Discussion of hybrid meetings and events is everywhere. And for good reason. While improvements in the public health situation are allowing for the rapid return of in-person events, the need to reach and engage virtual audiences remains. The reality remains that many attendees may not feel comfortable attending large indoor and in-person events for some time. As the events industry has undergone a true digital transformation, the value of virtual meetings remains a valuable way for organisations to connect with audiences globally.
But it would be a mistake to view the hybrid event conversation solely through the lens of “have to.” More and more, hybrid events are becoming not only a solution but a logical choice for many organisations. Three trends help illustrate the growing business case for hybrid events as the new standard for event design.
What is a Hybrid Meeting?
First, we need to understand what we mean by "hybrid meeting." Hybrid meetings represent the best of both worlds for events professionals--but they do come with an inherent set of challenges. While all of your events have individual goals, an overarching goal for all hybrid events is to engage as many attendees as possible--virtual and in-person.
A hybrid event allows people to meet in person if they want that human connection experience. A hybrid meeting also allows those who otherwise would not have been able to attend due to health concerns or travel constraints, the flexibility to engage virtually. For planners and marketers, the challenge is to make the experience equally engaging 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.
Planners and Marketers Joined Together
First, planners and marketers built execution muscles around virtual events. Through experimentation, teams became more familiar with how to design and execute in a virtual environment. PCMA estimates that 76% of planners executed a virtual event in 2020.
This growing digitisation of events brought planning and marketing functions together in important new ways. Marketers, with their digital backgrounds, seeing renewed engagement potential in this new event channel, contributed the digital skills and a marketer's definition of excellence. Planners were able to bring their event planning and design expertise to the virtual realm, driving new ways to engage audiences. Both planners and marketers played an important role in not only attracting a virtual audience but keeping that audience engaged before, during, and after their events. The bottom line is that both parties worked together to optimise engagement through the design of a new experience.
Clear Benefits from Hosting Virtual Events
Second, we collectively started to see the benefits of virtual events. While the pandemic was at its peak with mandatory lockdowns and other restrictions, virtual events were the only way to engage our audiences – we had no other choice. But as the world has opened up and restrictions have eased, virtual events are still a success for all the same reasons.
Chief among these benefits is the undeniable reach advantage virtual can have over in-person events. It’s not unusual for virtual events to capture 6x – 8x the number of registrations compared to the equivalent in-person event. Additionally, many organisations were pleasantly surprised by attendance rates and engagement levels during virtual events. That is not to say that virtual engagement levels eclipsed those possible from an in-person event. They did not. But virtual did prove itself to be a reliable way to reach and engage a large, diverse audience in a relatively cost-effective manner. For attendees who will not or cannot travel, especially, virtual opened the door to previously unreachable events. For organisations, this means access to a brand new group of attendees.
Constantly Improving Virtual Event Technology
Much of the engagement of virtual events was made possible by the third trend: the tremendous improvement in virtual event technology. We’ve all read stories of how the pandemic compressed 10 years of technology innovation into 10 months, and that’s precisely what happened with virtual event platforms. As the pandemic wore on, planners, marketers, and attendees demanded more interactive, immersive experiences. Event tech providers responded by building virtual event experiences that delivered vastly improved content and networking experiences. For virtual attendees, the technology is the venue, and the venue got a lot more compelling.
Now that we've had time to pivot to virtual events and develop a firm understanding of what it takes to make these types of events a success, how can we capitalise on what we've learned and make virtual events even better? We're looking to hybrid events like our "next step" in creating more diverse, accessible, and effective events.
6 Key Elements of Hybrid Meetings
As organisations look to combine the reach of virtual with the unparalleled engagement of in-person, the stage will be set for hybrid events. What is a hybrid meeting? Hybrid meetings will take many forms as organisations find the model that works best for their attendees, budgets, and ROI and are an option for hybrid conferences and small hybrid meetings. But at their best, hybrid events serve the unique needs of both their in-person and virtual attendees, while giving both a sense of a shared experience and value.
While there is no single “right” design for hybrid events, there is a distinct set of building blocks that require special attention when you are dealing with in-person and virtual audiences. These key elements include:
- Marketing: Targeting different audiences with the right experience
- Venue: Partnering with your venue to deliver safe onsite experiences
- Content: Producing and delivering content for in-person and virtual audiences, including content that will reach both audiences
- Community: Delivering shared experiences
- Sponsors and Exhibitors: Leveraging hybrid’s scale for awareness and lead generation
- Data & Insights: Capturing and activating data across your in-person and virtual audiences
Hybrid Meetings: One Event, Two ExperiencesTM
One event—two experiences. This is the reality of hybrid events that’s facing industry professionals as we forge our way through 2022. So, mastering these foundational elements and finding the right hybrid meeting technology will help put you and your organisation in the best position to succeed. In the next post, we’ll introduce you to the first key element: marketing.
Interested in more resources to help you transition your events to hybrid? Check out our eBook, Hybrid Event Strategies for Dummies, where we discuss essential considerations when going hybrid, including:
- Crafting a hybrid event strategy
- Marketing two experiences for one hybrid event
- What it means to be a "hybrid-capable venue"
- Creating an agenda relevant and compelling for both audiences