To say that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the events industry would be something of an understatement, but thankfully gloomy predictions about the end of live, large-scale events seem to be unfounded. Instead, event professionals have had to do what they do best - adapt. The industry as a whole has been forced to rethink its strategy when it comes to planning events, leading to the popular rise of the ‘hybrid event’.
“What is a hybrid event?” we hear you ask. Well put simply, it is an event which takes place partially live and partially online. Of course, there is no replacing the networking opportunities and relationship building that comes with face-to-face interaction, but it is also true that well designed and executed virtual events can still be engaging and successful.
Events professionals need to be sensitive to the fact that people now have more health and safety concerns than before and that some people feel less comfortable attending live events with masses of people. Despite this, there are still plenty of people who prefer live, in-person interaction. The good news is that you can accommodate both types of people by hosting a hybrid event.
This way of hosting events allows you to reach a far larger audience (including international guests if relevant), as well as accommodate concerns about travelling and potential exposure to Covid. Planning a hybrid event brings its own challenges too though, including how to ensure virtual attendees are just as engaged as their in-person counterparts.
To help you make sure that your next (and possibly first ever) hybrid event is a success, we have put together an essential list of tips and tricks to help you out. Check out our helpful FAQs and extensive guide to planning a hybrid event below and settle into the future of event planning.
What is a hybrid event?
In simple terms, a hybrid event is one in which live and virtual audiences are combined. A hybrid event will always contain a virtual element, which allows attendees to engage with the content from wherever they are in the world.
What are the benefits of a hybrid event?
Besides the obvious health and safety motivations of post-pandemic events, there are many reasons why hosting a hybrid event might make more sense. Benefits of hybrid events include…
Increased reach: allowing people to attend virtually means you are likely to have a larger audience
Higher engagement: although guests joining virtually might have more distractions (especially if they are at home), there are also more opportunities to make your content engaging and dynamic when it comes to the virtual elements of your event
Reduced travel costs: both guests and event planners will need to worry less about travel costs, leaving more budget to be put towards making your event memorable
Reduced environmental impact: movings events online (at least partially) will cut down on emissions caused by travelling and food miles
Valuable data and metrics: it is far easier to track performance metrics for an online audience than an in-person one
Tips for planning a hybrid event
1.) Find a hybrid-friendly event venue
Every event planner knows that choosing the right venue is crucial to the success of any event. When it comes to hybrid events, the most important thing you need to think about when choosing a venue is whether it has a secure and fast internet connection. Hybrid events require more connectivity than your standard in-person event and you will also need to have access to high-quality sound and audiovisual equipment to accommodate the likes of live streaming or video conferencing. Finally, you need to make sure the venue is hot on cyber security, to limit the risk of hacking or any guest data being compromised.
2.) Make use of virtual event software
In order to pull off a successful hybrid event, you will need to invest in the right virtual event software. When sourcing event software that’s right for you, your top priority should be finding a programme that has high connectivity and is user-friendly. Other considerations could include whether the software is able to offer user engagement metrics for post-event analysis and whether it has the functionality to create dynamic interactions between in-person and virtual guests, including but not limited to virtual chat rooms for networking, both public and private chat capabilities and user polls.
Investing in effective virtual event software can be costly and time-consuming, but it is important to remember that you want your virtual guests to feel as valued as your in-person ones, so the extra investment is worth it.
3.) Communicate with attendees
Whether you are hosting an event in a physical venue or from behind a computer screen, communication with your guests is key. Remember that virtual attendees may require special attention, particularly if this is their first time attending a hybrid event. To help them be better prepared, clearly communicate what the day will look like in your emails leading up to the event and flag anything attendees will need to have (e.g. access to a webcam). You can also create a dedicated FAQs page on the event website, which addresses any likely concerns or anxieties for those attending their first hybrid event.
4.) Make sure that your content is engaging
When it comes to hosting a hybrid event, you need to make sure that your content is high-quality, engaging and dynamic. The reason for this is that you need to keep your digital guests fully engaged, as they are more likely to be distracted when they are not physically at the venue. One way to ensure you keep their attention is to make sure that your content is dynamic and interactive. For example, if hosting a talk that you have an in-person audience for, but are also streaming to a digital audience, you can encourage virtual guests to ask questions via a live chat function, rather than only taking questions from the floor.
5.) Think about international virtual guests
One of the major benefits of hybrid events is that it is far easier to accommodate international guests, without needing to worry about flights, hotels or the impact on the environment. However, the downside of this is that it can be difficult to fit your content around the virtual attendees' various time zones. There are a few ways to ensure that international virtual guests are accommodated for and still feel valued - these include hosting the same live talk a few times throughout the day so people can attend at a time that works for them, or by pre-recording workshops and keynote speeches so that guests can access them on demand.
6.) Keep things short and sweet
It will come as no surprise to experienced event professionals that it is much harder to keep virtual attendees engaged while in front of a computer screen. With this in mind, remember to keep your sessions to a digestible length - nobody wants to sit through a three hour keynote speech and if you allow sessions to go on too long, the likelihood is that virtual attendees will leave their posts to make themselves a cup of tea.
7.) Don’t underestimate personal touches
It can be easy for virtual attendees to feel like they have been shortchanged, especially if on-site attendees benefit from goodie bags, catered lunches or other perks. One way to combat this is to offer a shared experience for both sets of audiences, which will allow guests to experience something together and make them feel valued. If your budget allows, try sending something to the homes or offices of the virtual attendees to make them feel extra special - this could be anything from a goody bag to a pre-prepared meal, so that they can enjoy the same food as those attending in person.
8.) Practise makes perfect
A ‘dress rehearsal’ of any event is always a good idea, but this is particularly true for hybrid events, when you will be relying more heavily on technology. It is crucial that you regularly test equipment in the lead up to the event and be sure to let speakers practise the art of speaking to two different audiences at the same time. By practising your event and addressing any initial errors, you will be able to make sure that the actual day goes off without a hitch...or glitch, for that matter.
Much like hybrid events, sustainability is an industry trend that’s here to stay. Check out our fool-proof guide to planning sustainable events.