The novel coronavirus has forced even the most detailed event organizer to reevaluate their event strategy. Travel restrictions and public health concerns have led to the widespread cancellation of events as well as a shift towards digital experiences.
As social restrictions begin to ease, it may be possible to host a hybrid event that brings together a global audience with a smaller, local group gathered in person.
While hybrid and virtual events do not require the same considerations as physical events, it does not necessarily mean that they are easier to pull off!
There are many considerations that are unique to this type of event but there are also a number of benefits that make the shift worthwhile.
Here’s what you need to know to pull off a successful hybrid event:
Benefits of a Hybrid Event
- Larger Potential Audience: With a physical event, you would only be able to attract so many people. Travel considerations and event venue limitations will restrict the size of your audience. With online elements, the number of virtual attendees you can host is relatively limitless.
- Global Audience: An online audience allows you to draw interested individuals from all over the world. Without needing to travel to attend the event, you greatly expand your reach.
- Greater ROI: Because you aren’t having to worry about securing a large event venue, providing catering options for a few hundred people, or any of the various costs associated with an in-person, traditional event, it is likely that your event ROI will be greater in a hybrid or virtual environment.
- More Lucrative Sponsorships Opportunities: A remote audience can provide you and your sponsors with more data than they would while attending a traditional event. This data can help your sponsors better understand their target audience and improve their marketing strategies. Potential sponsors may be willing to pay a little more to have access to this important information. Alternatively, you have the opportunity to sell more sponsorships since you are not limited by the logistics of a physical space.
How to Host a Hybrid Event
Because a hybrid event is, well, a hybrid of a physical and virtual event, there are a few specific considerations that must be taken into account.
Prepare Local Participants
Any presentation, exhibition, or speech that is taking place on-site must be prepared in advance. This means slides, video, and background set up should be done before the event is scheduled to start and tested on the live streaming portal.
The exact requirements and set up will depend on the makeup of your event and the event technology you are using.
As the event planner and organizer, you need to communicate clearly with all participants so they are aware of the pertinent deadlines. This will allow them to get you the final draft of their materials so they can be tested on the platform.
If you are able to do a rehearsal or a walk-through with your on-site contributors, do so. Show them where the cameras will be located and demonstrate the lighting so that no one accidentally wanders into a dark spot while presenting.
Make sure that everyone knows how to use the available technology.
This preparation will help put everyone at ease. Sometimes, even the most seasoned speakers and presenters can feel nervous. A walkthrough should keep everyone calm and on the same page.
Choose the Right Virtual Event Platform
Aside from the video, audio, and lighting that you will need at your venue, you will require a virtual event platform.
Look for the platform that best handles the needs of your unique event. You will want one that covers:
- Live streaming: Find a platform that integrates live streaming and comes with an array of tools that will help increase the production quality of your video streams.
- Ticketing and Registration: With a platform that enables ticketing and registration, you can improve attendee experience by making things simple and easy. These capabilities will allow registrants to sign up for specific sessions and plan their event experience. The platform should also collate registration data so you can make informed marketing and logistical decisions.
- Marketing Integrations: Look for a platform that enables you to easily promote your event and communicate with registered attendees. Email and social media integrations are an asset.
- Networking Capabilities: If your event has multiple sessions, look for a platform that enables networking and engagement among remote attendees. It is vital that you create for them an experience that matches or rivals the one that is being had in person. Your platform should allow for things like breakout and networking sessions, virtual or hybrid meeting opportunities, video and online chat, and virtual cocktail hours.
- Management Capabilities: Find a platform that allows for event management and oversight. Flexibility is key with hybrid events so you will want to have built-in tools that allow you to access and manage the event agenda as well as your speakers.
Aside from finding the right platform, you need to make sure that you provide the proper support. The best platforms will offer 24/7 support via live chat but that isn’t always the most practical solution for your attendees.
Assemble your own tech support team. Train them in the software and make them readily available for the duration of the event to address and troubleshoot any problems that may arise.
Engage the Virtual Audience
Keeping your remote audience engaged will be one of the cornerstones to your success. We’ve all been to a webinar or virtual meeting and struggled to keep our focus. Actively making attempts to connect with and engage the online attendees will help keep things interesting.
Using live video instead of prerecorded content is one way to do this. Today, consumers are used to watching live video and up to 70% of folks do so on a daily basis. What’s more, people are more engaged and invested in live video, spending 8x longer watching live broadcasts over prerecorded ones.
While live streaming is an engaging factor, you can’t rely on it alone. To engage your online audience, consider:
- Using a Virtual Emcee: This person will act as a facilitator, working as the link between the online and in-person audience members. A virtual emcee can work alongside a conference or event chairperson. If you are going to use both roles, make sure to work out a clear system so that the virtual emcee is able to contribute feedback, questions, and comments from the remote audience.
- Thinking About the Online Experience: When hosting hybrid events, it is important to consider the digital landscape. You want to make sure that your remote participants get a valuable experience. So, when there is a break between sessions, or, a lull in the activities at the live event, offer additional content to fill the gaps. Interviews, additional Q&As, behind the scenes bonus content, and maybe even a networking session or two can do the trick.
- Facilitating Networking Opportunities: Networking is easy at a live event but it can be more challenging in a hybrid scenario. Steps must be taken to facilitate networking for your virtual audience. This means enabling live chat in each session, engaging social media channels, providing access to the speakers/presenters, and encouraging group discussion.
- Using Social Media: Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are great for encouraging audience participation and interaction. In the days leading up to the event, ask prompting questions, and encourage registrants to submit questions for the speakers. If you choose to live-tweet your hybrid event, you can generate real-time responses and feedback from your online audience.
- Actively Acknowledging the Online Audience: Simply taking the time to acknowledge the presence of online attendees can go a long way to keeping them engaged. They are an important part of your hybrid event so be sure that the event chair and all presenters take an opportunity to look into the camera and welcome those attending online the same way they do with people sitting in the room.
Communicate Frequently with Attendees
This is a disruptive time for everyone so make sure that you communicate frequently with your registered attendees so they are as comfortable as possible with the event.
For those who will attend in person, make sure they are well aware of all safety protocols in place. Provide any information to ease their mind and let them know that you are taking all possible steps to prevent them from getting ill at your event.
Online attendees need a clear understanding of how to access your event content, how to navigate the virtual event space, and who they can contact should they experience technical difficulties.
Taking time early on to address these potential concerns will help alleviate some of the stress and pressure that appears on the day of the event.
Think about what questions or concerns you might have when attending your event and answer them before they get asked.
As with most things in the age of coronavirus, it is important to be flexible. Things will happen and circumstances can change. Be prepared to make adjustments when and if necessary. The event technology available to you will help you make any necessary transitions.
Do your best to deliver your hybrid event or conference agenda as planned but be sure that you can accommodate changes if need be. It might be necessary to move speakers or exhibitors online etc. Just be sure to clearly communicate any changes to your audience in advance of the event so they know what is going on and are able to make decisions regarding their own participation.
With the threat of COVID-19 and strict social distancing practices in place, hosting a large scale physical event has been out of the question. But as the curve begins to flatten and social restrictions are eased, smaller groups can and will be allowed to gather. Hybrid events allow organizers to host things like conferences, trade shows, fundraisers, and networking or educational sessions with both a small physical audience and a much larger virtual one.
Planning and hosting a hybrid event is similar to a traditional event with a few differences. By following the tips and suggestions laid out above, you can navigate these differences like the pro that you are!
When you are ready to get started, reach out to us at Accelevents to find out how we can help you host, promote, and manage your hybrid event.