According to industry experts, hybrid events and virtual events are here to stay. So as we move closer to the new year, event organizers need to be able to plan ways to improve hybrid event attendee experiences. One challenge that event planners are anticipating is audience interactions. Hybrid events involve in-person audiences with the live event portion and then remote attendees participating through the virtual event platform. Naturally, there is an opportunity here for the two audience types to interact, but experts are questioning whether or not this interaction is necessary. Namely, we’re not altogether sure if each of the attendees wants a type of integrated experience or if they want to enjoy the event on their own terms.
Roles and Expectations of Hybrid Event Attendees
Naturally, as event hosts, you want to make sure that all of your hybrid event attendees enjoy the experience. Your attendee experience is front and center for any type of virtual event. However, it can be difficult to tailor the event to both virtual and in-person audiences.
Hybrid events are events that have both a virtual component and an in-person, live component. There are two types of hybrid attendees: the virtual attendee and the in-person attendee.
In-person attendees will have made a respectfully larger commitment to attending your event. For some, they are traveling in from their location, making multiple connection points, and spending time and money to arrive. They also have a physical presence, so you will need to accommodate them at the event venue, follow COVID-19 precautions, and help them with their lodgings, if applicable.
For this reason, in-person attendees likely expect more of a hybrid event experience. Even if their ticket is the exact same price as those who attended online, they still have invested more into your event through travel and time commitments. This does not necessarily mean that you need to give them higher quality experiences, when in fact higher quality experiences are natural for the in-person audience. However, you may have to provide more.
The virtual audience has its own expectations and roles. Since you also have an in-person audience, you do not necessarily need your online audience to interact with the speakers. In fact, you can just live stream the event and then speak to them occasionally.
However, you want them to engage more with the online portion of the event as this will be better for your marketing goals. By engaging in the live chat, engaging with other attendees, and networking online, your remote attendees will be connected better with your brand and the content.
Sometimes virtual attendees expect to remain hidden. This is fine, but be sure to use a hybrid event platform that allows your brand to collect data on these attendees nonetheless, that way you can reach out following the event to connect with them one on one.
How to Support Hybrid Event Attendees and Networking Opportunities
As you can see, expecting the same level of audience engagement from in-person and virtual attendees is not realistic. And because each attendee type is there to engage in their own way, you might not need to force them to engage with each other.
By attending the same event, these hybrid event attendees can interact with each other through a shared experience. Allow the audience members to connect with each other if they want through the event hosting platform, though. For example, in-person attendees should be able to log in through the platform if they wish to live stream while in their hotel room. Maybe they have a work meeting to attend virtually or want to take a break from the conference. In this case, these attendees can engage with online attendees and share what their experience is like.
You can also offer networking experiences for both audience member groups. If members want, they could log into a shared space through your event platform and engage with each other like this. Since in-person attendees will have access to the event app, they can go online and engage with any of these social groups at any time.
Your in-person attendees may be engaging with the online portion of the event anyway, but they may only be accessing the online schedule and information center. This does not mean that they don’t want to engage with your virtual audience. Therefore, give them the option.
We recommend holding back on forced interactions. For example, if you have a Q&A with the live audience, try to get a mic on them so that the virtual audience can hear it. It may be awkward for them to listen to a presenter respond to a Q&A without knowing the original questions, so be sure to convey the questions to them. A moderator can also ask a question from the virtual audience, and everyone can experience this.
If you want the presenter to “look” at the virtual audience, then try to set aside a time for the in-person audience attention and the virtual audience attention, that way the in-person audience knows what’s going on.
How to Improve the Hybrid Experience
Running a hybrid experience can be intensive. Because of digitization and the increase in event technology, event planners are essentially running two events simultaneously. Therefore, event organizations need to work hard to build a hybrid experience. There are some straightforward steps that you need to take in order to provide a seamless hybrid event and improve the attendees’ experience:
Building community engagement. After the event has finished, send out reminder emails to all attendees. You can invite them to go to a networking group hosted by Accelevents or another social media platform to encourage post-event communities. Both attendee types will love to talk about their experience at your event.
Continue to deliver a first-class experience to each group. The first-class experience is particularly important when it comes to the virtual component. Because poor technology can create a very poor experience, you want to invest in high-quality technology. Approach this from a media production standpoint and get it right.
Offer networking through shared experiences. Consider implementing an ambassador program, which connects engaged and interested virtual attendees to in-person attendees on the ground. This ambassador program will encourage attendees to bounce ideas off one another and offer interconnectedness within the entire event.
Stick to live moments. Your event should be run like an always-on marketing channel. Your content may stay evergreen, but the experience will only be there in the moment, live, during the event.
Consider an Integrated Hybrid Experience
Your hybrid experience will be different for your online attendees and in-person ones. However, each will receive a first-class experience. Be sure to have a team on the ground prepared for both virtual and in-person interaction. Consider implementing an integrated hybrid experience. With the integrated approach, you are allowing both audiences and the presenters the chance to engage with each other but you are also not forcing the interaction. By encouraging an integrated experience, you can also funnel audience members into further networking opportunities virtually after the event is completed. Through a post-event online community, you might find more areas for brand growth and community engagement.
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