Whew; what a whirlwind 2020 has been. From planning live events to hosting completely virtual events instead, it was a learning experience for us all. Now we can look forward to 2021 and try and guess (lol) what that universe will throw at us, and how we’ll adapt our events. We know one thing for sure–hybrid events are comin’ in 🔥.
In this blog, we’re gonna break down:
What are hybrid events
When to have a hybrid vs. virtual event
What’s beneficial about hybrid events
15 tips for running a successful hybrid event
What is a hybrid event
Hybrid events are virtual events with a live component. Pre-pandemic hybrid events were set up to be live events with a virtual component. Through 2021 and on, hybrid events should be set up as a virtual event first with a live component if the pandemic allows. This means hybrid events should be set up as virtual events from a technology and staffing perspective. You should plan your content and other event deliverables to primarily address an online audience. In the early stages of planning the event’s live component, event planners should consider what digital aspects may need to be added to facilitate bringing the two groups together. That’s the key. A hybrid event is only so if there’s engagement; otherwise, it would be no different than watching a Tedx Talk at home in your undies.
When to do a hybrid vs. virtual event
We’ll leave live events out of here considering the current circumstances, but we’ll revisit this topic once it’s safe to let our minds wander into the future.
With vaccines on the horizon, there may be opportunities for virtual events with live components sooner than later. So here’s how to pick between the two:
Pick hybrid if:
You can safely host a live component
If the event and its content translates well to a live audience
If attendees stated they’re interested in attending the live component
Pick virtual if:
If there is any doubt you can’t make the live component safe
Your content translates best via video
Your event has a small budget
Benefits of hybrid events
Even before the pandemic, hybrid events were growing in popularity due to their ability to reach a wider audience, improve event ROI, and provide valuable data points companies couldn’t get with live events.
- Wider Audience. Having a virtual component reduces financial barriers and scheduling conflicts for a lot of attendees. Not only will hybrid events attract your core audience, but they’ll also attract your secondary and tertiary audience with the virtual component. This means people who wouldn’t have registered for the live event, due to the commitment, will be more interested in “trying out” your event with the virtual component. 96% of virtual users polled at a hybrid event said they wouldn’t have signed up if it were an in-person event, and 27% said they would be more likely to attend the event in-person next time.
Improved ROI. A boost in attendees means more tickets sold and a better ROI for the event overall. The virtual component may also lower future marketing costs by using the recorded keynote speakers and sessions for promotional content.
- Better data. The internet is always watching, and that’s no different with virtual events. Ok, what we’re trying to say here is that everything is tracked because the virtual component is online. This data helps tremendously when planning your next hybrid event.
15 tips for a successful hybrid event in 2021
Market your event to your secondary and tertiary audience
Negotiate vendor contracts and size down
Safety should be a top priority for the live component
Create custom registration paths for virtual vs. hybrid attendees
Don’t sell a live ticket
Plan virtual-first engaging content
Hybrid events should be all about the simulive
Offer your content on-demand for longer engagement
Offer your content on-demand but only for a limited time
All hail sponsors
Make sure your event management software favors your sponsors
Have an onsite MC dedicated exclusively to your virtual attendees
Bring together virtual and live attendees with networking at hybrid events
Send out surveys before, during and after the hybrid event
Make a Doomsday plan
1 Market your event to your secondary and tertiary audience
We mentioned above that one of the benefits of a hybrid event is a broader audience. You are already well acquainted with your primary, core audience, and you hopefully know how to market to them. You’ll also want to think about personalized marketing messages for your secondary and tertiary audiences. Yes, that means you’ll have to go through some data and develop a persona, but we promise it’ll help in the long run.
2 Negotiate vendor contracts and size down
Ok, so this tip isn’t very sexy, but it’s very applicable. Hybrid events have a live component, so you’ll need to find vendors, which historically have to be canceled months in advance for any $ € £ back. So it’s time to start negotiating for longer cancelation windows and lower cancelation penalties. But let’s take a moment to reiterate we’re all in this together (I know you just sang that High School Musical style) and that we aren’t trying to low-ball anyone. Make a deal that’s equally beneficial and fair. It could look something like 25% of your deposit back even if you cancel two weeks in advance.
It would also be useful to consider decreasing the venue size. This will help save money but also account for smaller turnouts for live components in 2021. Pssst! It might be the perfect time to try out that outdoor venue you’ve been drooling over.
3 Safety should be the top priority for the live component
This one should go without saying, but we’re gonna go there anyway. Your live component will be an absolute bust if you don’t make sure your attendees feel safe. Don’t wait for them to get there to find out. Reassure them in your marketing emails that you’re taking all the precautions: masks, sanitization stations, cleaning during the event, social distancing, and staff there to help enforce these requirements.
4 Create custom registration paths for virtual vs. hybrid attendees
Nothing makes an attendee feel special like customization. Keep the two registration paths separate and customized for sessions, so it’s entirely relevant for the two types of attendees: virtual vs. hybrid.
5 Don’t sell a live ticket
Ah-ha! You noticed that we said virtual vs. hybrid. Not live. Don’t sell an in-person only ticket (at least for now). One thing we know for sure is that nothing is for sure. You just don’t know if you’ll have to cancel the live component, if the attendee no longer feels safe to attend, or if they’ll feel unwell. Selling a hybrid ticket gives the attendee flexibility to attend the live component but ensures they’ll get the information either way.
6 Plan virtual-first engaging content
Have we beaten a dead 🐴 yet by saying your hybrid event should be virtual-first? Make sure you are planning content that you know will be engaging for a virtual audience and adjust it to also make it engaging for a live audience. That could mean differing session lengths, pre recorded sessions vs. live streams, and live polls or Q&A. Although a lot of the content will be the same, it doesn’t mean all content should be the same for virtual and live attendees. Virtual attendees don’t wanna watch a streamed interactive networking session. Instead, virtual attendees could be filtered into their own small breakout session or attending an exclusive virtual-only interview or panel discussion with thought leaders. This will go off without a hitch with the custom registration paths you’ve created 😉
🔥 tip: These thought leaders can be located anywhere in the world (pending time zone) since it’s virtual, so you can get the best of the best.
7 Hybrid events should be all about the simulive
Simulive is having a pre-recorded session for both virtual and live audiences and then having the speaker(s) online at the event to answer questions via chat during the recording. The speaker(s) can also follow up with a live Q&A afterward for more long-winded responses. For the virtual audience, if they enter the session late, it won’t start at the beginning. It’ll be like entering a live session late so the attendee can follow along in real-time with the chat. Bonus: this chat allows the virtual and live audiences to connect.
8 Offer your content on-demand for longer engagement
On-demand content really is the best of both worlds–you’re helping your virtual attendees, sponsors get more attention, and last but not least, your brand/event stays top-of-mind for longer. The virtual part of the event can be attended by anyone worldwide, which means a big ole time zone difference. On-demand content allows for global attendees to get the information at a time that works for them. It’s nice overall for virtual attendees because if the session days are long, most of them aren’t going to sit in front of their computer for 10 hours straight watching sessions. On-demand allows them to take breaks and not miss any of the content. It also benefits the sponsors and your brand. The longer people can go back and watch sessions, the longer sponsors and your event will stay in the attendees’ minds.
🔥 tip: Offer your sessions on-demand this year and track how many people went back to watch sessions and how long they spent on the site after the event was over. You can use that data to help secure sponsors for next year's event.
9 Offer your content on-demand but only for a limited time
If you offer your event sessions on-demand for multiple months after the event, the excitement will die. Offering it for a limited time, whether it be 1-2 weeks or a month, gives attendees time to consume the content they wanted while not totally putting it on the back burner. Aka limited availability drives excitement and encourages immediate action.
10 All hail sponsors
We know that’s not a tip, but the sponsor section isn’t a one-liner. Hybrid events are what’s up for sponsors. Since hybrid events drive a much larger audience, your sponsors are going to get double the exposure. It also creates new opportunities for brand awareness and lead generation. The more value you can bring to your sponsors, the more money they’re willing to hand out. Here’s how to give your sponsors the spotlight:
They can host a session or sponsor a session
Place their logo on slides, promotional emails, and/or on-demand content
Mobile app banner ads
Push notifications (less is more with push notifications–don’t be annoying)
Physical and virtual sponsor booths
Event website sponsors page
Sponsored commercials before on-demand content
11 Make sure your event management software favors your sponsors
Assure your software makes it easy for your attendees to schedule meetings with your sponsors or to “drop-by” the virtual booth. Showing your sponsors the ease of using virtual booths will make them feel better and get them excited for the event. It’s also important to note that your event software should allow you to make a drool-worthy, customized sponsor page. A unique, perfectly crafted sponsor page will help ensure attendees stay around longer.
🔥 tip: Swoogo is completely customizable through CSS and embedding.
12 Have an onsite emcee dedicated exclusively to your virtual attendees
Your live component attendees will have someone guiding them through their day; why shouldn’t your virtual attendees? Close your eyes and imagine.. Oh wait.. Then you can’t read. Imagine on your virtual portal, a live emcee that can talk about what’s next as well as what’s happening at the live component. You’ll feel like you’re right there! Except you won’t have to stand in the Starbucks line for 24 minutes… darn. The emcee can address the virtual attendees about their experience, highlight specific sessions or networking opportunities, and remind them to stop by the virtual sponsor booth. This helps virtual attendees get the most out of their experience and if you hire a good emcee, maybe get some comedic relief (our favorite).
🔥 tip: Have the emcee use gamification to keep the audience engaged.
13 Bring together virtual and live attendees with networking at hybrid events
Besides content, networking is one of the main reasons people attend events, which’s no different for hybrid events. The trick for hybrid events is bringing together the virtual and live attendees.
Networking ideas for hybrid events:
Simulive sessions. When virtual and live attendees are watching a pre-recorded session, they can interact on the chat together.
Private networking group. Think about selling a ticket type that includes this feature. Whether it’s a Slack group or a private Facebook group, these individuals will be anxious to utilize this benefit to chat about the event.
Open networking group. Same idea as above but open to everyone. This would work best with a Slack-like tool. There could be a channel for each session so you can continue to talk about the session even after the event is over, and there would be the option to message your peers.
Live polling and Q&A. This isn’t new, but it can help the live and virtual audience interact.
Breakout sessions. For the virtual audience, you’ll just have to make sure your software can separate people into small meeting room groups. If possible, have a facilitator for each virtual group to help attendees feel at ease.
14 Send out surveys before, during, and after the hybrid event
With the world in a pandemic and people figuring out how to work from home while homeschooling their kids, there’s a lot of unknown. Attending an event shouldn’t add additional stress to an attendee. Sending out a pre-event survey asking what attendees have questions about or what they’re worried about can help you answer those questions before the event starts. Pre-event survey = less stress for you and your attendees. Sending out short surveys during the event can help you get immediate feedback about what’s going well and what could be improved upon (if the event is multiple days, you might even be able to make a quick fix). These surveys could be placed after a streamed or simulive session, for example, when attendees have feedback–good or bad– top-of-mind. After event surveys will be your most significant and will provide overall feedback for the entire event. This feedback is so important for planning future events and keeping your attendees happy. 🙃
15 Make a Doomsday plan
Think of every possible thing that could go wrong and make an action plan for what to do if that happens. The entire virtual platform went down?! Keep calm and follow your checklist. You have to cancel the live component?! Breathe, follow your checklist, and send out your prewritten email. Having a plan for if when things go wrong, makes it less stressful overall. And if you’re really lucky you’ll have Swoogo’s customer support team on your side.
We’ve given you a lot to consider for your hybrid event, but no event is perfect the first time around. Go out there, plan the best event you can, and then learn from it. This is just the start of our hybrid content. If you wanna get all the hybrid-related information hot off the press, click below to subscribe.
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