With COVID-19 now very much a part of life, the concept of back to normal has been left in 2020, along with office working and all clothing that isn’t loungewear. This is especially true in the events industry, with virtual and hybrid events becoming the expectation, rather than the exception.
We’re looking to hybrid being the main event format for the foreseeable future, with 66.5% of event marketing professionals planning to use hybrid as their go-to event format once events resume (EventMB, 2020). With this approach though, comes additional demand on event marketers to get more attendees from a potentially global audience -making hybrid event marketing a more important skill than ever.
So, how do you pull off a hybrid event?Let’s take a look at the key details you need to know to make this format work for you.
- What is a hybrid event?
- Why should you host a hybrid event?
- What are some examples of great hybrid events?
- What types of hybrid events are there?
- What makes up a hybrid event team?
- What goes in a hybrid event budget?
- What kind of sponsorship opportunities exist for hybrid events?
- How can you drive hybrid event engagement?
First off, what is a hybrid event?
Hybrid events are a mix of live and in-person events. The two elements usually run concurrently, with attendees able to tune into presentations at the same time,regardless of their physical location.
Many have a catch up or on-demand option, too, so attendees can tune in hours or days after the event,to watch recordings at their own pace. Like Netflix, without all the“are you still watching” judgement.
A true hybrid event brings the in-person experience to the virtual audience. It’s not enough to simply livestream your speakers anymore. You have to involve your audience and give them something they can’t get just by watching YouTube. Otherwise, they’d just…watch YouTube.
Why should you host a hybrid event?
Hybrid events provide a way to leverage the benefits of both in-person and virtual events.
With coronavirus restrictions still impacting many areas of the world, it just doesn’t make sense for a lot of companies to resume fully in-person events. Rather than fighting it, instead pivot to a hybrid format to maximise attendee registration and attendance, while offering flexibility and security. In 2021, people like options - they’re reassuring.
Rather than looking to replace in-person events, event marketers and companies should consider what their audience needs most right now, and aim to cater to that. It’s not about hosting an in-person event with a virtual component, it’s a hybrid event with two distinct groups of attendees. Want to maximise your chance of success? Focus on how you can support both audience types best.
The costs of hybrid events can be higher than virtual or in-person events alone, but the benefits are bigger too - with increased reach, greater flexibility, better ROI and increased value for sponsors proving too good to pass up. They’re also less of a toll on the environment, with fewer people travelling thanks to the option to dial in remotely.
What are some examples of great hybrid events?
To run a great hybrid event, you’ve got to look to who does it best. You can’t go past Apple as the gold standard in hybrid events. True fans actually stay up late for this one if it’s not in their timezone. Dedication.
With a combination of clever press and fun teasers (see above), by the time the event rolls around, rumours are flying and anticipation is high. They’ve almost managed to gamify their product releases, resulting in more organic marketing than you can measure (an event marketer’s dream).
Slick, seamless, and smooth, they nail the engagement factor using a clear hashtag, easy ways for attendees to join in the chat, and passionate, inspiring speakers. With high attendance at every one of their events, and attendees actively engaging for weeks pre and post the event, it’s a brilliant example of how to run the perfect hybrid event.
We also love Ted Talks, Twitchcon, and Startup Grind - there are so many companies leading the way for hybrid innovation, it’s not hard to find inspiration.
There’s a lot to learn from these events, but the biggest takeaway is in the way they capture and hold the attention of a virtual audience. The message here is pretty clear: take care of your virtual attendees.
For what it’s worth, most events can be run in a hybrid format, but ones that work especially well include trade shows, conferences, town halls and annual general meetings.
What types of hybrid events are there?
There are 3 types of hybrid events, all meeting slightly different needs:
Single site - one live venue, which is then broadcast to an online audience for wider reach. You need to factor in audience engagement as a priority here, because there can be a tendency to neglect the virtual audience. Aside from that, this format is the bread and butter of the hybrid events industry.
Network - two or more concurrent in-person events, which connect virtually at a single touchpoint. The hackathon Junction was a great example of this format, with multiple physical events happening simultaneously, all connected via the Junction central event hub.
“A hackathon like no other, gathering people all over the world to simultaneously hack in both physical locations and online”.
Hub and Spoke - combination of single site and network, with one main in-person event (the hub) connecting and broadcasting out to smaller in-person events (spokes). Maintaining the intimacy of a small event, while getting the reach of a large event is what matters here - this model caters to both.
Regardless of your event type, your event hosting platform will be a critical component to the success of your event. Start with your event goals, and work backwards from there, to make sure you choose the right platform for your needs.
What makes up a hybrid event team?
The virtual and in-person components of an event have very different needs, so they need dedicated support on each side to make sure everything runs smoothly.
On the virtual side, the team is mostly dedicated to support and tech (platform guidance, speaker introductions, waiting rooms, content moderation), with the in-person team split between tech and logistics (audio and video, recording and streaming, hosts, co-ordinators).
The exact makeup of your team will vary, but here are some team members you might want to consider:
• Event/executive producer - to oversee and formulate the experience of the entire event
• Technical producers - to handle the tech side of things for each audience
• Event technologists - to help you choose the right tech stack for your event
• Audiovisual support - camera and sound operators
• Moderators - you’ll want someone to keep things moving at a good pace, both in-person and in your event platform
Make sure your in-person team includes a co-ordinator dedicated to virtual attendees - they can help with specific virtual experiences, and facilitate networking between attendees.
What goes in a hybrid event budget?
There will be three categories - general, virtual, and in-person, so it’s a good idea to separate and track them individually, to help stay within budget and plan for future events. Depending on the size of the event, here’s a rough guide to the types of expenses you might need to manage:
Safety equipment (COVID-19 measures)
Marketing and promotion
To gauge your in-person budget needs, it’s a good idea to survey your potential attendees to find out how many people want to attend. Once you know rough numbers, you can plan accordingly.
What kind of sponsorship opportunities exist for hybrid events?
The good news? Hybrid events are a sponsor’s dream, with more opportunities for visibility and reach than in any other event format.
To give you a few ideas, you can offer sponsorship of:
• Venue branding and signage
• Merchandise and other collateral like notepads, lanyards, and pens
• Flyers and goodie bags
• Email newsletters and push notifications
• In-session ads
• Event hosting platform branding
• Stages and Networking sessions
How can you drive hybrid event engagement?
Audience experience is where it’s at according to a 2020 report by Amex, revealing that 54% of event planners are now spending most of their time on attendee experience instead of logistics. It makes sense, considering the fact that connecting the in-person and virtual audiences is the biggest challenge for over 71% of event organisers (Source: Markletic).
Your tech plays a big part in overcoming this barrier, so it’s worth investing into a platform that makes audience engagement a priority.
Some general tips for driving engagement:
• Event apps can help bridge the gap between the in-person and virtual attendee list, providing opportunities for engagement and interaction that feel the same, no matter where you are
• Make it fun! Quizzes, contests, and other games help engage otherwise idle attendees
• Involve virtual attendees in smaller live panels or roundtable discussions, and host virtual-only sessions
• Dedicate a text based platform (either on your event platform, or via a third party like Slack, Twitter, or Discord) for real-time chat, polls, and other communication
• Maintain a single source of information (platform or event website) for all attendees, to keep communication in one place.
• Show in-person attendees how to involve and interact with virtual attendees. They won’t automatically know, so they might need that little extra helping hand.
• Create virtual-only exclusive content, to encourage further interaction with the platform
• Send out surveys before, during, and after your event - they can help you figure out what your attendees need, what’s working, and what isn’t
It’s worth noting: a large portion of your virtual attendees will probably tune in on-demand rather than live, so it’s good to think about how you can engage this audience as well - post event surveys, social media hashtags, etc are all ways to encourage discussion and get useful feedback.
Hot tip: put a limit on the availability of your on-demand content, to make sure people actually watch it. Limited availability drives excitement and action.
Finally, take some time to set the scene for your virtual audience. Encourage them to set up their space, so they have a greater likelihood of staying engaged throughout the session. Telling them to grab a drink and make sure they have a quiet place where they can sit comfortably for the duration of the session can make a huge difference to whether they stay - or split.
Oh, and one last thing
Make an action plan for what to do if things go wrong. Thank us later.
There is no one perfect way to run a hybrid event, but if you focus on delivering an outstanding experience to both of your attendee types, you’re on the right track. Just make sure you take notes, learn from each event, and keep improving.