Attendees are tired of Zoom and virtual events, and more and more shout for the return of in-person events. That is not always safe yet though as the pandemic and/or governments keep changing regulations and make event planning very unreliable. But wait, what about hybrid? Can this be the solution for uncertain times? Let’s dive into the essentials of hybrid events and whether they may be the right event format for you.
Is hybrid for you?
Hybrid isn’t the new buzz word that converts any event into the next big thing, increasing any success levels, or being the ‘right’ option just because all world talks about it. Going hybrid (a mix of online and offline event experience) doesn’t make sense for all types of events.
Hybrid makes sense for
- Sales kick-offs
- Global all-hands
Hybrid doesn’t make sense for
- Small client luncheons
- Team-building events
- Award ceremonies
Check the purpose of your gathering. Knowledge transfer usually welcomes the virtual extension whereas human connections are best established in person. If your event purpose is something in between, it may make sense to come up with a hybrid solution.
Reasons to plan your event for an online and offline audience are the option to allow people who value human interaction to socialize onsite, while others get the opportunity to flexibly attend virtually from wherever it suits them best, whether this may be caused by travel restrictions, time restraints, or financial aspects. See the hybrid format as a reduction of the barrier of entry to your event.
But don’t go hybrid ‘just because’. If your event used to be onsite and you only moved online because of restrictions, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need the in-person component again once it’s possible. Certain events such as webinars, frequent team meetings, study groups, or executive panels actually benefit from the switch, as there are more benefits to attend virtually than gathering in one place.
Going hybrid = more effort!
Think twice about making your event hybrid as this doesn’t come easy. It is not just pressing a button to stream the event and et voilà, your event became hybrid. When you intend to plan a successful hybrid event, you most likely plan two events at the same time which overlap in certain areas. Hybrid events require the same features as live events combined with a professional, experienced streaming provider.
It is great to have the option of including remote speakers in your agenda. However, this does not only broaden your possible choices and get you further with your budget, but also brings more risks. It is one thing to be in charge of all speakers and having them under control on a physical stage, and another by explaining someone speaking from home how to access the streaming platform, get their mic and video settings optimal, and avoid interruptions by colleagues, family, or pets. Making them look as professional as on stage may require a lot more effort from the organizer’s side. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!
Furthermore, you have to provide a true value why people should attend in person when they can get the same content by attending online. We are spoiled by outstanding experiences in every corner, so we expect excellent content onsite – especially if you make us pay for it more.
On the other hand though, don’t forget about your online audience and leave them unengaged in front of their screens. Then you may as well cut the online component entirely. Double audience engagement = double effort.
Plan emcee/moderators for online audience
As I just mentioned, hybrid events need engaging content for both virtual and onsite attendees. Just as you would have a moderator guiding through the agenda in your event location, plan for an online moderator/emcee who does the same for the virtual audience.
An emcee is the contact point for your online participants, keeps them engaged and connected with the onsite crowd. Let them speak directly to your viewers (separate from the happenings onsite) and announce next agenda points, invite them to ask questions which (s)he can address with the moderator on stage or answer directly in the chat.
Emcees are also a great way to hype your online audience and make the stream more lively and interesting. They appear in between sessions to excite them for what is up next, interact with the viewers, and get the chat flowing.
While extroverts love the in-person experience, some introvert attendees are quite happy to have the option to engage and network via chat. You can even further enhance the online experience by hiring multiple emcees who create different experience paths. Those paths recommend specific content to each attendee type (education, socializing, tech, …) and the emcees also interact with the respective groups differently, to make everyone feel comfortable and increase engagement levels. Like this, both groups make the most the event.
Benefit from increased attendance and sponsoring opportunities
As mentioned before, a hybrid event attracts two audiences, online and offline, and this can lead to having more attendees than usual. It is important to clarify on your registration page what to expect from each experience to allow your participants to choose accordingly. Otherwise, you might lose them for future events if they leave your event disappointed because they attended with other expectations.
When your venue has limited capacities or current regulations don’t allow for more in-person attendees, the virtual extension of the event gives additional viewers the chance to participate and become part of your event. Also, you won’t lose those attendee groups who cannot or don’t want to travel due to health or safety concerns. Another reason why a person who usually attended your event live would now need to participate virtually may be limited travel budget by their organization. Hybrid events cater for various needs of their participants and grow the chance for their attendance as they can choose what’s most convenient for them.
Additionally, the bigger audience attracts more or even new sponsors as well. Come up with packages that include both virtual and live sponsor opportunities but don’t forget to offer only offline or online sponsorships neither. Certain sponsors have a higher interest in marketing in front of an online audience, whereas others see their target group in live attendees. Benefit from these new possibilities and develop your package options.
Think like TV producers
Last but not least, I’d like to highlight how complex the transmission from your onsite event to the viewers’ screens is. Zoom fatigue doesn’t come by chance but results from incredibly boring visuals for the online audience. Successful hybrid events are run by event planners with an event producer mentality.
This already starts when planning the event program. Don’t copy your usual in-person event and pack it into an online agenda. While your hybrid agenda may present a new schedule for in-person attendees, your online audience will be endlessly grateful when you keep the following questions in mind:
- How long will sessions run?
Remember that a human’s time span to stay focused and engaged is reduced when attending virtually. Plan for some shorter sessions of 15-30 minutes only, and vary between session lengths, depending on their content’s complexity. But not matter how short you keep the sessions, they should never cut off Q&A time afterwards!
- How many sessions happen per day?
Again, this is a matter of focus as it is not the same to attend an 8-hour conference in a venue, together with other participants, walking and meeting people during coffee breaks, than it is all by yourself in front of your laptop screen. If you still want to run the conference within a few days, a compromise would be to make the online agenda shorter with fewer live sessions for the virtual attendees, and then allow access to on-demand content afterwards. In the meantime, the onsite audience can have drinks, entertainment, and social networking sessions which the virtual attendees won’t have, which will extend the live experience for those attending in person.
Another alternative is to start your hybrid event online, let it run over 5 days with 2 of those days in the middle being physical days to attend onsite.
- Will there be different sessions for virtual and onsite audience?
As mentioned in the alternatives above, it might make sense that you have two different agendas for both audiences. Offer virtual-only sessions with virtual/remote speakers while the onsite audience runs networking sessions or explores booths at the venue. The offline attendees can attend these virtual sessions as well by listening in with headphones which are placed at the venue in case they prefer that session over live networking.
- How do you create a sense of community?
Needless to say, attending an event in person makes you feel like part of the event community simply by the fact of being there and experiencing the community firsthand. The use of emcees can create such a sense of community with the online audience by engaging them into conversations and establishing connections. Any (inter)action such as animating the viewers to vote, submitting and/or voting up questions, and answering polls will make them feel as part of the event instead of just following what’s going on. Use proximity chats to create a virtual networking room which allows for the spontaneous onsite connections which online attendees otherwise miss out on.
At first, going hybrid may seem to be a little overwhelming with kind of two type of events to think about when planning the event. However, just with everything, the more events you run hybrid, the easier it will be to think about all the steps and find ways to connect online and offline attendees.
If you feel you need a hand to steer you through the planning process or simply check your hybrid event concept and give valuable tips for improvement, I’m here to make you feel confident and guiding you towards your hybrid event’s success.
Have a lovely day!