September 04, 2020
By Mike Fletcher

As meetings and conference venues across Europe begin to welcome back physical events and planners continue to grow in confidence – having up-skilled themselves during the past few months in virtual event practices – the question of how to blend both in-person and online in an engaging events environment is moving swiftly up the agenda.

How did we get here?

Event planning post-it board

As countries locked down due to Covid-19, planners had to assess which events could move online, what technology was available and how objectives could be accomplished in the new virtual medium.

This process of taking one step back to take two steps forward was for many, a rewarding and eye-opening experience. It gave planners the time to question the original goals and KPIs of their activity and scale each event down to its original purpose – whether that be training, networking, knowledge-sharing or internal corporate communications.

These virtual events, which attempted to replicate the live version rarely succeeded. Expected content delivery and attendee behaviour are very different online and thus required adaptation.

But planners adapted and began to understand what virtual event technology capabilities were needed based on how complex their in-person events had been. They then started the process of unpicking the strands and reinventing the environment, based on the available budget.

Help and advice came from marketing departments, already used to running webinar programmes. They were able to offer tech stacks and marketing best practices to planners entering this new virtual world.

Planners could learn how to think like marketers in terms of goals and KPIs from the outset whilst measurement, such as viewing time, session attendance and conversion rates grew in importance as a result.

However now, conversations with venues have been rekindled, floor-plans with reduced capacities are being added to the planning mix and the wellbeing of delegates arriving onsite is being discussed in client meetings alongside how to engage those attendees who still wish to remain online.

Event planners are having to adapt again – this time for a hybrid world.

Event planning noticeboard

But this time, you’re prepared.

This time, you’ve double the skill-sets.

And this time, you can use all your virtual know-how to plan with a clear understanding of the goals and the organisational value the hybrid meeting, conference or event needs to deliver.

These are the keys to unlocking hybrid event plans.

Consider your audience

Audience social distance

In your virtual, more marketing orientated mindset, you will have no doubt captured lots of data about who attended your online events.

A look at this data will determine just how different your virtual audience was compared with previous in-person attendances. After all, without the commitment of a registration fee, a multi-day hotel stay and an air-fare, you may have been attracting a far broader audience than attended your in-person events.

Perhaps virtual attendees have been less familiar with you and your offerings. Perhaps they’ve been more senior in title, or conversely, more junior in title. However your audiences have changed, you will need to consider how the content and overall experience of a hybrid event needs to also change to reflect this broader appeal.

Keep in mind also how much easier it was to drive up registration numbers for your virtual events but how hard you had to work to get them to actually log-on and attend.

In the new hybrid world, automated registration, personalised communications, timely reminders and even day-of calls will need to strike a balance between instilling confidence in those who have decided to attend in-person and reassuring those who prefer to watch online that their overall event experience will in no way be diluted.

In order to guarantee this, you will need to go beyond simply webcasting or live streaming the keynote.

Create a digital twin

digital-twin-camera

Planners need to be able to hybridise both the virtual and the in-person so that they complement each other and provide a higher value experience.

One way to do this is to create a wholesale digital replica of different event elements, which can then be released alongside the physical event or dropped in to replace certain parts in times of need.

Features such as the physical welcome reception could be twinned with pre-event digital teasers or speaker welcome videos.

If there’s no valid reason why all the information due to be delivered by the keynote has to go out live, why not give delegates access to certain highlights online beforehand so that they can prepare questions or discuss outcomes in virtual chatrooms.

Consider how virtual audiences can be better engaged during those periods when there are coffee breaks taking place at the physical event.

Digital twinning should include gamification elements that reward online viewers for being more actively involved, or intelligent delegate profiling to allow virtual attendees to network or connect over LinkedIn.

Audience interaction

Audience interaction

When planning which elements of your physical event will be live-streamed, consider audience interaction.

Speakers on-stage will need to see questions coming through from virtual attendees. While speakers who are presenting to cameras from remote locations need to know there’s a physical audience engaged with what they’re saying.

If your virtual elements include multiple sessions or even multiple tracks to ensure they’re engaging disparate audiences, then make sure it’s a guided experience that will help them explore and find the content they want.

In these situations, a “home base” for your virtual event content gives your attendees a central place to explore and select sessions, find speakers, and create personalised agendas.

When attendees of both physical and digital events have all the information they need nicely organised in one central location, they are more likely to return and remain engaged.

Content and connections

Plan

When planning the full hybrid agenda, consider whether the time zone where the in-person event is taking place will impact on a more global virtual audience. If it does then you may need to add more recorded sessions or personalised virtual agendas so that the content is accessible to everyone.

After great content comes connection building.

The physical proximity of in-person events allows attendees to create their own community for the duration of the event.

How do you deliver those connections virtually?

At in-person events, networking often happens organically, based on who is sitting next to who and the introductions made on the trade show floor. Virtual events require a structured and strategic approach, with networking built into the agenda in advance in the form of breakouts, virtual appointments, and more.

The long-term benefits of hybridising events include the ability to scale the event faster and grow a virtual audience, develop a library of content, which can then be reused, plus attract more sponsorship and grow alternative revenue streams.

So when the time is right, a perfect blend of virtual and in-person event management is within reach. For more top tips and advice on achieving success with hybrid or virtual events, register for a one-hour online training seminar here.

Mike Fletcher

Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.
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