One of the clear changes from the COVID-19 pandemic: hybrid events are here to stay.
Hybrid events generally refer to a trade show, conference, seminar, or workshop that combines both elements of an in-person and virtual event. Growing in popularity, hybrid events are a creative way to include more people to attend who may have budgetary, health, or safety reasons for not traveling.
It doesn’t matter if people will attend your event in-person or virtually. Your job is to provide them with an inspiring, exciting experience.
Fortunately, you already know how to do great event management. So let’s break down 3 things that are exactly the same as a live event, and 5 ways your hybrid event will be wildly different.
A whole new hybrid world
To paraphrase a recent headline, the airports are full, but the offices are still empty — at least in the United States as of summer 2021. People are traveling recreationally but may not be willing or able to travel for work. Others are desperate for face-to-face professional interactions.
You won’t be able to provide live and virtual event attendees with the same encounters, but you’ll need to give them equally valuable engagement opportunities. Experts refer to this “one event, but two experiences.”
The 3 ways a hybrid event is similar to a live event
Learning goals are top of mind. Be clear about the goals of your event and the benefits to attendees. Show how the goals are relevant to their current problems and your industry’s emerging issues. Provide highlights that they can share with their supervisor and colleagues. Make it easy for potential attendees to say yes or get time to attend.
Networking matters. The most successful event is one where attendees come home with a serendipitous connection, whether it’s a potential sale, employment prospect, or inspirational collaboration. And, love them or fear them, ice breakers are critical to helping people do this kind of networking. Find ways to open conversations among attendees. Use badges (either virtual or actual) to allow people to self-identify or self-categorize, and then bring those groups together. Encourage and share DMs, tweets, and Instagram posts. Reward people for the most new follows or followers.
Sharing is caring. Make it easy for people to share what they’ve learned. They might want to provide a deck to their team, show highlights of a live presentation, or use schematics to brainstorm. Reduce barriers to their ability to do so.
The 5 ways a hybrid event is wildly different from a live event
The bar is higher for interactive experiences. We’ve all attended classes, hosted parties, and attended life-changing events online. So no matter what your budget, you’ve got to provide a virtual experience that feels professional, minimizes the potential for technological glitches, and maximizes flexibility. This might mean a mix of live and pre-produced content or an investment in high-quality visuals.
Accessibility equals equality. Take advantage of all the ways you can and should make your event exceptional for people with disabilities or who are neurodiverse. Research the best ways to do so. At a minimum, provide closed captions on everything, translate presentations into the languages relevant to your target audience, and add tags on all images and graphics. Create apps that optimize participation. Everything you do to make a more accessible event will make for a better experience for all participants.
Expect people to drift. Unlike a live event, there’s no awkwardness if someone walks out of a virtual presentation. Use this to your benefit. Encourage people to create their best experiences. Point out any presentations that include small breakout groups, so people know it’s important to stay. If you can, show how many registrants are at each presentation; we’ve all joined what we thought was a large event only to stare into a handful of faces when we’re unprepared to talk. Make events on-demand so that people can attend whenever it fits their schedule.
Everything is possible for potential speakers and attendees. Think BIG about who can speak at your event and who might attend. Is there a niche market for your content that you’ve always dreamed of tapping? Or a speaker you’ve dreamed of inviting? Time zones and travel budgets no longer matter, so make your most optimistic asks.
Seize the possibilities of “live.” There’s a world of opportunity for what happens in the in-person portion of your event. Livestream your keynote, have your CEO speak from the busiest part of your office, tour a vendor’s facility, live tweet or live vlog, pass your social media accounts over to a well-known attendee, or check in regularly via surveys.
Rather than dwelling on the challenges, think of your hybrid event as an amazing opportunity. Combining the best of in-person and virtual allows you to break down barriers among attendees and get immediate feedback about the impact of your business.
This is the fourth in a multi-part blog series on event planning in the months and years after the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.