As meeting face to face became more challenging throughout the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, the events industry looked to technology to find a solution that would allow them to bring groups of people together.
The solution was brought out of a need from companies to share important information to stakeholders within, and outside of, their businesses. Varying degrees of restriction meant that delegations were split between those that wanted to meet up in person, those that didn’t, and those that wouldn’t. These three ‘options’ led to a clearer understanding of how meetings were to reach an increasingly disparate audience.
‘Hybrid’ was a phrase already much used within the events industry; already having previous incarnations of ‘out of the room’ audiences, and virtual events. What hybrid represented however was the need for the content of the meeting to hit the delegate be they there in person or not.
Equally, forward thinking event organisers have looked to use this natural agility, being built into these meetings, as a way of bridging the gap between physical and virtual audiences.
However, there still remains some confusion about this, now critical, part of the events industry. Therefore, in this guide we wanted to take a deeper dive into hybrid events, how they’re suitable for meetings, conferences and other events; their benefits, and how to create a hybrid experience of your own. With our help of course.
What are Hybrid Events?
Hybrid events are just what you’d expect, a ‘hybrid’ between physical and virtual events. A mixture of physical attendees in a venue, and virtual attendees elsewhere.
Combining a ‘live’ in-person event with a virtual component creates so much more opportunity for the future of events. Incorporating a virtual aspect into your event enables it to reach a much wider audience of both physical and virtual attendees, and to connect the content of the meeting with people who would previously have had no way of being there.
For brands and event businesses, this opportunity to magnify their event’s reach by the hundreds, thousands or even millions has been a tantalizing prospect for some time.
However, pre pandemic, the evolution of these events has been slow, why? One key word has eluded the digital audience; engagement. How can the event offer the same level of immersion and engagement through a screen as it does in a live experience?
Hybrid events are NOT simply streaming a live event, there needs to be an aspect of engagement - through the right technology a hybrid event enables both audiences to interact and share the experience together.
Hybrid Events vs. Virtual Events vs. Physical Events
Sometimes hybrid events get confused with virtual events, which is understandable. Both have an element of virtual. However, whereas one is solely virtual and acts almost as a broadcast medium, the other combines both live and virtual, and looks to merge the two together to increase engagement for everyone.
If you’re considering planning an online aspect into your event, but are struggling to choose in what capacity, ask yourself the following questions.
Who is your Audience?
There is a theory in the event industry that there is a large part of society that just doesn't like events. They aren’t face-to-face people and, no matter how great the experience you put on, they just don’t want to be there.
Regardless, it's worth getting an idea of who your audience are and what their appetite is for attending an event live? The same works on the contrary, there are technophobes out there and for many, the idea of ‘living’ an experience is the only way to go.
How Big is your Universe?
The moment you decide to run an event with a digital or virtual component you have just lifted the lid on the potential universe of the audience. That means that so long as they will find your content interesting and relevant, they are a potential attendee.
That means you need to start thinking about finding them and engaging them. Suddenly, things like translation and regional variations will begin to dictate how you organise.
Where are Attendees?
Event organisers that really believe in what they are saying often see it as their responsibility to meet the delegate halfway, to help them find the content. And to get it to them where they are, be it the other side of the world, in an office or a home. The solution? Hybrid events.
Types of Hybrid Events
Hybrid events usually fall into two categories; internal hybrid events and external hybrid events.
So what exactly are internal and external hybrid events?
Internal Hybrid Events
Depending on the size of the company it can be quite difficult to squeeze every member of staff into a single meeting room or conference room. However, with hybrid technology you can have a mixture of physical and virtual attendees with no difference to quality and engagement.
Examples of internal events would be:
- Team building
- Company conferences
- Larger internal meetings
- Award ceremonies
External Hybrid Events
While internal events are restricted to internal stakeholders, external events are open to the public (or a designated list). These events require more marketing when it comes to planning in order to promote the event successfully (online).
Helping to generate the right attention for your event; attracting customers, prospects etc. There are many reasons why you would want to organise an external event, whether to drive leads, increase custom loyalty, build relationships, increase sales; or maybe, just to just get your name and products out there.
Hybrid events can be the perfect means to do so with flexibility and engagement at the forefront. Examples of external events would be:
- Seminars / Half-day event
- Trade shows / Exhibitions
- Workshops / Classes
The Benefits of Hybrid Events
In fact, research by Explori around the events industry and professional’s thoughts shows that the larger the company the more likely it is to prioritise delivering some iteration of a hybrid event.
“69% for larger events businesses down to 28% for smaller companies.”
With businesses all over the world utilising hybrid technology, why shouldn’t you? Let’s explore the main benefits of a hybrid event and why they’re worth the extra investment.
Engagement is almost always the number one goal of any event, regardless of industry, event type etc. If your attendees are interacting, whether internal or external that’s all you can ask for.
Feedback, questions, interaction with other attendees, social shares, publicity, are all great types of engagement. Giving your audience the opportunity to attend the event in real time, or catch up through recording, increases your reach and thus engagement.
Putting your event online enables attendees to interact with your content long after the event has been and gone.
And with “86% of B2B organizations see a positive ROI of their hybrid events 7 months after the event date” hybrid events are proven to drive significant value across organisations. Networking, attendee satisfaction, lead generation… the list goes on.
2. Increased ReachOpening up your event to both physical and virtual attendees opens the reach of your event, considerably. It’s much less effort to attend an event virtually (given the chance) than it is to physically attend. According to Wild Apricot, “52% of organizations reported seeing the same or more attendance than they’d expect at an in-person event”. And with a range of online channels to advertise; email, social media, SEO, paid advertising, getting your event in the eyes of your target audience has never been easier.
3. Environmental Impact & Savings
Hybrid events offer complete flexibility. Attend in person, attend virtually, attend three weeks after the event. In fact, “43% of virtual event registrants attend live, while 13% attend on demand” according to Intrado.
Organising an event in 2021 with no digital fall-back just simply isn’t an option. Made more prominent with Covid-19, natural disasters are unpredictable and cannot be prevented. Introducing a virtual option enables sign-ups to attend whether they can physically attend, or just simply join online.
Digital is not looking to completely replace traditional events, but add a layer of insurance, increase the reach and drive more engagement.
5. Data, Data, Data
While data from live events is readily available in the form of head counts and contact information - that’s pretty much it. Of course you can ask your audience to fill out questionnaires, read the room etc. but that isn’t always possible and leaves you with gaps in your data.
Hybrid events or virtual events, help to fill in those gaps using insight you can action. You can find out exact numbers on attendees, insight into their interests, drop-offs etc. This is only facilitated further by additional engagement means such as Q&As, live polls and so much more.
Tips to Hold a Successful Hybrid Event
Sure, hybrid events take more planning and consideration, but the benefits far outweigh the initial investment. With our help, if you follow these five simple steps your hybrid event is sure to be a success.
Dedicated live streaming, virtual breakout rooms, internet connection, all need to be right. Have you considered a back-up internet connection? An alternative live streaming or video conferencing solution?
Technology just isn’t something you can afford to get wrong, so let’s make sure it’s right.
2. Don’t Broadcast, Engage
Digital audiences didn’t sign up to the event to watch a screen, they wanted to join the event and be as much a part of it as the live audience. Therefore make their experience curated for them, and allow them to engage with the attendees, speakers and content that is taking place in the room.
The difference between broadcasting and engagement is that one is just a stream of content being projected onto someone's screen, and shows a laziness towards the attendee. The second marks a real effort by the event to meet the virtual audience and invite them into the room.
Whether your event is internal or external, having a purpose is the first step in planning. Are you trying to educate your audience and build trust or convince them to invest in a certain product/service.
Deciding the purpose of the event early in is essential in crafting a successful hybrid event.
An event for five people is massively different from that of an event for 5,000. A smaller event can most likely be satisfied with one venue, while a larger event may need multiple venues and means to connect them.
Create an event that caters to the size of audience you are expecting. A smaller audience could take a more personalised approach while a larger one will require a different strategy entirely.
Make your engagement as engaging as possible; live Q&As, live polls, video conferencing. Put some thought into how to make your event stand out, and help your audience interact and give the proper feedback.
On the same note, make sure your event is of a ‘digestible’ length.
6. Session Duration
An event can be great until it drags on just a little bit too long. Similarly, an event that ends too early just at its peak can be just as disappointing. Finding the right balance is integral to engaging both your virtual and physical audience.
As a general rule, virtual events should be no longer than 3-4 hours. Attendees just won’t sit through an eight hour day as they would at a physical event.
Being virtual, if your content isn’t engaging your audience is much likely to lose interest. Keep your sessions to 15-20 minutes long, with regular breaks. Split your event up into separate days if needed. Making your content on demand means attendees can revisit certain areas they have a particular interest in.
Of course this isn’t a cut and paste rule for every event, each event is different. But considering that time is an important factor for events, it pays off to put some thought into it.
7. Create Something Special for the Virtual Audience
Remember, it's easier to close a screen than walk out of a building.
8. Think Sport
But also think about the value that the online experience gets watching it on the screen. The replays, behind the scenes views, expert commentary, additional information and insight.
It doesn’t mean that the screen audience doesn't want to be there, but they still get a great, curated experience. Equally, the live audience will often watch the event afterwards to get the added insight that they missed while they were in the moment.
This is the essence of great hybrid events. The two audiences complement each other.
Looking to Organise a Hybrid Event? Look No Further.
Organising a hybrid event takes forethought, planning and technology. Make Venues is an award-winning venue group across Westminster, Leamington Spa and Bristol, and has invested time, research and money into building venues with hybrid capacity as standard.
If you’d like to find out more about our hybrid events, click here.
Alternatively, you can contact our team today on 0808 168 5876, or get in touch via our enquiry form for more information.