Sophie Ahmed shares an overview of hybrid events, what they are and how to get started with designing one
After an intense period of digital transformation, the way audiences behave and choose to meet, organise and consume events has been altered forever. For events to be truly successful and sustainable going forward, much will depend upon the skills, knowledge and abilities of event organisers to deliver innovative, unified and inclusive hybrid programmes that educate, inspire and deliver meaningful and measurable ROI (return on investment) for all stakeholders.
What Is a Hybrid Event?
When we talk about a hybrid event, we mean a physical event with a virtual component that delivers an integrated and interactive experience for all audiences. One of the great benefits of hybrid events is that they offer delegates flexibility and a choice on how they want to attend. This reduces common barriers to entry, such as work or family commitments, travel time and cost.
For these reasons, hybrid is an ideal option for companies with a strong focus on diversity and inclusion or those that have embraced work-from-home policies and employ part-time or even freelance workers.
Another advantage is that the physical event may take place in one central location or multiple localised venues. Additionally, by keeping business travel to a minimum, it not only helps to reduce business expenditure but also aligns with corporate sustainability commitments.
A good starting point for organising a hybrid event is to define your objectives and your audience. Typical event goals may include generating sales leads, educating and rewarding staff or partners, or driving leads further down the marketing funnel. Hybrid events are a balancing act. The key is to create one event with two experiences – one for online attendees and another for those on-site at the physical event.
The different types of hybrid content could include roving reporter interviews, news desk panels or talk-show style interviews, sponsor demos or one-to-one testimonial videos. A roving reporter allows you to take the virtual audience on a tour of the event, with exclusive interviews with speakers, sponsors and attendees on the show floor. The talk show setup can be broadcast live or pre-recorded and then broadcast as if live. Testimonial interviews can be an engaging way to present relevant case studies to your audience.
To keep your audiences engaged, incorporate live polls and Q&A, keep content bite-sized and ensure it translates well over video. Make the content available on-demand to extend the life and reach of your event. When choosing a time for your event, be mindful of time zones. This is another reason to provide your content on-demand. Another option would be to offer the same session live multiple times so people can attend the live experience at a time that works for them.
Choosing a Platform
Before choosing a technology partner or platform, hone your vision for the event and consider what functionality your online audience really needs. Prioritise the ones that will deliver on your value propositions. Ask the provider to demonstrate how your values have been successfully executed on their platforms with previous clients. Depending on the nature of your event, you will most likely be looking for technology that offers a strong education and conference experience, with effective networking, sponsor and exhibitor functions, along with interactive features, such as gamification and quizzes, live chat and polls. Consider whether your audience would prefer a 2D or 3D virtual environment, too.
Don’t forget to ask about the platform’s ability to capture data and provide analytics – this is one of the major virtues of virtual events. Strong data insights will enable planners, and their companies, to better understand the needs, likes and behaviours of their audience to achieve greater ROI and ROO (return on objective) in the future.
Ultimately, there is so much to learn and explore about hybrid events. As the events sector moves into this next phase of its evolution, the organisations that thrive will be those that embrace hybrid now, upskill their event teams and adopt an audience-first mindset for their digital future.