Why Hybrid Will Be the New Normal for Events

Strategists Marco Giberti and Denzil Rankine share insights about the future of events.


On September 15, 2021, Northstar Meetings Group will host the 2021 MeetingsTech Roundtable (register for free here). A panel featuring event technology experts Marco Giberti, Dahlia El Gazzar and Hubilo's Cathy Song Novelli will discuss with Northstar Meetings Group executive editor Michael Shapiro lessons learned and the trends they see shaping the future of event tech. 

The following discussion about the future of hybrid-event strategy, a webinar that took place earlier this year with Marco Giberti and Denzil Rankine, serves as an important precursor to the upcoming roundtable. We thought it was the perfect time to revisit the conversation.

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Join us for a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion with some of the best-known thought leaders in the event technology space, and have your specific event tech questions answered, by registering now for the 2021 MeetingsTech Roundtable, taking place Sept. 15, 2021, at 2 p.m. ET. Click here to sign up.

Not only are hybrid events here to stay, they may become the only type of events that planners create. That was one of the points discussed during the webcast, "Why Hybrid Events Are Essential to Your 2021 Strategic Plan," in which a pair of industry experts shared their insights about what is next for events and how in-person and digital gatherings will only become further intertwined. The presenters, Marco Giberti, founder and CEO of Vesuvio Ventures, and Denzil Rankine, executive chair of AMR International, also discussed their new book, Reinventing Live: The Always-On Future of Events, which includes case studies featuring many organizations that have incorporated digital communications into their community-building efforts and event repertoire. The conversation was moderated by Northstar Meetings Group editor Michael Shapiro.

The presenters explained how they decided to collaborate on Reinventing Live just as Covid-19 was beginning to affect travel. While they expressed confidence that face-to-face events would return with strength, they also emphasized that the pandemic had spotlighted the fundamental need for planners to evolve their approach. A good first step, they suggested, would be to stop thinking of themselves as "event planners."

"You've got to think about what it is people are trying to achieve and what are all those tools that you can use," said Rankine, adding that with the recent embrace of digital tools out of necessity, planners have seen how they can deliver value to customers in ways beyond traditional meetings and conferences. "It's a difficult bit of retraining to do," he said, "rethinking the use of digital skills, and to think in a completely different way beyond the purely logistical."

He suggested that instead of "event planners," industry professionals should consider themselves "community catalysts" who can say "I am the pivotal point of this community and I am going to catalyze their interactions." Rankine added that thinking in these broader terms expands the planner's role to one of building connections, cultivating education, providing advocacy or whatever it is their "community" needs.

"The community catalyst is going to sit at the center and say, 'who are the people that need to be connected? Why and how am I going to connect them?'" said Rankine. "Maybe it is digital and then in-person then digital again, or maybe digital-only. Either way, it's a completely different mindset to saying, 'we had a meeting in San Diego last year, where is it this year?'"

When it comes to using technology to make those connections, Giberti described the conversations between event organizers and their technology partners too often show them to be "living in two different worlds," with planners feeling the tech companies don't understand their needs and the tech team viewing the planners as "old school."

"Now we've all had a crash course in Zoom," said Giberti. "Organizers are thinking, 'I need to engage technology as a way to survive.' Now the intersection between tech and live events is more relevant than ever because organizers are realizing that the business model is changing, and the revenue split is going to be changing."

Creating Value With Hybrid 

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The full on-demand recording of this Northstar Meetings Group webcast can be viewed here. Watch now!

When it comes to creating an event that can connect with both in-person and remote audiences, Giberti urged planners to ensure they do not treat the audience at home as "second-class citizens" or an afterthought to the in-person component. He gave the example of the product demos produced by Apple over the last year, in which they interacted with a global audience via a digital broadcast at the same time they interacted with developers in more direct meetings with different messages, but all part of the same event. He suggested planners take a similar approach of speaking to multiple audiences within the same gathering.

"There are companies telling their audience, 'you can buy the conference ticket and the year-long content solution and pay X amount'," added Giberti. "So instead of selling a conference ticket, you're buying an annual membership to a platform that will educate you during the whole year."

For sponsors, the planner can shift from charging a set amount for a trade show booth and signage opportunities and instead offer a package of digital opportunities throughout the year, in addition to exposure during a face-to-face gathering.

Think Beyond Technology 

Giberti pointed out that in the last 10 years, we've seen almost 5,000 event-tech startups and more than $5 billion invested into this sector.

"I don't think that technology is the problem — the knowledge is there," he said. "The challenge is the communication between the technology and the organizer and how the organizer builds a business model that is attractive to their community. Hybrid is 20 years old, but nobody really cared about it until now. Now we're paying attention."

The speakers expected the growth and adaption of digital tools to accelerate to the point that it will be a standard offering in any planner's toolkit. They urged planners not to get tripped up by flashy tech or confusing terminology and instead focus on the value they can offer clients.

They might also look for inspiration in the worlds of sports and music.

"If you see how the NFL or NBA are engaging digitally with the live experience inside the venues, there are very interesting technologies in that world that planners could take a look and apply to their specific events," said Giberti.

The bottom line is that whatever form the digital interaction takes, it will become a facet of the events people produce. "The future simply is hybrid," said Rankine. "There won't be a large proportion of important meetings and events which do not have a substantial digital extension. That word 'hybrid' will die; you are simply going to have 'events,' and a new way of working."

The full hour-long conversation can be viewed on demand here.