Over the last two years, the workplace has fundamentally changed—and the events landscape has shifted in turn. Hybrid events—which meld in-person and virtual participation—are increasing in popularity and will soon dominate how events are held. In fact, a recent Kaltura survey showed that 90% of event organizers expect all events to be virtual or hybrid within two years.
Hybrid events have many advantages, which will remain the case even as the world increasingly opens for travel and business. With the option for remote attendance, you can easily reach a larger, more geographically dispersed audience. Hybrid events also allow people with busy schedules to attend and make it easier for you to book high-value guests. Additionally, hybrid events provide many opportunities to repurpose event content into other promotional collateral.
Ultimately, hybrid events give you both the energy, networking, and branding expected of an onsite event, while also providing the reach, convenience, data, and deeper learning that comes naturally with a virtual event. But because you are, in essence, planning for two events at once (i.e., an in-person and virtual component), organizing a hybrid event can get tricky.
Here are my tops tips you can leverage as you plan your hybrid events strategy.
Different Ways to Go Hybrid
Before we dive into the intricacies of planning a hybrid event, it’s important to define what we mean by “hybrid”.
There are several ways that you can make your next event hybrid:
- Host one event with separate simultaneous in-person and virtual audiences
- Hold a large in-person event with an on-demand version for virtual audiences
- Produce a virtual event with many localized in-person gatherings
- Hold an in-person event with virtual components, such as pre-event training, registration, agenda building, etc.
A number of factors can play into what type of hybrid event you want to produce, but one thing is certain: organizers and attendees both love the flexibility of the format.
The Key Components of a Hybrid Event
Planning hybrid events can be challenging, in part because it’s very much like organizing two events: one that is virtual and presented online and another that is face-to-face and presented in person.
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is crafting perfect customer journeys for both your onsite audience and your virtual attendees. You’ll also need to find creative, meaningful ways to bring them together—to merge your onsite audience and your virtual one, creating a cohesive experience.
There are four key components you’ll want to consider in your planning–and that we’ll cover here. They are:
- An event app
- Unique learning experiences
- Integrated interactivity
Centralize Hybrid Audiences with an Event App
Every hybrid event should have a digital app, and that app shouldn’t be an afterthought, but the centerpiece of your strategy. Think of the app as a hub that can bring everything and everyone together–whether they’re live on the event floor or attending from their home office several counties, countries, or continents away. Not only can a well-designed hybrid event app encapsulate the event experience, but it can ensure that all information, communication, and content is centralized for all of your attendees.
A well-designed hybrid event platform is useful long before an event even starts. By conducting registration for your virtual event through the app, everyone is channeled towards this common tool. From there, they can build their personal agendas, sign up for sessions, and even schedule meetings.
Because the event app will be the first interaction attendees will have with your event, it’s extremely important to spend time planning the app’s interface, features, and design. Be sure to keep in mind the different journeys virtual and onsite guests will have, and don’t forget that some attendees may mix and match experiences–being onsite for part of the event and attending virtually for the rest.
For example, after attendees build their personal agenda in the app, online attendees will be able to use the app to join a live session directly. Meanwhile, the onsite attendees should be able to use this same app to get directions to the location where the session is being held in person.
Kaltura Virtual Events is a fully customizable platform designed to support hybrid experiences at scale.
Curate Unique Learning Experiences
In addition to the shift in how people are attending events, the last 18 months have also shown us a shift in why people attend events. In the pre-pandemic world, event attendance was largely driven by location. While most people would not necessarily admit it, large in-person conferences have largely taken place in attractive, high-profile destination cities with a multitude of entertainment options–from Las Vegas to London to Singapore, and beyond. Yes, these event cities generally have facilities that are uniquely suited to large-scale events, but they also have tourist appeal that undeniably has helped drive registration in the past.
The pandemic, however, changed what motivated people to attend events that were now largely virtual. Learning and education quickly became a chief driver of event registration and attendance.
Even as the world has begun to open up again, this focus on learning is here to stay and needs to be thoroughly considered and planned for as you create your hybrid event. You want to make sure your onsite and online components are deeply entwined so that people can get similar experiences–and knowledge–no matter how they choose to attend your event. For this, you want to look to technology, and choose a vendor that either has capabilities to livestream your event to your virtual audience or that has a great partnership your event production company to livestream directly from their feed.
This is particularly important for keynote sessions, which are typically the biggest draw of any event for both onsite and remote audiences. Having a high-quality livestream is essential since you may have thousands–or tens of thousands–of people in your virtual audience.
Streaming smaller sessions, such as roundtables, fireside chats, and specialist Q&As will also be important. You may also consider having additional online-only slots in your agenda for these comparatively intimate sessions. This helps people get the content they need with specificity, and it helps ensure none of your attendees feel left out.
To add educational value for all your participants, consider adding accreditation options for attendees who participate in certain sessions. Additionally, on-demand learning paths before, during, or after the event can help deepen the experience and its value. Allowing content to remain available to participants long after the event is over is a way to increase the value of attendance and engender loyalty.
Focus on Networking
Networking is one of the most important aspects of every conference or marketing event, whether it’s in person or virtual. It is, however, also one of the most challenging aspects to execute well when it comes to hybrid events.
There are, however, several different ways to successfully approach the challenge. Asking yourself and your organization some key questions about what networking should look like is a great place to start.
- Should networking be spontaneous or planned? One option is to have people book meeting rooms (physical or virtual) for sidebar meetings planned in advance. Or, spaces (in-person or online) can be created that allow for spontaneous networking.
- How intertwined should networking be between onsite and virtual attendees? Creating in-person networking opportunities is relatively easy. So is creating virtual ones. But finding ways to make sure that networking options exist across attendance type can be a particular challenge–one that it’s definitely rewarding to solve.
Networking is another place where your event app can come in handy. By creating a function that allows attendees to search for one another by areas of interest, sessions attended, industry, company name, and more, you can help facilitate networking regardless of event attendance style.
Additionally, virtual chatrooms that allow attendees to interact with each other before, during, and after sessions can be another way to make sure virtual and in-person attendees are put on equal, interactive footing. Social media-style tools that allow you to add people to your event network in order to continue the conversation after a particular session ends can further facilitate spontaneous networking across attendance types.
Engage Audiences with Integrated Interactivity
Solving the networking “problem” is only one of the many ways that interactive features can help bring your hybrid event audiences together.
Features like real-time polling integrated into presentations, can help your audience make its voice heard, no matter where they are. Emoji reactions–especially for presentations with high attendance–can also serve this function. Interactive whiteboards and virtual breakout rooms can, meanwhile, be an essential component of smaller, more specialized presentations. Meanwhile, Q&A can be facilitated in a streamlined way through your event app for all attendance styles.
The more interactivity you build into your hybrid event, the more integrated your event will feel. Interactivity will make it easier to get in-person attendees to engage with your event app, which is essential to making sure that virtual and in-person attendees are able to organically connect throughout your event.
Hybrid Events are the Future
Hybrid events are here to stay. Rather than being a temporary outgrowth of the pandemic, they represent a new evolution in how we now engage with our customers, prospects, partners, and employees. And although they can present challenges, hybrid events will help companies reach larger, more engaged audiences going forward.
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