, a robust hybrid event management platform will streamline planning, organizing, executing and completing your event. Access to as much event data as possible will improve your current event as well as provide key insights into every future event. This is why selecting your event technology is the most important step of the process.
Tool time tip: Don’t forget about your hardware technology either! Be sure your live content is addressed by ensuring your venue is equipped with all of your hybrid AV needs.
Tool #3: Speaker management
Even the best tradespeople need on-the-job training
Whether someone is an expert craftsman or a world-renown speaker, the truth is that every project is different, and learning is just part of the job. You may want to assume that your guest speakers are always ready to go, but even the most experienced speakers may need some pointers when it comes to taking the hybrid stage. Have your presenters given hybrid sessions before? This is important to address, so that you can give your event talent the tools they need to succeed.
Provide your speakers with tips for engaging both audiences. This could include ideas for eliciting responses from attendees or guidance in using your event technology. Don’t forget tips like making eye contact with the live-streaming cameras, speaking directly to the virtual audience in addition to the live audience, and interacting with live questions from virtual attendees. Make sure your presenters understand their expectations by sharing your vision of the ideal participant experience.
Tool time tip: Let your speakers practice at the venue ahead of the event! Be sure to give them full spacing marks on where cameras, speakers, and other equipment will be. This allows your speakers to practice moving around the stage, looking at their target “spots” and will help them become more comfortable with the format.
Tool #4: Interactivity
Give both audiences something to do!
Hosting a hybrid event without intentional interactivity would be like building a staircase that leads to nowhere. Your virtual attendees’ engagement will not last if they’re expected to simply stare at a live stream. After all, the work you put into an event shouldn’t boil down to a Zoom call for your virtual guests. Employ the many facets of event interactivity during your next hybrid event using your event mobile app and virtual platform. Get the conversation going with video and group chat messaging, contribute questions and utilize voting in polls. Start some fun with gamification! Incentivize attendees by assigning points to tasks or game achievements and rewarding winners with prizes. This interconnected engagement also leads to attendee networking, strengthening your event community and increasing value for attendees.
Tool time tip: To capture both audiences, equip your breakout rooms at your venue with cameras and screens to showcase both audiences to each other. This will significantly widen the reach of your event’s networking footprint.
Tool #5: Event Data
Take advantage of the hybrid event’s approach to increased digital touchpoints
Much like the nuts, bolts and nails found throughout a house, data is the glue holding your event together. You may already be familiar with live event analytics with data like event check-in, session attendance, etc. But are you familiar with capturing virtual data? Since half of your hybrid event’s experience is virtual, you’ll need to make yourself familiar with the added digital touchpoints that virtual experiences offer. Almost everything can be tracked for your online users including page views, page duration, and session attendance, just to name a few. Exhibitors are even able to track attendee visits, video interactions, document, and file downloads and more.
Don’t forget to add these kinds of key performance indicators into your metrics when you begin planning your hybrid event. These insights will help measure a more accurate return on investment after your event. Furthermore, it will allow you as the event planner to determine what your attendees are engaged with the most, and what you can provide more of in the future.
Tool time tip: Use an event management platform with built-in metrics dashboards that will allow you to track this data in real time. This way you can keep an eye on KPIs during and after your event.
Tool #6: Communication
Keep your event communication two-way
Although you may think of event communication as strictly output, remember to keep those lines open for your attendees to reach out as well. This can be from attendee to attendee, or attendee to exhibitor, or attendee to organization. After all, you can’t build a community without communication. Encourage conversation and networking between in-person and virtual attendees on your platform by providing conversation forums. Not only do you strengthen networking and event buzz, but you get real insights into your attendees’ opinions and viewpoints.
Don’t let the connections stop after the event either. Provide a post-event website where attendees can continue to view session galleries, highlights, videos, and keep the conversation going with comments and chat functionalities.
Make sure your sponsors are able to stay in contact with attendees as well. It’s important for lead retrieval to be seamless for both in-person and virtual experiences so that sponsors can reach out to whoever has shown interest in their exhibits.
Tool time tip: Give your attendees a reason to reach back to your organization by supplying them with a discount or exclusive offer for things like products, services, or even upcoming events. This will incentivize your attendees to come back and reach out to you.
Tool #7: Backup Plan
Measure twice, cut once, and always have a plan B (and C)
Ever notice that tool sets often contain duplicate tools? It’s not just a collection of tools for the sake of collecting tools, they’re often kept as backups. If a screwdriver is lost, broken or misplaced, the job can get done with another one. For virtual and hybrid events, building your back-up plan is one of the most important and proactive steps you can take. No one wants to imagine the worst-case scenario, but the technical glitch horror stories are out there. Don’t let your event become another one! There are simple precautions you can take to avoid letting down your virtual attendees. Most importantly, make sure your venue provides backup internet connections, both wired and Wi-Fi. Have visual content or video clips available for any downtime in between sessions so that virtual attendees are never left with a blank screen. Also consider pre-recording some live content. In the unfortunate event of a full technical failure, you can rely on this content to provide your virtual attendees with. This pre-recorded content can also save your live event, in the event of something like a speaker cancellation or some other emergency, you will be able to stream this content for both in-person and virtual attendees.
Tool time tip: Draft up a backup plan with numerous scenarios and solutions so that you and your team can be prepared for anything. By exercising just a bit of proactive planning, you can help your event steer clear of catastrophe.
Hybrid events may just be the answer the event industry needs. By providing a hybrid format to your attendees, you can reach a wider audience, take advantage of in-person engagement benefits, offer safe learning environments, and more. The tools and tips provided in this guide should serve to help build your next hybrid event and make it a success. Remember that vision, technology, speaker management, interactivity, event data, communication and backup plans are just some of the pivotal points that need to be addressed to create the perfect hybrid event. One last tool time tip for this toolkit is to go out and attend a hybrid event for yourself. Attend one in person, and one virtually. Or split up your research within your team and compare notes: what did this event accomplish well? What are some hits and misses you’d like to replicate or avoid? Sometimes being an attendee is the best way to start your event planning process.
For more hybrid event solutions, look to Pathable’s robust event management suite that specializes in hybrid events. Pathable offers the right technology to create a highly effective event that keeps attendees coming back. With a virtual event platform and mobile app, your virtual and in-person attendees can stay connected and engaged no matter where they are.
Learn more and schedule a free demo with Pathable today.