As the novel coronavirus spreads, meeting and event planners have been faced with tough decisions. Travel restrictions for international attendees, concerns about transmission among large crowds, and general anxiety amongst the public have made for a particularly stressful few weeks for event professionals.
Public health officials have stressed the importance of social distancing and postponing any activity that brings more than 50 people together, though many say this number is still too high.
That's why many organizers are choosing a hybrid meeting format that allows for small gatherings of local groups, broadcast to remote attendees or remote sites to allow for more attendees without the need for travel.
As you know, some events are better hosted in person, as there are components that simply don't lend themselves well to a virtual format. Others, meanwhile, are far more suitable for the Internet; far simpler and more effective to run through a streaming platform or online client.
At the beginning, as the Internet gained more prominence in the field of event management, there were a number of event planners who've come to realize that just about any event can be enriched by applying a virtual touch but it's suddenly become a vital option during the COVID-19 pandemic for any event planner all around the world.
What is hybrid event?
A hybrid event is a tradeshow, conference, unconference, seminar, workshop or other meeting that combines a "live" in-person event with a "virtual" online component.
In the past, with the growing popularity and cost-effectiveness of virtual events, hybrid events have become a popular way of increasing participation in traditional events at a relatively low cost. They also enabled participation by people who might be unable to attend physically due to travel or time zone constraints or through a wish to reduce the carbon footprint of the event. But, with the latest COVID-19 pandemic, hybrid events have become much more a serious option for event planners and attendees.
The biggest misconception of hybrid events is that they are simply events that are streamed live to an online audience – such as audiences on Facebook Live.
A true hybrid event utilizes technology to bring online audiences into an event experience – so online audiences and live participants experience the same event, as similarly as possible. At hybrid events, online viewers get to participate in the event in the same way that live attendee do. This means participating in Q&A sessions, interacting with speakers, and engaging with fellow attendees.
Generally, the virtual component of a hybrid event involves an online representation of the live event. For example, online participants might have access to:
- Live audio or video streaming of keynote speakers or workshops alongside their presentation material,
- Online presentations
- Hybrid Event Webcast with synchronized slides alongside the live and archived webcast video presentation creation of a live commentary or transcript of proceedings
- Online chat or discussion forum facilities
- Live blogs
- Event photographs
- Integration of other social media tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Event content can also be recorded and made available online to foster further discussions after the event has ended, build out a knowledge portal for event participants, and help market the next year's event by sharing highlights from the current year.
What are the advantages of hybrid events?
A. For Event Planners:
- Larger Attendance
Everybody knows that, hybrid events draw a larger crowd than a traditional event. But what makes it more interesting is, about 92% of mobile video consumers or live viewers share the videos with others after watching. So, not only do you have your physical attendees, then your virtual ones, and now possibly friends and/families who the video was shared with.
And because your event is now online, you can feature a wider variety of content from people and companies who are more relevant to the presentation topic and content by streaming their presentations as well.
It is much easier to secure talent for a hybrid event than for a traditional one because the presentations can be done easily from anywhere in the world and fits well into most schedules.
As a result, you end up with a larger audience, more able guest speakers and presenters, and possible engagement you never even planned for through social sharing.
- Connect to A Global Audience
No longer are you confined to a local audience or your few dedicated commuters.
Now, you can allow people from all over the world to join your event and even take part through an online bridge or platform.
Live streaming gives you the ability to not only allow virtual attendance, but include audience chat windows so these virtual watchers can communicate amongst each other. Speakers and presenters can even do an online Q & A for virtual participants, which can really increase brand interest.
Hybrid events have several key advantages over traditional events, with the biggest difference being the impressive reach that hybrid events provide. With hybrid events, event planners and audiences are no longer bound by physical or geographical limitations – anyone in the world could potentially participate in your event. This highlights another advantage of hybrid event –
cost-effectiveness. In terms of optimizing your return on investment (ROI), hybrid events bring exponentially more eyeballs, attention and prospective customers to your events.
There's no doubt about it: Organizing hybrid events can drastically cut your event costs. Because virtual parts of hybrid events help you save approximately 90% of the hosting budget associated with face-to-face meetings by eliminating logistics related to venues, travel, hotels, food & beverages, etc.
On the other hand, having guest-speakers might cost you quite lower than before, when they deliver their presentations online. Because, you will no longer pay for the flight tickets or accommodations of them. Besides, some notable keynotes, who wouldn't find a chance to attend your conference because of their tight schedule or their high rates you couldn't afford might accept to deliver an online presentation at a lower rate and this could also help you to increase your ROI.
This is the key reason as to why virtual events have taken off; Convenience! As previously mentioned, most people today have hectic schedules and are hesitant to take time out to travel to an event and then commute back.
It is much easier for them to attend with flexible online interactive options.
Doing so allows them to choose from where they wish to attend the event; at the actual event space, their office, their kitchen, in bed!
This option is also great for professionals with families and/or frequent travelers who wish to attend, but can't budge their schedule.
If you have considered hosting a hybrid event, you should take steps now to begin planning one and see how effective they truly are.
Today's professional landscape demands that companies and organizations incorporate digital aspects of connecting with a larger audience and spreading the word about the brand they represent.
- Less Space Requirements
If you have a heavy online participation, you won't need as much space at the actual physical location of the event.
There should be the option to attend in person, but most people would probably opt to attend from their office or home to avoid having to commute and take time out from busy schedules.
Less space requirements, means a smaller venue and lower expenses to cover.
- Utilizing Mass Data
The technology used to deliver online events has built-in capabilities that allow organizers to measure success in real-time. So, adding a virtual part in your in-person-event will also help you to collect a great deal of data such as; all kinds of clues into their buyer journey, what type of content they're viewing, which sales reps they're talking to, which attendees they're engaging with, and what resources they're downloading. All exhibitors can access this data, grow their e-mail lists, and nurture leads better than ever before and the best part for event planners is to be able to evaluate the event with more realistic data.
In short, online event tech allows for continuous improvement both during and after the event.
- Long-Term ROI Effects
Long-term ROI is difficult to measure right away.
Both physical and virtual events leave strong brand associations in the minds of the participants.
The difference is that virtual events are able to run longer, accumulate more leads, and reach more people. The big data acquired during the event also leads to a ton of revenue in sales as a result of lead nurturing. It depends on your company's goals, but the possibilities of increasing your ROI in the long run with virtual events are endless.
B. For Attendees:
- Safety for those who hesitate during the COVID-19 pandemic
Travel restrictions for international attendees, concerns about transmission among large crowds, and general anxiety amongst the public have made for a particularly stressful few weeks for event professionals. But providing an online access option to potential participants who fear to travel for events definitely relaxed many people. In this way, the online participants would be both able to follow the events and also stay safe at home. This option really helps event organizers to keep the number of attendees above a certain level and protect the expected ROI.
In the long run, as online participants stay connected with your event, they will feel more comfortable and probably start to find a courage to attend upcoming events.
- Hybrid events enrich the conference experience of attendees
The virtual event doesn't have to be limited to offsite attendees. Screens in other parts of the venue can be showing the session, too. This is ideal for networking events or open space meeting areas.
Providing an online version of an event also results in content that can be replayed another time. Attendees that had to miss a key session because they can't be everywhere at once can seek it out afterward, extending the impact of the conference experience.
- Hybrid events add more voices to the dialogue
A well-executed, hybrid event is much more than simply live streaming the speaker. It requires an online moderator or virtual emcee to engage with the online audience.
The virtual emcee can lead discussions on social media or the event platform during the event and interact with the audience when the speaker takes a break for the live audience.
There are several event technologies that provide instant feedback from both live and online audiences, allowing the speaker to acknowledge both groups and immediately incorporate the results to questions or instant polls into the presentation.
- Ability to re-watch and share presentations
In many events, attendees hardly find a chance to follow everything presented. With hybrid events you can give your audience the ability to share their social experience with others, after or during the actual event. Live streaming allows participants to view the video presentation later, and share it to their social media platforms if set up correctly.
Even though, it's widely believed that online events are weak for networking, probably just because attendees can't shake hands, it doesn't mean there isn't an opportunity to network. A
mobile event app, whether used on the phone or in a web browser, can connect attendees and provide a messaging system. Once attendees connect on the app, they can schedule one-on-one appointments with each other, exhibitors, or sponsors. If you consider providing dedicated networking time to encourage attendees to meet, use registration data, link attendees with similar interests and set up group chats and breakouts or facilitate networking through video calls, chat groups, and appointments participants can easily contact with each other and do the networking.
Can virtual meetings completely replace face-to-face meetings?
In theory, they could, but the fact is many people prefer personalized face-to-face interaction. As humans, we value that physical connection so face-to-face will always be a better choice for certain types of meetings. But there is a convenient in-between: face-to-face meetings paired with virtual meeting services or "Hybrid" meetings are the way the future!
Hybrid meetings allow for face-to-face attendance, but if that's not possible for either presenters or attendees then those individuals can be brought in virtually.
This type of scenario allows for unlimited flexibility. It supports and even increases message consistency for all in attendance.
There's no doubt that business travel and meetings will look very different when we come through the other side of Coronavirus crisis. Smart event organizers have already realized that budgets are tightening so they'd better offer compelling virtual participation options.
So, be prepared for the new normal.
Why haven't more companies embraced virtual meetings?
The biggest reason companies don't try virtual meetings is the fear of technology—even though technology drives our daily lives.
Companies also express concerns about operating the technology and getting all presenters in the same location. But the technology can be easily learned, and presenters (and attendees) can be scattered all over the world.
Lastly, there are concerns about limited interaction, but with virtual events, you can include a lot of interaction and engagement with the right tools. Presenters can provide polling questions during the presentation to assess messaging on the spot. Attendees can "raise a hand" to ask a question about the materials being presented. Written materials also can be downloaded and shared directly with all involved in the meeting.
How to Organize A Hybrid Event?
- Establish your hybrid event objectives and audience
Strategy is critical to hybrid success; therefore, you must clearly define your objectives and metrics up front. When creating your strategy, answer these questions to help you discover the best way to layout your hybrid event:
- Is your goal to cut costs?
Are you looking for a different channel to generate more revenue?
Are you trying to increase audience size?
Is increasing attendee engagement your main focus?
Knowing your target audience will help you to decide what elements to incorporate into your hybrid event to make it more successful. Focus on your audience's' familiarity with technology and how comfortable they are using webcasting and online event software. You may decide to conduct prospect and customer surveys during the event planning process to help you create an event experience that is technically appropriate and engages your audience. Understanding why people come to your physical events will help you understand why they would participate in a complementary virtual event and how much you should be charging for the virtual component.
- Build a hybrid event team
The content you include in the hybrid extension needs as much attention and effort as the physical event. When planning your hybrid event you still need to create content, book speakers, sell booth spaces as well as manage all the moving parts. Enlisting the appropriate people early on will help to ensure your hybrid event is a success. On your team you should have designers, and an experienced production team to help you bring the hybrid event to life. Allowing plenty of planning time will enable these teams to work together to make your event a success. As a side note, this team should be separate from the physical event so members aren't overwhelmed but they should be able to work with the physical event team for seamless integration.
- Partner with the right solution provider
With a solid team on your side you can begin to think about what solution provider would be the best fit for your organization. With many options to choose from it's important to ask the right questions when looking for a hybrid event partner: Do they have a track record for success producing hybrid events? Does the provider offer customizable solutions? Is there seamless integration between the physical and virtual event experience? Do they have experience working with companies who had similar initiatives?
- Define content
After determining your target audience build strong team, and have the right solution provider on your side you can begin to think about what content you want included in the hybrid extension. Using a virtual platform allows you the flexibility to include the entire event, a single day or only specific sessions. This allows you to craft the perfect virtual experience for the hybrid event. This is also the time when you can begin to think about the other elements of the hybrid extension like who will be included in the virtual exhibit hall, will you include interactive games with contests and prizes, networking lounges, or a resource center.
- Train for success
The quality of content delivery is a key factor in the success of your hybrid event. Speakers cannot show up the day of the event and expect to present compelling content. Leading up to the event it's important your speakers, moderators and engineers are properly trained to use all the virtual tools to create an interactive and engaging presentation. Walk through polling, Q&A, chat windows and different slide content types to give your presenters a framework on how to outline their content.
- Create an Integrated Event Experience
When hosting a Hybrid event, it's important not to market a physical and virtual event rather promote them as a single entity. By integrating the content and experience seamlessly either audience will experience the same event. You may even have attendees try out the physical event one day and attend virtually the next based on their availability.
- Review and Repurpose
After your hybrid event review the data captured with the virtual event technology. This information will give you great insights to how successful the hybrid was and also give you idea for future events. After the closing of the hybrid event you can host a rebroadcast of the virtual components for those unable to attend and to increase audience reach.
How to Boost Sponsor & Exhibitor Engagement at a Hybrid Event
Sponsors might initially be skeptical of the hybrid concept. Fortunately, today's event tech provides multiple options to creatively display sponsors. Just make sure to communicate those offerings, get buy-in, and confirm everyone is on the same page.
Look for tools where you can measure exactly how attendees engage with sponsored content. It's not only trackable, it's highly customizable. That means you can tailor sponsored content to each attendee, maximizing reach and boosting ROI and have the metrics to bring back to your sponsors and partners.
Use the following tricks to upgrade sponsor visibility through your event app.
- Invite Sponsors & Exhibitors to Upload Profiles
Your sponsors can add their company profile, link out to their websites, and attach documents. App features like these make it quick and easy for attendees to connect with sponsors and exhibitors—and vice versa—regardless if they're physically at your event. Some attendees might even prefer not having to meet face to face.
- Create Branded Splash Pages & Banner Ads
Roll out a sponsored splash page that launches every time an attendee logs in to the app, and place banner ads in a carousel that scrolls across the bottom of the screen.
Since the app is always with attendees, whether remote or at the event, they'll see your sponsors' messaging every time they launch the app. Talk about boosting impressions!
- Send Sponsored Push Notifications
Need to send a reminder about an upcoming session or let attendees know about a time change? Turn it into a sponsorship opportunity.
You can schedule push notifications in advance, or send them on the fly. You can also customize them, which will come in handy for messaging remote attendees. For example, you could send one notification to in-person attendees that invites them to visit a sponsor's booth, and another to remote attendees with a link to the sponsor's website. It's a great way to maximize ROI for your sponsors.
- Use Gamification to Connect Attendees & Sponsors
With an event app's gamification feature, you can design fun challenges that boost engagement with sponsors. Create multiple challenges, set the rules, and sit back and watch as attendees move up the leaderboard. For example, design a game where attendees earn points by visiting a sponsor's website, and use the app's leaderboard to showcase winners. That friendly competition stokes networking and social postings, too, and your sponsors will love the increased brand awareness.