While we’ve gotten used to – and even good at – virtual events since the Coronavirus took the world by surprise a little over a year ago, there’s no doubt that events won’t stay virtual forever. As more and more people get vaccinated and travel bans are lifted, there’s just no reason why. But neither is there any reason to discard online events altogether, given their evident advantages and endless possibilities. The sensible thing to do, which is already taking shape, is to synergize the physical and the virtual into a new model of hybrid events.
73% of event planners believe that hybrid events are here to stay, and only 6% feel that they’re temporary. Nearly 60% of event marketers state that their marketing strategy for 2021 is likely to include a hybrid format. Finally, more than half of marketing and advertising executives agree that all live events will carry a virtual aspect in the future.
This detailed guide offers explanations, data, insights, and guidelines to help you unlock the full potential of hybrid events.
- What is a hybrid event?
- Hybrid event technology
- Hybrid event examples
- The benefits of hybrid events
- Planning a successful hybrid event
What is a hybrid event?
Let’s start with the basics. Physical events require attendants’ participation in person, and virtual events are exclusively online. Hybrid events bring the two together to offer both an online and offline experience. So, alongside an onsite gathering, the event will also combine core digital components. i.e., live streaming, on-demand content, and online networking and mingling. Event organizers now have access to innovative technology, and there are endless possibilities of what can be done when combined with classic event features and components.
But hybrid events aren’t just events that can be viewed on a cellphone or offer access to resources and information on the web. Neither are they virtual events with a small live audience. And they’re certainly not two separate events that happen to be organized by the same people around the same topic at the same time. A hybrid event is a single event offering an equally engaging experience, albeit sometimes different, for in-person and virtual attendees. Ideally, they also form a connection between the two types of attendees.
Imagine a business conference, a company all-hands, or even career days featuring a succession of keynotes and smaller group sessions and workshops. Regardless of where the attendee is in the world, they all have a way to make comments, ask questions, exchange ideas, and team up with others.
Exclusive events like runway shows and award ceremonies have been streamed live for years, giving those who didn’t make the list a chance to catch some of the action. With the help of hybrid event platforms, remote participants can enjoy an improved experience uniquely tailored for those watching from home, distinctive to what those in the front row get.
Hybrid Events Technology
Hybrid events are possible thanks to technology and innovation. Video technology sits at its core, making the virtual experience closer to real life and at the same time augmenting it with a multisensory journey. Almost everything else, including different communication tools and enhancements, is built on top of it.
It’s also highly versatile. A world of possibilities opens up when you use video. From carefully edited to haphazardly improvised, from recorded to live – you can do it all. Over 60% of hy
brid events include a keynote session that is recorded and webcasted. However, 58% of the virtual sessions rely heavily on interactive features that allow attendees to participate actively.
Hybrid event examples
In light of the pandemic, most organizers chose to play it safe this year and went for 100% online events, not hybrid. Still, even during 2020 and perhaps more so in 2021 thus far, some opted for the hybrid option, nonetheless adhering to health protocol and regulations.
While we’re sure to see many more of them very soon, here are a few examples of recent and impending hybrid events.
Marriott International’s Summit for Event Planners
The global hotel corporation seized the opportunity to host a hybrid event to the event planning community on the topic of hybrid events. This meta-hybrid event included onsite attendees and several hundred professionals participating remotely. It might not be the biggest hybrid event we’ve seen, but it carried quite an impact as global industry leaders joined in to witness a hybrid event firsthand and be part of the discourse around this upcoming trend.
In 2020, the Austin-based film festival was first canceled but shifted online thanks to Amazon last minute. In 2021 it will go hybrid. And while plans are still in the works, it’s already said to feature a mix of online and offline keynotes, screenings, networking sessions, live exhibitions, and more. Roland Swenson, SXSW’s CEO and co-founder went as far as saying that they “…are reshaping their perspective on how we connect.“
This gaming event, considered one of the world’s biggest, is shifting to a hybrid format in 2021. Gamers are traditionally early adopters of technology, and it’s exciting to see how that will manifest in the hybrid event. Lead tracking capabilities, special networking features, “matchmaking“ are only some of what’s already promised. The event will also include a “Gamescom now“ platform that will allow gamers from all around the world to connect, chat, and learn from one another.
Facebook’s town hall meetings
Well deserving of honorable mention are Facebook’s town hall meetings. Every week, Mark Zuckerberg hosts it in the company’s headquarters in California. Employees can choose to join in person if they’re nearby and available, listen in remotely, or catch up by watching the recording afterward. Because these meetings are live-streamed on Facebook, remote attendees are free to comment, like, and interact with their colleagues, making it an excellent example of a recurring hybrid event.
Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference
Last but not least: Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. Home to some of the tech giant’s most dramatic announcements, like their newest phone lineup, it’s always been somewhat of a pioneer in the conference world, challenging what these should look like. For years, Apple has been streaming the event live and offering its recording on its website to anyone interested. Nonetheless, the real treat was the in-person experience. For a hefty price tag, which you had to win the right to purchase, attendees got to try out new products, consult with the teams who designed them, ait developer forums, and much more.
Last year’s event was entirely online, of course, like all Apple events that year. Termed ‘Apple Special Events,‘ they were a feast to fans’ eyes, with production standards as you might expect from Apple. This year – and if not, then surely next one – other than what new products and innovation the folks at Cupertino have in store for us, it’ll be interesting to see how they imagine the future of hybrid events.
The benefits of hybrid events
Physical events are inherently social. They’re also costly, time-consuming for attendants, and very difficult to personalize. Online events are virtually unlimited in scope, possibilities, and the type of experience you can tailor but can feel a little lonely. In other words, either one comes with advantages and disadvantages. Whether something is a benefit or not is also a matter of individual guest preferences, the event’s goal and purpose, and current circumstances.
Merging both event types, hybrid ones offer a way around (almost) all of that.
1. Reach & Attendance
We wouldn’t be overplaying hybrid events if we said they cater to everyone without compromising anything. People who prefer the physical experience and willing to travel for it and those who favor participating from the comfort of their laptop: hybrid events guarantee that both get just what they’re after and make the most of their time. Barring unusual circumstances, and even in case of an unlikely situation such as a natural disaster or a global pandemic, anyone who would like to attend should be able to.
Consequently, hybrid events ensure a higher turnout. They’re also a great way to reach new audiences who might not attend otherwise. At the same time, those suffering from zoom fatigue might opt out if it were entirely virtual. For some, the virtual option is far less demanding since they can log in and out as they wish, freeing them to attend to other matters as needed. Besides, the hybrid model offers on-demand recordings post-event while still retaining a sense of the event experience, allowing us to interpret “attendance“ more broadly. Lastly, just like online-only events, there are some excellent ways to drive online registration and attendance for hybrid events.
How many of us shy away from raising our hands and speaking up in front of a crowd? How many friendly persons simply can’t transfer their charm and charisma with just a keyboard? We all have our social barriers and fears, which are not the same from one person to the next. Hybrid events keep the face-to-face option for those who wish and still give those who like their social interactions digital various tools to do so.
Further, these tools are designed to encourage even the shy to reach out and take part in the discussion. There’s also a solution for those wishing to remain anonymous or ask their questions in private. As proof of their merit, more than 60% of event organizers state that the combination of live and virtual sessions improved their event’s engagement rate. And virtual communication doesn’t just boost engagement rates; it also increases attendees’ satisfaction.
Online events let in a stream of new data into event organizing and marketing. That’s not to say organizers weren’t using data before them, but suddenly, there was an easy way to track who’s sitting in on what sessions and monitor viewership and engagement. And because online events emphasized engagement, organizers also thought up creative ways to induce interactions and answer some pressing questions through them. Hybrid events keep all these options open and add the option to cross-reference and match physical attendees’ data with online participants and vice-versa.
4. Sponsorship Opportunities
A direct outcome of more attendees and more session types is more freedom of choice for sponsors. They could, for example, go for a physical booth, an online one, or both. They can also choose to focus on the sides of the event most relevant to them. And with a lot more data available on attendees, you can also help sponsors center on their target audiences better.
A greater return on investment is purely the result of all of the above. Hybrid events offer greater reach and attendance without spending more on the venue and refreshments, meaning you can scale up at only a fraction of the cost. Better engagement helps drive leads down the marketing funnel. Having valuable data and business insights is worth its weight in gold, and the more sponsors, the bigger the revenue.
Sure, setting up your virtual platform requires an initial investment, but it’s straightforward to reproduce from that point on. While it should come as no surprise, it’s nonetheless staggering that 86% of B2B event organizers saw a positive ROI from their hybrid events, usually around seven months after the event.
Planning a Successful Hybrid Event
The sum total of planning for two different experiences, not to mentions all the mini experiences in between, is more work. That’s especially true right now as long as hybrid events are still new. So, in time, it should get easier. Until then, here are a few things to keep in mind besides your standard event to-do list.
- Embracing a new state of mind: We weren’t kidding when we said a hybrid event is more than just an event streamed online. Event planners have to rethink everything they know, let go of traditional assumptions and tread on new and somewhat unfamiliar territory.
- Consider any Possible Attendee Journey: We’ve mentioned this before too, but you do have to create a unique experience for online and in-person attendees, even if the plan is the same for both. In practical terms, you’ll have to examine every aspect of the event from the eyes of attendees, or you’ll risk ending up with predominantly online or offline participants, and possibly very few of both.
- Connect the Virtual and Physical: After planning a great event online and offline, it’s time to build bridges between the two. Networking is still a top goal for event-goers, and not only has that not changed in online events, but it was also a key challenge in their POC. It might even be more so for hybrid events since you have two distinct audiences on your hands. So, think long and hard about taking down barriers and letting participants connect freely with one another across channels. Pay close attention to ensuring your in-person attendees visit the virtual venue, too – before, during, and after the event. Don’t forget to make the people at home part of the discussion in the keynote.
- Create a data-driven plan: Once data starts flowing in, usually at registration, you’ll need to start collecting it, or it’s gone forever. This is equally important for the event’s physical and virtual aspects, especially if you’re hoping to interlink the two. Don’t just think of the data you can gather; think what data will help your business and get creative about getting it if needed: gated content, raffle forms, interactive questionnaires, and other surprises are only a few available options. When you have it, analyze it to learn about attendees’ behavior and improve their experience next time.
- Own the Marketing Funnel: When events went online, they turned planners into full-stack digital marketers. Thanks to data they produce, hybrid events, too, allow you to hyper-target, track, analyze and nurture leads. Bake your lead-generating plan as you lay out the initial schedule and make it a priority throughout the process. Begin before the event starts and reconnect afterward.
- Remember You’re Building a Community: Successful online events don’t end. They morph into an active community, and a lively knowledge hub that continues to offer updated, relevant content to members long after the formal event is over. In that sense, hybrid events are just the same, so if you’re craving that post-event feeling of relief, you should know that your work is never truly over with hybrid events. Here are a few tips on how to manage your community.
- Find the Right Platform: Studies find that 67% of event organizers rightfully rank technology as their top priority when planning an event. Make sure you’ve settled on a hybrid platform that’s reliable and robust, unlock the features suited for your needs, and investigate and test each one before the event.
- Hybrid events are growing in popularity and are likely here to stay regardless of Covid-19.
- They’re much more than a physical event shot on video or streamed online.
- They include dedicated agendas and interactions that stress each attendee’s experience, whether virtual or in-person.
- Video plays a critical role in them, clearing the way for a life-like experience boosted by more features and technologies.
- Hybrid events’ benefits include improved attendance and reach, better engagement, granular datasets, more options for sponsors, and increased ROI.
- Planning hybrid events starts with a shift in mindset, heavy planning for various experiences and journeys, a detailed data plan, taking note of lead-nurturing, building an active community (preferably), and picking the right technology.
Hybrid events challenge event marketers in the best way possible. They force us out of our comfort zone and into a creative space where anything is possible. Next time you try to decide between a physical event and a virtual one, remind yourself that there’s no reason to choose one or the other. Go hybrid instead.
Planning a Virtual Event? Kaltura is here to help!