Hybrid Events – What are they, when should you plan one, and what are some common mistakes to avoid?
Maybe before clicking on this article you thought hybrid events was just a name for an event that gets to park in the fancy Electric vehicle spots at Whole Foods. (It’s ok, we won’t tell anyone.) Or maybe you know what they are, but your team is considering offering an online portion of your next event and you don’t know where to begin? You may be wondering why they are gaining so much traction in recent years? It’s also possible that you believe in the power of hybrid events, but you are looking for some additional ideas that will convince your boss to take the plunge on your next event. If any of these resonate with you, then keep reading for a quick overview of considerations and best practices when planning to use this type of meeting format for a future event.
So, what is a hybrid event? (It’s not an event that runs off a battery for the first 150 miles before switching over to fuel consumption ;-).) This term is simply referring to any conference, meeting or seminar that has both a physical “in-person” format and a “virtual” online component for remote attendees. These types of events have certainly gained traction in the last 5-10 years, and now you know the name for them.
First, lets go over a few pros.
What we believe to be the most obvious pro here is increased attendance. Making your event accessible online enables people to “attend” your event who might otherwise be unable to come due to travel, cost, time, or even venue size constraints. In some cases, up to 50% of virtual attendees have never attended the physical version of the conference. Hosting an online portion helps you target dormant employees, members or customers of your organization.
The next pro — providing a live stream of your event can raise attendee numbers for future events…. some might be surprised by this as this has been a big point of contention and industry debate the last several years… One of the main reasons we hear people say they are concerned about holding a hybrid event is that it will ultimately decrease live event attendance. However, studies done by one of the leading online content delivery experts, Digitell as well as PCMA show that roughly 30% of people who attended a live streamed event attended the physical event the following year. High conversion rates from virtual attendees into actual loyal delegates at future events can be your new normal if your live stream is managed well.
Another pro is harnessing the power of reusable content…. Recording the live stream of your event allows this content to remain available far beyond the initial meeting, enabling an even larger audience to consume your messaging than ever before. The power of this wider reach and deeper saturation of your event message is a huge pro in our book. After all, at Apple Box, we believe the magic formula is: strategic ideas in action + engaged audience = real organizational impact. Maximizing the number of people engaging with your event messaging by reusing captured content is a no-brainer in most cases.
Depending on the type of event you are holding, whether it’s B2C or internal, will be a big consideration for this next pro, but virtual, live stream, and recorded content libraries of an event can have extreme monetization values that should be considered as well.
Just one example of this would be to live-stream each break out for virtual attendees but also use this captured content as an upgradeable conference package. Any attendees that want to participate in multiple break out sessions, can now access this various content in their own time post-event. On-demand conference content is a huge pro.
By having some of your attendees be able to skip the travel, this will directly effect the overall emissions and environmental impact of your event, not to mention cut down on the actual event waste created by being on-site. Sustainability initiatives, and green events are the #1 emerging trend for 2020 events. This reason alone could easily sway your boss into changing over to a hybrid meeting format – just mention you want the event to align with your organizations CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives, and that will certainly help you hold their attention!
Ok, so let’s also go over a few of the cons.
You can easily end up in a contract with a venue or service provider that is unable to deliver on your hybrid event technology needs. It’s extremely important to have your hybrid event strategy concept fully realized before sourcing your technology and connectivity partners or else you may find yourself in a venue or contract unable to fulfill your needs and deliver on your hybrid vision.
Another con – the full experience for your remote attendees relies completely on your technology provider or team. There are so many things to consider when preparing for a live stream, that a well rounded strategic partner is mandatory. A sub-par online experience filled with latency and connection issues, or even just poor camera work, can cause irreparable harm on future attendance.
There are certainly some best practices that will help you be well equipped when planning a hybrid event whether its your first or hundredth meeting with this format.
Beginning with the end in mind significantly increases the success of a hybrid meeting. Organizations that proactively add hybrid elements early on in their strategic planning generate stronger outcomes than those that add hybrid components later on as an after-thought. They see hybrid elements as a way to overcome existing live event challenges.
Unlike attendees in the room that can pass the time networking or connecting with a colleague, your online viewer may be logging on to specifically catch a certain presentation, speaker or snippet of relevant information at a particular time and even minor drifts in your schedule will cause people to simply move on to something else.
Be prepared, rehearse and have a strong, well briefed facilitator who can be the key link between both the live attendees and virtual delegates. We have actually found having two distinct roles is even better: A specific host for the online audience (a ‘Virtual Emcee’) in addition to the traditional conference emcee. If these hosts flow well with one another and your meeting format compliments BOTH audiences, a sense of belonging and camaraderie between virtual and physical attendees can actually be a defining experience of your event.
The bottom line in our opinion is that hybrid events allow organizations to reach new, untapped audiences with their content and engage more attendees. At Apple Box, we believe in the power of human connection. We know that Face to face meetings will never go away. The networking and other benefits of live attendance are here to stay. But with the rise of 5G alone, and the connectivity that this network is going to bring in coming years, I believe savvy attendees are going to expect and demand a virtual offering of events moving forward. This might be one of those “jump on board or get left behind” scenarios!
But don’t just take it from us…
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