Learn about all things hybrid, including pros & cons, platform features, and best practices.
The hybrid event model (where attendees join both in person and virtually) will be adopted more and more as we move past the pandemic. This event format can not only serve as a bridge back to normal for the events industry, but will likely continue to persist because of its ability to serve a much larger audience than live events of the past have been able to. That said, event organizers are still determining what exactly a hybrid event looks like and how to effectively implement it.
While COVID-19 has caused a lot of damage, it has also presented great opportunities for the events industry, which has responded with an explosion of innovation. Prominent event tech companies like Cvent, Aventri, ATIV Software, Event Mobi, Meeting Playand EventsAirhave adapted to changing customer needs by developing virtual and hybrid event platforms. Many of these companies have additionally incorporated virtual/hybrid event training into their service offerings.
AtVirtual Shake Up 2.0, Corbin Balldiscussed the nature of the hybrid event model and presented several suggestions as to how event pros can approach this model. Read below for the key things to consider when it comes to this new strategy.
Key Learning #1: Benefits and Challenges of Hybrid Events
Benefits of Hybrid Events:
Act as a bridge back to face-to-face events
People who are not comfortable with face-to-face events yet due to COVID-19 can still participate virtually
Since hybrid events are more accessible than face-to-face events, they enable organizers to reach a much larger audience
Most virtual/hybrid event platforms have the capability to record content so that it can be accessed on-demand following the event
The online component of hybrid provides more extensive and precise analytics/data compared to those of a standalone live event
The option to participate online encourages fewer people to travel; thus, hybrid events produce a lower carbon footprint and have a reduced environmental impact
Challenges of Hybrid Events:
Added complexity of planning for two completely different audiences (virtual and face-to-face)
When planning for your virtual audience, think about the event production as being similar to producing a TV talk show
Aim for TV level of visual, audio, and production quality
Higher production costs
Key Learning #2: Features to Look for in a Hybrid Platform
When choosing a platform for a hybrid event, it is important to first determine what the event is going to look like and then shop for a platform that has the capability to satisfy everything the event needs. Here is Corbin’s list of features to keep in mind during the hybrid platform evaluation process:
Fully integrated solution that can be used for virtual, hybrid, and face-to-face event production
Consistent data collection across each event component
Detailed analytics, especially those that will be useful for marketing future events
Networking, matchmaking, and/or appointment scheduling features
Integrated polling and social Q&A
Same system should be used for virtual and live audiences so everyone can be involved
Integrating both sides brings people together during the event
Mobile app integration
Push notifications are a great way to communicate with attendees
The ability for attendees to mark the sessions they want to tune into, see what networking meetings they have scheduled, etc.
Supports live streaming, allows for pre recorded sessions to be uploaded, and houses on-demand content after the fact
Best practice: Using pre-recorded sessions that go live for the Q&A portion
Easy integration with Salesforce, Hubspot, Marketo, etc.
Payment gateway is PCI and GDPR compliant (if event is not free)
Opportunities for sponsorship monetization
Are there virtual banners, videos, etc. that can be used to promote sponsors?
Tiered ticketing access
Is it possible to provide different levels of access to attendees depending on what level ticket (VIP, general admission, etc.) they purchased?
Key Learning 3: Best Practice Checklist For Hybrid Events
Plan on how to integrate both audiences (virtual attendees and face-to-face audience)
How are you going to provide value to both audiences and what is that going to look like?
It is important to keep in mind the separate audiences from the start, so the different needs of the two audiences are considered throughout the entire planning process
Make a detailed planning timeline
Hybrid events are more complex than their counterparts, so developing a detailed project management timeline is important in order to stay organized
Speaker training, equipment testing, and rehearsals
Live speakers who will be on stage need to be aware of/know how to engage with the virtual audience who is tuning in
Virtual presenters need to go through equipment tests and rehearsals to ensure they have sufficient bandwidth, proper lighting & sound, etc.
Use trusted partners for the platform, venue, AV, and streaming
Make sure all tech partners have necessary capabilities
Check that the venue has backup protection to protect the internet stream of the event
Use equipment that has high production quality (microphones, lights, cameras, etc.)
Hire a virtual emcee to act as the host of the virtual component of the event
Virtual emcee ties things together by keeping the virtual audience engaged
Make sure the virtual and face-to-face experiences are clear
Attendees should know exactly what to expect from the event format they registered for
Be flexible on registration and allow switches from face-to-face to virtual attendance
Plan shorter and more focused presentations/sessions
Virtual audiences have shorter attention spans
Allows people time to decompress, take a break from their screen, walk around, etc. in between sessions
Mix in pre recorded sessions
Incorporate specialized content for virtual attendees
Example: if there is a large exhibit break for the live audience, there can be a virtual exhibit tour that goes through the top ten sponsors
Punctuality becomes essential with a virtual audience
Additional Highlights From Corbin Ball’s Session: Audience Q&A
Question: Let’s imagine the vaccine works and we get somewhat rid of COVID-19 by the end of 2021. What will be the market share of virtual-only events in 2022? Answer: If we have a vaccine, the need for virtual events will still be there and there are a number of reasons for this. Business travel is never going to be the same as people are going to be working from home and attending business meetings virtually. Flying across the country or going to another country for a one day business conference is not going to happen nearly as much. People will find that virtual will be good enough for many and I think it's going to have a lasting larger footprint. In the short term, many events are going to be hybrid because that's the bridge from virtual to face-to-face events, but in the long term that hybrid component with the larger audience size and virtual meetings as well could be long lasting.
Question: What crucial skills do event organizers need to develop to survive this lapse in lack of face-to-face events? Communication skills? Digital? H2H? Social media savvy? Answer: When you boil down events to its most essential element, they bring people together. Think of virtual and hybrid events as another tool in the toolbox to do that. One thing I recommend is to be tech savvy. Virtual and hybrid events are a different animal and it is important to learn as much as you can about them. There is lots of information online and lots of certificates you can get to educate yourself on these new event formats.
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More About Corbin Ball
Corbin Ball, CSP, CMP, DES, MS is an international speaker, consultant and writer helping clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity. After 18 years running international citywide technology meetings, Corbin transitioned in 1997 to become a highly acclaimed speaker with the ability to make complex subjects understandable and fun. Corbin is a 2018 inductee into the Event Industry Council's Hall of Leaders, the most prestigious honor in the meetings, conventions, exhibitions and events industry. He is the only person to have received both the MPI International Supplier of the Year and the MPI International Chapter Leader of the Year awards. Corbin has been named as one of "The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry" five times by Successful Meetings/MeetingNews magazines.