To say that the last few months have been a whirlwind would be an understatement. In a matter of days, live events and conferences that had been planned months in advance were suddenly postponed or cancelled. Virtual events became the new normal, and we had to learn how to create effective programs. We navigated through the storm and learned a lot of lessons along the way. One of the most important lessons the event industry learned was that while virtual events certainly have their benefits, live events will always be an important part of any robust event program.
Now, it’s time to think about a different type of event – hybrid events. There will be situations, such as this global pandemic, where a virtual event is the only option. There will also be situations where an in-person event will be the most effective way of collecting leads and engaging your audience. Hybrid events, or events that combine both in-person and virtual experiences, will be an essential part of the new normal in the events industry.
In this guide, we will walk you through the basics of a hybrid event, how to design a successful hybrid event, and how to adapt your event strategy around this new, necessary type of programming.
Hybrid Events and Your Total Event Strategy
Creating a successful hybrid event requires planning and brainstorming. Are you hosting an internal or an external event? Do you have the tools needed to market and promote your hybrid event effectively? What are you hoping your attendees will get out of this event? Answering these questions and more will help you as you begin to build out your hybrid event program.
When to Host a Hybrid Event
The first decision you must make is whether to include a virtual component to your event at all. Does it make sense? When should you host a hybrid event versus an onsite event versus a virtual event?
Hybrid events are the perfect solution for those programs that can effectively be held both onsite and virtually. Below are some examples of perfect hybrid event programs:
- Trade shows
- Sales kick-offs
- Global town halls
Hybrid events are also extremely useful solutions when many of your attendees who would normally attend in person can’t. Below are some examples of when an attendee who normally might be on site for an event may have to attend virtually:
- The attendee cannot or does not want to travel due to health or safety concerns.
- The attendee’s organization has limited travel spend and, therefore, cannot travel to the event.
- The venue where you will be hosting the onsite portion of the event has capacity limitations, so not all attendees will be allowed to gather onsite.
A best practice may be to send out a pre-event survey to garner the current situations and feelings of your invitees. If you get the sense that many would prefer the option of attending virtually, a hybrid event may be the best way to go.
Entirely onsite events should be planned when it is of the utmost importance that all your attendees be there in person. You know that most of the content will not translate well virtually, and there isn’t a good alternative to communicate it, so an onsite experience is the best way to deliver the information. Here are some examples of events that you might want to host onsite:
- Small customer luncheons
- Team bonding outings
- Awards ceremonies
When you do host an onsite event, safety will be the number one priority. Make your attendees feel comfortable by offering a self-service check-in option and plan your seating arrangements to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Entirely virtual events should be planned if you cannot host an onsite event, have a small budget, or if the information you want to share can be effectively shared via video. If there is no need for people to attend in person, don’t waste the money or time. Reassign those assets for future onsite or hybrid events. Here are some examples of effective virtual events:
- Frequent team meetings
- Customer success groups
- Study groups
- Executive panels
Read our guide to creating an amazing virtual event.
Types of Hybrid Events
We will first dive into the differences between internal and external hybrid events, and some of the most common examples of each.
Internal Hybrid Events
Internal events are programs that are held to benefit your company’s internal stakeholders, including employees, leadership, staff, etc. For many companies, it is nearly impossible to gather all your internal stakeholders in the same room for a meeting. This is where hybrid events come into play. Pick a venue for your event, like your company's headquarters, and then live stream the meeting to the rest of your company. Below are some examples of common internal hybrid events:
- Sales kickoffs
- Global town halls
- Larger team meetings
- Company spirit weeks
External Hybrid Events
External events are programs that are targeted towards your customers, prospects, clients, etc. Transitioning your live external event to a hybrid setting can help draw in more attendees and lower your carbon footprint. External events that can be made hybrid include the following:
- Conferences and trade shows
- Customer conferences
- Product demonstrations
Core Elements, Goals, and Advantages of Hybrid Events
It is important to take the time to identify the goals of your hybrid event, as well as gather all the tools you need to execute on these goals effectively. Below we outline common elements, goals, and advantages of taking your event hybrid.
Key Elements of Hybrid Events
One common misconception we have heard in the industry is that all you need for a hybrid event is a virtual streaming provider. A successful hybrid event requires the same elements and features as an onsite event. Paired with a great virtual streaming provider, these elements will make your hybrid event a great success.
Your content is arguably even more important at a hybrid event. Not only do your in-person attendees have to be engaged, but your virtual attendees should also be involved throughout the event. Make sure that all your speakers are prepared and that their presentations are engaging by managing their content and overall agenda.
A hybrid event attracts both in-person attendees and virtual attendees. This gives your organization the chance to attract two (or more!) times the number of attendees to your event, which means that your hybrid event marketing is as important as ever. Create a beautiful event website that displays all the program information and email prospective attendees to draw in a record number of people.
Your hybrid event’s registration process should be just as seamless as your onsite event registration. Create a branded event registration webpage with your organization’s colors and your event information, so prospective attendees can easily find all the details about your program. Create custom registration paths for your in-person attendees versus your virtual attendees so they can sign up for appropriate sessions. Finally, keep track of those who abandoned registration and send them a reminder email to register!
When some of your attendees are participating virtually, and others are in person, it is more difficult to schedule meetings. You can use an appointment scheduling tool to block off times on your attendees’ calendars that are reserved for networking. They can communicate and set up times to meet directly through the tool. That way, virtual and in-person attendees can see availabilities on one another’s calendars and network efficiently.
Hybrid Event Goals
While all of your events have individual goals, an overarching goal for all hybrid events is to engage as many attendees as possible, however they may be participating. A hybrid event allows people to connect in-person if they want that human connection experience. A hybrid event also allows individuals who otherwise would not have been able to attend due to health concerns or travel constraints, the flexibility to engage virtually. The goal is to make the experience equally riveting for both groups. By reducing the barrier to entry, hybrid events provide the opportunity for even more people to interact with your content and your brand.
Hannah Montana must have been talking about hybrid events when she sang, "You get the best of both worlds." With hybrid events, you get the advantages of both in-person events AND their virtual counterparts. Below are some of the biggest advantages of making your event hybrid.
While an in-person event or conference is often the most engaging, some people do not have the time or the ability to travel long distances to attend those events. Not to mention, sometimes, those in-person events can carry a pretty hefty price tag. Both factors can deter individuals from deciding to register for your event. With a hybrid event, however, those individuals may be more compelled to attend if they can do so from the comfort of their couch and for a much lower cost. Pivoting to hybrid can attract many more registrants than a solely in-person event.
Enhanced Content Engagement
When you host a hybrid event, you will be live streaming your speakers and sessions for virtual attendees to view. This allows you to record these sessions and send them out after the event. Attendees who couldn’t make certain sessions or simply want to rewatch and learn more now can engage with the content days or even weeks after the event is over. This will keep your event, and your company, in the minds of your attendees long after the event has concluded.
Lower Carbon Footprint
By reducing the number of onsite attendees, your event’s carbon footprint will also decrease. There will be less travel by attendees, fewer meals thrown away, and less transportation of rental chairs and tables. Your company will not only be positioned as an event powerhouse but also as an environmentally conscious organization.
Increased Sponsorship Value
Now that your event is hybrid, your sponsors have the opportunity to get in front of your in-person AND your virtual attendees. That is double the exposure they had before. Hosting part of your event in a digital environment creates new opportunities for brand awareness and lead generation. By offering your sponsors more value, your event will attract more sponsorship dollars and even more sponsors. This can help to offset the technical costs of running a hybrid event.
How to Create a Successful Hybrid Event
Now that you’ve laid out your goals and determined the elements you need to include for your hybrid event, it’s time to begin planning your program. In these next few sections, we will walk through some common challenges faced and how to solve them, as well as how to create the perfect agenda and keep your attendees engaged.
Avoiding Common Challenges and Pitfalls
There are a few common dilemmas that planners face when putting these hybrid programs into action. We’ve outlined them below, along with tips and tricks to help you avoid these pitfalls.
Make Sure It Is One Event, But Two Experiences
Hybrid events are a balancing act. They balance between in-person and virtual attendees, and therefore, they must balance these two experiences. On the one hand, you will have to deliver your content differently to both groups. You will have to make sure that your video streaming service is working correctly, and that your presenters are prepared to be recorded and to speak in front of a camera. However, you do not want your hybrid event to feel like two entirely different events – it is one event with two experiences. Make sure that your content is relevant to both in-person and virtual attendees, and don’t have joint activities planned that isolate one group from participation.
Keep Content Engaging
Your content is arguably even more important during a hybrid event than during an onsite event. It is much more difficult to keep virtual attendees engaged in front of a computer screen. To keep content engaging, make sure that it will translate well over video. Incorporate live polls or Q&A to keep virtual attendees involved. And make sure that the sessions are a digestible length – no one wants to sit through a five-hour keynote speech.
Navigating Time Zones
One of the benefits of hosting a hybrid event is that participants can attend virtually from all over the world. However, this poses the challenge of accommodating your virtual attendees' varying time zones. It will be difficult for an attendee based in California to attend a keynote speech live at 8:30 a.m. ET. Make sure that the sessions you are offering to your virtual attendees can be accessed on-demand. If possible, offer the same session live multiple times so people can attend at a time that works for them and get the live experience.
4 Elements of a Successful Hybrid Event
There are four key elements to any successful event: content, community, sponsorship, and analytics. In this section, we will explain how to execute these elements specifically for a hybrid event.
As mentioned previously, content is king at your hybrid event. You want to make sure that in-person and virtual attendees are equally engaged. This is where the “one event, two experiences” mentality comes into play. You can’t deliver the same content the same way for both groups. Here are some ideas for how to cater your content differently for your virtual and in-person attendees:
Have an onsite representative dedicated exclusively to your virtual attendees
Your onsite attendees will most likely have someone on a stage or podium addressing them directly throughout the day. This can make virtual attendees feel left out, or even further from the action. Solve this problem by having one of your event coordinators address just your virtual attendees. They can talk to the attendees specifically about their virtual experiences and introduce virtual-only sessions or networking opportunities.
Create separate content for your virtual attendees
Some of your larger sessions, like your keynote presentation, will be viewed by both your onsite and virtual attendees. But don’t make your virtual attendees watch your onsite attendees at an interactive networking session. Offer your virtual attendees exclusive virtual-only interviews with industry experts, or panel discussions with thought leaders. Effectively designate onsite vs. virtual sessions through your customized registration paths, so no attendees register for the incorrect sessions.
Offer your content on-demand
As addressed earlier, keeping an attendee’s attention in front of a computer screen is much more difficult than keeping the attention of an onsite attendee. Your virtual attendees may have to take more breaks throughout the day, or they may only be able to join the event for an hour or two at a time. Make sure that most of your content is offered on-demand so that virtual attendees can access it at a more convenient time.
Keep everyone aware and excited about your agenda
During an onsite event, it is quite common to announce to your attendees what sessions or topics will be introduced following a break. Make sure to deliver this same experience for your virtual attendees. Have your onsite virtual representative remind your virtual attendees of the agenda schedule, so they are sure to attend the next session. You can even use a gamified app experience to keep them entertained during the break, and excited for the next session.
Shifting to an “event producer” mentality
Creating a successful hybrid event takes a lot of work, and you should think of yourself as the designer of this event program. You are in charge of creating an agenda that caters to both in-person and virtual attendees, and it is up to you to design a program that is engaging and effective. Below are some key questions to ask yourself as you produce your hybrid event agenda:
How long will your sessions run?
Will your sessions be an hour? A half-hour? 15 minutes? A variety of lengths? You want to strike a balance in your session lengths. They should be long enough that all the information you've prepared can be shared, but they should also be concise enough that virtual attendees remain focused and engaged.
How many sessions will you host per day?
You don’t want to overwhelm people with information and content. Onsite attendees will be more likely to want to attend more sessions, as they traveled a great distance to attend in-person. However, your virtual attendees will likely have a shorter attention span being in front of a computer screen. One solution is to offer fewer live sessions per day for your virtual attendees, so they are not swamped. Instead, offer more on-demand content that they can access at their leisure.
Will you have different sessions for virtual versus in-person attendees?
When you create your registration paths, will there be certain sessions that are only for in-person attendees and certain sessions that are only for virtual attendees? For example, do you want to host an in-person networking session that virtual attendees won’t experience? What will you offer those virtual attendees instead? Decide how your registration paths will differ for your different attendees.
Onsite attendees have the benefit of experiencing the community firsthand at an event. It is much easier for them to network in-person, have organic conversations, and establish connections. However, there are ways to bring this community to your virtual audience as well.
Incorporate live polls and Q&As into your sessions
Connect your virtual and onsite audiences with tools such as live polling and live Q&A. During a session, encourage both audiences to submit questions and answer poll topics so they are engaged and can interact with one another. Your virtual attendee may ask a question that never crossed the mind of your onsite attendee or vice versa. This is a great opportunity to gain double the knowledge and double the feedback.
Create collaborative virtual sessions
If the in-person attendees are in breakout sessions, give your virtual attendees the same opportunity. Many virtual streaming providers can create breakout rooms within the meeting. Gather your virtual attendees and have them connect in smaller groups so they can also build that community.
Sponsorship dollars are vital to any event program. Therefore, your sponsors must receive the same (or more) value from your hybrid event as they would from an onsite event. There are many ways to put your sponsors in front of both your virtual and in-person attendees and create high value. Below are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Mobile app banner ads
- Push notifications
- Sponsored sessions
- Event website sponsors page
- Physical and virtual sponsor booths
- Sponsored commercials before accessing on-demand content
Your post-event actions are as important as what you do during an event. Hosting an event means nothing if you don’t gain any insights. Make sure to send out a post-event survey to get a sense of which content resonated with people, and how your attendees felt about their onsite versus virtual experiences. Also, take a look at your attendees’ data during the event. Make sure to follow up with those attendees who attended a lot of sessions, asked a lot of questions, or engaged with your sponsors.
A Plan for the Unknown
These past few months have been nothing short of unpredictable. But we have all learned a lot from this experience. One of the most important lessons that we learned is to be prepared. Incorporating virtual and hybrid events into your total event program will be a key piece of your event strategy as we navigate these next few months of the unknown. Live, in-person events will never go out of style, but it never hurts to have a backup plan. Make hybrid events yours.