The future of hybrid events
By Daisy George, Project Director, SWM Partners
The last year has been a year to remember. The start of 2020 was due to be a busy year for many in the events industry, but this rapidly changed. Within a matter of days our live events were replaced, and we all had to adapt to a new virtual way of thinking. For many event planners, virtual events have been taking place for years, however it has always been the client’s preference that whilst virtual events certainly have their benefits, live events will always be preferred. With the current situation looking to be the norm for the foreseeable future, we are continuously looking at ways to support our clients moving forward. This is particularly the case when it comes to hybrid events.
WHAT ARE HYBRID EVENTS?
Hybrid Events offer the best of both, they are a mix of live streaming online to a virtual audience and in-person participation, where a number of guests sit in the audience. Hybrid Events consist of presentations, mostly presented live on the stage to the audience, but there will also be the option for the presenter to live stream their presentation from a different location to the audience. Hybrid events are extremely versatile, and they have one thing in common – they put the audience journey first.
With venues limiting their capacity and with travel restrictions unlikely to lift anytime soon, live events are not going to be the same for some time. This is when our knowledge of Hybrid Events will come into focus.
In a recent survey conducted by Smart Meetings, 62 percent of event planners said their events will be hybrid moving forward.
Hybrid Events will benefit from the ‘live’ element. The presenters will feed off the energy from the audience in the room, as opposed to staring into a camera, which can sometimes come across as cold. There will also be more interaction. This, in turn, will reach the virtual audience, who will feel more engaged and included. There is also the option to pre-record the content, this is particularly useful if the speakers are based in a different location to the audience.
HOSTING A SUCCESSFUL HYBRID EVENT
Here are some best practises we have incorporated into planning for a successful Hybrid Event.
Before the planning stages, it is advised to send a feedback survey to the delegates asking them for their preference and feelings towards attending the meeting in-person compared to virtually. There is no doubt that people are excited to return to normality, however a small percentage may still be nervous to travel and as Event Planners we must support their decision. Depending on the results, if a number would prefer to attend the meeting virtually, a Hybrid Event could be the way forward.
Some people do not have the time or ability to travel to attend meetings. Hybrid Events will take this into consideration, and they are the perfect solution for attendees that would like to attend in person but cannot. A Hybrid event will positively impact attendee numbers at the meetings.
We recommend managing the speakers’ content and agenda from start to finish, making sure that their presentations are of a reasonable length and the content will captivate a virtual audience. For anyone presenting remotely, set up a technical rehearsal a week before the event and ask that all speakers join for a platform training session to ensure there are no glitches on the day. It is also highly recommended that the speakers join the event at least 45 minutes before the start. This gives you time to prepare the speakers, check their sound and video quality and that they are comfortable moving their slides.
Keeping the virtual audience engaged during a hybrid event is very important. Start by choosing a platform which allows you to add your own branding and logos. It is then important the platform integrates plenty of interactivity, such as live polling, Q&A, videos, and breakout rooms to keep the virtual audience involved. Breakout sessions encourage delegates to focus on certain topics in more detail, they are the perfect opportunity for attendees to engage with each other and share their opinions in smaller groups. Keeping the audience focussed will create discussion and the meeting will continue to flow naturally.
TIME ZONES AND ON DEMAND
One of the obstacles when running a Hybrid Event is that choosing a time to accommodate the virtual audience can be challenging. However, where the in-person audience cannot attend the meeting in the evening, it is much easier for the virtual audience to listen to the meeting from the comfort of their home.
To host a successful Hybrid Event, we would recommend sharing the agenda with the audience ahead of the meeting. The virtual audience can then pick and choose which sessions they would like to attend in advance. We also recommend sharing the content on demand, the virtual audience can then watch the sessions they were not able to attend another time. It is also better for the senior decision makers who can access the content outside of working hours.
IMPORTANCE OF THE VIRTUAL AUDIENCE
Not only must the hybrid event cater for the in-person audience, but care must also be taken to captivate the virtual audience. There is no denying that the virtual audience will receive a completely different experience, but this is where content is key. For instance, a keynote speaker will be viewed by both the on-site and virtual attendees, whereas the virtual audience will not want to sit and watch an interactive session. At this stage it is important to offer the virtual audience their own exclusive session with a different content experience, such as a panel discussion or a breakout session to keep their attention.
Did you know during a face to face meeting it is usually the extroverts that ask the questions, whereas online we are seeing far more participation and questions being asked across the board. Keeping the virtual audience excited and interested in the agenda is so important in ensuring high engagement and interactivity levels. During the meeting, appoint a separate representative to speak to the virtual audience throughout the day, this could be to keep them up to date on what is coming next or just to announce the coffee breaks. Keeping the virtual audience involved will go a long way in ensuring attendance numbers do not drop throughout the meeting.
THE FUTURE IS HYBRID
When it comes to planning a hybrid event the process is much the same. Always ensure you have a comprehensive plan in place, write your check list, do your research, find the perfect platform for what you are trying to achieve and include innovative content that engages with both an in-person and a virtual audience. With the future unknown, one thing we can rely on is that a Hybrid Event provides a balance, it keeps everyone engaged, whilst still delivering the same experience to an audience located around the world.
If you'd like to drive maximum engagement at your next virtual or hybrid event, please contact our event experts: firstname.lastname@example.org.