What Are Hybrid Events?
A Hybrid event is an event that has both a physical audience and virtual audience with presentations and content delivered in the physical space being shared in real time with a virtual audience. Hybrid events most commonly make use of webcast technology and plug into the onsite AV team’s broadcast camera set up to stream everything that happens on the event stage(s) to the online audience who cannot attend in person.
34% of marketers say that they will add hybrid events to their event portfolio in the near future
With COVID-19 restrictions loosening in many parts of the word, the transition back to in-person events has already begun but those who are taking the step first understand that they need to have a hybrid approach to their physical event strategy.
- Physical events will be a reduced capacity due to existing COVID-19 restriction meaning that physical events will need to utilize larger venues or make less tickets available
- Business travel is still being restricted by many organizations so many attendees who would commonly attend in person will not be permitted to attend physical events for some time
- Many conference goers are not comfortable with travel even if their companies have authorized the travel
We get into more detail on the COVID-19 effect on hybrid events in this podcast.
Hybrid events are not a reaction to Covid-19 in fact they were a part of the most event planner’s toolkit already.
Types of Hybrid Events:
OPTION 1: Traditional hybrid “The big company play”
Based upon what we are hearing from our customers and what we are reading online, there’s every indication that larger companies will take their major events towards hybrid. This will mean a full-fledged in-person event that scales up or down based on ticket sales, with a full virtual component to capture groups unable or unwilling to physically attend.
These companies have the budget and the reach to invest equally in both formats and will allow the attendees to decide how they want to participate in the hybrid event.
The only difference for most of them – based on the virtual event lessons learned during the pandemic – will be ensuring that the right amount of attention is put on the virtual attendees. As stated earlier, they won’t want the participants at home to feel as though they are simply watching something happen that was created for an in-person audience and broadcast online.
This means that the digital aspect of hybrid events will include items that were regularly ignored during pre-pandemic:
- Exclusive content for the virtual attendees, including virtual-only Q&A sessions with speakers and virtual-only networking events.
- Ability for the virtual audience to interact with speakers, sponsors, and other participants.
- Time shifting and localizing of content for international audiences.
- On-demand access for all audience members. Virtual and in-person alike will have the opportunity to review content they enjoyed at the conference or those sessions they missed during the live broadcast.
Connecting physical and virtual audiences will be top of mind. Through the advancements in technology made during the pandemic, it is realistic to expect as a virtual attendee that you can connect and interact with in-person attendees, not just your digital counterparts.
OPTION 2: Reverse hybrid “Looks like a traditional hybrid event but it’s not”
The reverse hybrid event is a safer bet than the traditional hybrid event and is likely how many businesses plan to ease back into physical events. In this model, a location is selected for the event – commonly the headquarters of the company or a location where most attendees are located – while the physical event consists primarily of the speakers and other key attendees.
Essentially, it has all the trappings of a physical event, with a stage, live audience, and social events, but everything is scaled back from what was pre-pandemic. On the flip side the virtual event and the virtual attendees are the primary audience, with the agenda/content mainly targeted at them. What you’ll see with these types of hybrid events includes the following:
- More virtual sessions/content – In-person attendees might enjoy one day or one track of content, while digital audiences receive the full conference agenda live.
- Sponsors are virtual – Since the virtual audience is larger than the physical audience, sponsors will be staffing both physical and virtual booths or potentially just the latter. On the other hand, employees from the sponsoring companies will attend the physical event, if possible, with attendee passes.
The virtual audience has a voice – Remote audience members can submit questions and interact with event speakers, while networking with other virtual attendees. In this model, the physical audience understands that like the Academy Awards or the GRAMMYs, they may be in the front row, but the event is really being produced for audiences watching in a virtual setting. So, they will understand when certain things are done to bring that audience to the forefront that would not normally be done for a traditional face-to-face, live setting.
OPTION 3: The multi-venue approach
A common pre-pandemic practice among pharmaceutical companies for brand launches, the multi-venue approach provides the best of both worlds. This model sees multiple venues participating in the event, with a digital component to cover off regions not represented with a venue or attendees in a post-pandemic world unprepared to congregate with others for an onsite experience.
There is commonly a primary broadcast location where most, if not all, event speakers are located as well as satellite locations that stream the program and allow an audience to experience the content with others.
In one brand launch we were a part of several years ago, we saw audience members from the five satellite locations comparing the wine on the table and the menu over the internal event chat. However, the technology to connect attendees was not available for a company wanting to keep the dialogue private and off traditional social media channels. That has all changed, so this option is now much more viable.
Another challenging aspect of that event was having experts from each satellite location participate as speakers and lead discussions of key topics of interest. But again, with recent advancements in technology, this process has become infinitely easier to address.
The key aspects to making this approach work is like single location events, but requires a three-pronged approach to audience engagement:
- Satellite attendees should be able to interact with speakers in the broadcast location as well as attendees in other locations.
- Bringing in speakers from satellite locations is easier than it has ever been and will also ensure that the experts/speakers in each location are given the same weight as those in the primary broadcast location.
Networking may work best if it is segregated in this approach. Since you’ve gone to such lengths to set up these satellite locations, it will only make sense to dedicate a portion of your event agenda for regional networking as well as digital-only networking events.
OPTION 4: The non-hybrid/hybrid event
There was a long-standing practice of recording event content and posting it on-demand for those unable to attend in-person. Personally, we don’t believe this will cut it with today’s audience but that doesn’t mean that recording an event or a conference is a waste of your time and money.
In the pre-pandemic world, we had success with event organizers who were afraid of producing a hybrid event, lest it impact their in-person audience numbers and the ‘perceived’ success of their session. They had the foresight to record the event, but were under pressure to produce results, so we recommended a command performance of the event virtually.
The command performance is different from simply posting the videos on-demand. it takes the content from the conference and re-broadcasts it live at a new date and time for a digital audience. It’s marketed to everyone who chose not to attend in-person and makes use of now common virtual production practices:
- Simulated live sessions with live Q&A is offered to give virtual attendees the opportunity to ask questions of the speaker and interact with subject matter experts.
- Content is re-packaged for virtual. Some content may play better in bite-sized portions or combined with other speakers and so, the break between the live day and “command performance” allows for the re-packaging of content.
New content is often added. There is this assumption that the original programming was not engaging enough to motivate a portion of the target audience members to attend. As a result, additional content assets such as recorded videos and webinars or exclusive “Ask Me Anything” sessions with certain speakers are added to the agenda in hopes of drawing in a wider audience.
When to Host a Hybrid Event?
International & Hard To reach Audiences– 47% of event organizers say that hybrid events are a solution in connecting internationally dispersed audiences
Not all companies can hold physical events in each region they operate so often a hybrid event allows companies to reach attendees in markets where the cost of travel to their physical event is prohibitive. This audience will often be better serviced through a hybrid event due to the ability of platforms like webinar.net to deliver content in multiple languages at the same time.
The Road Show – Much like the example when you do a road show you don’t hit all the cities/regions in which you operate, adding a hybrid to one of the cities will allow you to invite those customers that you don’t often get to see in person and generally miss your annual road show or like events.
CEO Townhall Meetings/All Hands Meetings – A lot of companies have moved to virtual only town halls to keep all employees on the same level but just like sporting events got a lot more fun to watch on TV, town hall events have more energy when there is a live audience. Some companies will elect to run all these events out of head office but one automotive parts manufacturer we work will pick a different facility every quarter to hold the event from where they have a live audience there and all the other locations including head office tune in online.
When you have big news – A lot like the above townhall example, when you have big news, you can use the live audience to help capture that excitement rather than just doing a virtual announcement. The energy that forms in the room helps the presenters and by proxy the virtual audience feel the excitement.
How is a hybrid event different from a virtual event?
With a virtual event you can tailor your entire message, presentation style and platform to the virtual audience but with the Hybrid you must put just as much attention on the in-room audience. Therefore, because Hybrid events conventionally take place on a stage, with lights and cameras to capture the action, you need to ensure you use a platform that is built to pull in these sorts of feeds rather than a webcam like Zoom or Teams.
Key Aspects for A Successful Hybrid Event
Use these steps to integrate how you find the right platform
- Select a platform that is built with Hybrid in mind and can ingest AV feeds and production style cameras vs. webcams
- Select a venue that is hybrid friendly and can provide you with a dedicated internet connection
- Ensure that your onsite AV company or hotel AV can work with your platform of choice
- If you are going hybrid, you are spending some money on the venue and staging you want a platform that can support an HD feed to make your event pop online
- Ensure your platform of choice can service your virtual audiences’ size, location and language requirements
- Make use of the Hybrid event recording for on-demand promotion or simulated live re-broadcast to reach audiences in different time zones
- 94% of B2B event organizers use “pipeline generated” as their key success metric so ensure your platform can provide comprehensive data on attendee activity including what sessions they attended, what resources they accessed and more.
Hybrid Event Venue Checklist
35% of event organizers say that finding the right venue to host a hybrid event is a challenge
- Internet connection with a minimum 10Mbps up & down
- Internet connection must be dedicated and cannot be shared with others at the venue
- Access to internet connection via hardwire with an access point less than 100FT from the tech table
- Internet connection should be wide open with no port restrictions
- If port restrictions are in place, please ensure that port 1935 is open
- 6ft tech table
- Table should be located close to power drop & hard-wired internet feed
- AV feed from camera or switcher, ideally with audio embedded. If audio cannot be embedded, then separate line level XLR feed of program audio
- Pre-Production call require to review load in, testing and run of show
71.1% of event organizers say that connecting the in-person and virtual audience is their biggest challenge
Here are some tips for helping to bring your virtual audience into the conversation
- Create A Market Buzz Before The Date
- Keep a connected device on the stage/set those speakers and moderator can use to pull up questions and comments from the virtual audience and reference them
- Crowd source question from your virtual attendees via live Q&A or pre-recorded questions so that their voice is heard in the physical event
- Promote social engagement with a hash tag and allow virtual audiences to participate in the conversation directly from virtual event console rather than having to pull out a second device
- Ensure that any networking occurring within your in-person event is linked to the virtual event solution so that it is not segregated between in person and virtual attendees including fun aspects of your event like the photo booth or scavenger hunt
PRO-TIP: It is not always possible to replicate all aspects of your physical event in the virtual world. As much as the virtual audience wants to participate in the dinner you are serving, having them eat at home while there is a camera on your crowd does not really accomplish much. Certain aspects of your event should only be for those who decided to attend in person and likewise you can provide specific content for those who are at home virtually. One event we did pre-pandemic had all speakers walk off the stage and walk into another room where they did a 10-minute AMA session that was exclusive to the virtual audience. This gave the virtual attendees more access to the speakers than the in-person audience and was a benefit of joining online.
Hybrid Event Benefits
34% of event organizers expect to invest more in hybrid events in the next few years.
- Increase audience reach
- Reduced cost per attendee
- Ability to reach different audience segments/languages
Your even lives on beyond the day of the live event 45% of B2B organizers state that they aim for a 3x ROI one-year post-event
Hybrid Event Platform Features
67% of event organizers state that technology to ensure a smooth experience is a challenge or concern
- Capacity for high grade HD video streaming
- Ability to easily scale to 1000’s of attendees across the globe
- Ability to service audiences in different languages
- Ability to unite the virtual and onsite attendees with feedback tools, Q&A chat, and networking activities
- Ability to host the event on-demand while maintaining the interactive features that were present during the live event
- Ability to support multiple presentation formats across multiple tracks
- Ability to easily plug into onsite AV set up including broadcast cameras