Did you know that 71 per cent of event organizers will retain at least some virtual elements in 2022?

The future is clearly hybrid events.

Credit it to the lasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The events industry underwent a seismic change in 2020, shifting to the digital realm over the last two years. And even with many of us being fully vaccinated and retail businesses reopening, a return to full-blown in-person events is not a given. With so many of us continuing to work remotely and new variants of the virus lingering, hybrid events offer a middle path.

So, are you looking to build the perfect hybrid event for your business? Given the right preparation, it’s a lot easier than you might think.

In this blog post, the team at webinar.net will guide you through the essentials and what you can expect from this event format along. We’ll also suggest a few different directions that your business can take when staging a hybrid event.

Elements of a successful hybrid event

So, you want to incorporate hybrid events into your offering this year – but where do you begin? A successful hybrid event requires, at minimum, the following elements:

  1. A reliable hybrid event platform. The best platforms have all the important features but are easy to use and don’t cost a pretty penny. We recommend our cloud-based webinar.net platform with its easy-to-use interface, unrivalled scalability, strong analytics and full set of engagement options for all your virtual and hybrid events.
  2. Strong engagement. Behind successful hybrid event is strong audience engagement. Unlike a purely in-person event, you don’t control the environments of those participating virtually. Given these limitations, you need to provide a short but memorable experience, where they can interact with your ideas and personalized content, whether it’s through Q & As, polls, giveaways or surprises (a guest speaker) when appropriate.
  3. The right venue. Around 35 per cent of event organizers cite this as one of their biggest challenges. Ideally your venue fits your goals and lets you to cater to all your audiences, live and online, without compromise.
  4. A back-up plan. Anticipating the worst-case scenarios helps you avoid unnecessary interruptionsThere are any number of potential issues that can derail the success of a virtual and hybrid events including venue(s) capacity, registrations, check-ins, technical glitches or differences in time zones. 

Following the virtual roadmap for hybrid events

For those of us with years in the virtual events business, the pandemic re-enforced what we already knew (for the most part). Remember the first time you watched a COVID-19 relief concert or awards show from home on YouTube? We were all in it together and although it did not capture the energy of being at a live concert, it did put everyone on a level playing field.

That virtual event content was produced with one audience in mind, those at home watching on their TV or computer screen – and you could tell. The lead singer was not projecting his or her voice on a stage at throngs of in-person fans.

Instead, the singer looked straight into the camera and spoke directly to us. To make it even more impactful, the event took place from a living room, implying that these uber-rich and famous musicians were at that moment in the same predicament as we were.

The allure of the at-home concert faded almost as quickly as the allure of the at-home, post-event “cocktail hour” within our corporate virtual events, but it did create an important dynamic that is at the heart of your hybrid plans.

If you are going to include a virtual component to your in-person event this year, then you have to make your remote attendees a priority. This means that your event production will need to make the “at-home” audience members feel more like they are part of the experience than you did pre-pandemic. Providing compelling virtual experiences will be absolutely essential.

Remember, not everyone is going back to business as usual. There will be virtual-only events throughout 2022, many possibly produced by your competitors. In a report from Kaltura, which surveyed 1,250-plus organizers and attendees, 94 per cent of organizers are planning to host virtual events this year.

Like you, they have learned a lot from these early virtual events and will be tailoring their content accordingly. This means that those who are planning hybrid events need to consider how they will compete for that audience.

With that in mind, what follows are the four best options for creating an engaging hybrid event, in no particular order.

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 in 2022. 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.

OPTION 1: Traditional hybrid “The big company play”

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 before the pandemic:

  1. Exclusive content for the virtual attendees, including virtual-only Q&A sessions with speakers and virtual-only networking events.
  2. Ability for the virtual audience to interact with speakers, sponsors and other participants.
  3. Time shifting and localizing of content for international audiences.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 done 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

A challenging aspect of this kind of event is having experts from each satellite location participate as speakers and lead discussions of key topics of interest. But yet again, with recent advancements in technology, this process is now 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:

  1. Satellite attendees should be able to interact with speakers in the broadcast location as well as attendees in other locations.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 used to be a long-standing practice of recording event content and posting it on-demand for those unable to attend in-person. At webinar.net, we don’t believe this will cut it with today’s audience but that doesn’t mean that recording an event or a conference isn’t valuable.

In the pre-pandemic world, event organizers avoided producing hybrid events, lest it impact their in-person audience numbers and the ‘perceived’ success of their session. They might have had the foresight to record the event but were under pressure to produce results. 

If you find yourself in a similar situation, we recommend offering 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 won’t attend in-person and makes use of now common virtual production practices:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 repackaging of content.
  3. 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. Additional content assets such as recorded videos and webinars or exclusive “Ask me Anything” sessions with certain speakers is added to the agenda in hopes of drawing in a wider audience.

Audience expectations come first

As an event planner, you are keenly aware that you need to listen to your audiences if you are going to be successful. With over two years of virtual events (and now hybrid events) under our belts, businesses have a lot more than just survey data and anecdotal feedback to work from. There are hard numbers. This data will let you know if there is value in switching to some of the alternate hybrid models above or continuing with virtual for the foreseeable future.

Hybrid events are not an anomaly – they are and will continue to be an important part of the event industry alongside virtual and live in-person events. It’s just that the choice of how to hold one isn’t always black or white. Businesses need to find the right combination of in-person and virtual offerings.

Should you decide to take the hybrid route, don’t forget this key takeaway – always keep your remote attendees top of mind across every aspect of your event production. After the past two years, this demographic is used to being the ONLY audience and will not react well to second-class treatment during your hybrid events just because you have a “real” live audience to worry about.

If you need more help putting on a virtual event or webinar, reach out to the experts at webinar.net today! We’ll walk you through a live demo or if you need a more hands-on approach, try out the virtual events platform using a free trial.

Make your next virtual event a success. When you switch to the best online webinar software platform on the planet, you’ll be engaging your audience like never before!