Hybrid events first emerged as a pandemic response but have now become a great opportunity for planners to offer a more immersive, dynamic experience for both in-person and remote attendees. Companies and organizations are using the hybrid model to expand their reach, build brand awareness, attract new sponsors and engage global audiences. Here, five event production and technology experts share their best tips for staging memorable hybrid experiences.
1. Merge the power of face-to-face events with the many advantages of virtual
Forget travel, budgetary or accessibility constraints; today, attendees worldwide can participate in hybrid events and feel connected to the action. Customized programming can be experienced on-site, livestreamed or viewed on-demand after the event date.
“Hybrid events break down geographic barriers; the organizations I've worked with that have gone to a hybrid event have found their attendance numbers explode,” says Karin Reed, co-author of Suddenly Hybrid and CEO of Speaker Dynamics in Raleigh, North Carolina.
2. Use the hybrid event format to introduce new program components
Being able to engage audiences in person or virtually is especially advantageous for global companies, adds Liesl Perez, vice president of corporate marketing at Hubilo.
“You get a higher level of inclusivity: By giving people more options, more people can engage with your content,” she explains.
There are no rules with hybrid events, so break free from convention, suggests Arianna Rehak, CEO of Matchbox Virtual Media in Montreal.
“In the past, aspects of the in-person [meeting or event] had to be a copy-and-paste into the virtual, which can be quite limiting. But we're now seeing a paradigm shift; there are so many ways you can take advantage of the virtual components,” says Rehak.
“There are opportunities to crowdsource knowledge from participating communities and we're seeing some really interesting examples across more of a series of events rather than one large one.”
For example, when the American Society of Association Executives held a hybrid technology conference in December, they ditched their in-person expo hall in favor of a purpose-driven virtual vendor showcase that brought their member communities together.
“They’d pick a product or service category, sell slots to their vendors and have a full day with six demos of the same technology product,” explains Rehak.
Introducing the virtual showcase on the first day gave organizers the advantage of marketing to their full member base for that day, rather than to the several hundred people attending in person, adds Rehak.
“They had many sponsor opportunities integrated into the event, so sponsors felt part of the community instead of just sitting in the corner in a booth. It was beyond successful; it was valuable for attendees making major buying decisions, and what was offered was high-value, direct lead generation for vendors. Now, they’re doing these monthly.”
3. Show sponsors the monetization
Speaking of sponsors, hybrid events have the potential to magnify your sponsor’s brand tenfold, says Meredith Shottes, chief experience officer at Miller Tanner Associates in New York City.
“There's a significantly stronger sell for sponsorship within the hybrid event than there was within the face to face. For example, with items in a swag bag, you didn't have any way to prove ROI for the sponsor,” says Shottes.
“But when using an event platform, there's actually data and metrics to prove out that the sponsor's dollars were spent well.”
In this model, planners can also build interactive content within their event platform to further improve ROI, adds Perez.
“It’s about being more creative: You can brand the entire experience and sell that, or sell space on the platform itself for banners,” says Perez.
4. Reimagine breakout sessions
With remote and in-person attendees branching off into different programming options, have strategies in place so everyone feels included, suggests Reed.
“Let people know how they can get into the conversation queue. Do you want people to raise their physical hands or their emoji hands? Do you want people to chat when they have something to say?”
Appoint someone on-site other than the meeting leader to help pull out participation, monitor the chat and ensure that everyone’s voices are heard.
“If you’re trying to create an interesting conversation, it can be too much of an additional burden to also be managing participation between the virtual and the in-person attendees,” adds Reed.
5. Leverage technology to foster connections among all attendees
Because attendees have become live event reporters, sharing insights gleaned from speakers and each other, having an event experience platform that unites face-to-face and virtual audiences is vital. Think about how people participate on digital platforms and make use of all available options, including polling or surveys to gather audience feedback, suggests Perez.
“One of the most entertaining parts about the Hubilo platform is that we use emojis and gifs that make sessions very engaging, so people comment. It's like a watch party: You're listening to the speaker, and it's bringing up other interesting threads and ideas,” she explains.
“We're inventing a new medium of distributing and consuming information. People love contests — we’ve had fun ‘Caption the Meme’ contests and leaderboards. There’s no limit to what you can do creatively to engage people.”
6. Think beyond the tech and focus on the big picture
“One mistake people sometimes make is streaming to the virtual audience when only the in-person audience can see the slides and the video — they’re not building a bridge through technology,” explains Valerie Bihet, director of the VIBE Agency in Miami.
“Why are we able to watch an hour-long television show but we’re bored during a Zoom meeting? Let’s take some tricks from the television industry to build that bridge for hybrid events.”
For example, your virtual audience needs to see not just a close-up of the speaker onstage, but also what’s going on in the room, so set up additional cameras, she suggests.
“If you stream and have multiple cameras, you can capture the emotion and special moments,” says Bihet.
7. Make the most of the flexibility, agility and longevity offered by the hybrid format
Virtual components add value add to the in-person and remote communities before, during and after your event, allowing planners to build on that buzz year round.
“The ability to watch sessions on demand or to tune in live creates an overall enhanced experience for attendees,” says Rehak.
That means your event can live on in perpetuity, depending on how participants engage with the content.
“Hybrid events are here to stay. They offer the most incredible opportunity for event creators and experienced designers to leverage a greatly expanded audience,” says Shottes.
“There’s nothing that can replicate a face-to-face experience," Shottes continues, "but there’s a depth of communication that can be built using online virtual platforms. And when you combine face-to-face experiences with virtual, you have an opportunity to expand conversations, communities and access."
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