Combining the advantages of two or more things into a hybrid version that’s better than the sum of its parts has always been an intriguing idea for people. Consider the Griffin of Greek mythology, a half eagle and half lion hybrid that possesses the ultimate predatorial advantages on land and in the air, allowing it to rule in both domains simultaneously. That kind of success is what organizations are looking to achieve through hybrid events. Before now, events were grounded and stationary, but with the rise of virtual events, organizations had to learn to fly. As we look toward the future of events, organizations are not deciding between a presence in one of these domains, they’re looking for ways to operate in both at the same time.
We recently had a discussion with Tammy Ball, Director of Marketing Events at Teladoc Health, and Devin Cleary, VP of Global Events at Bizzabo to discuss the many flavors of hybrid events, challenges they’ve overcome, and advice they have for others.
Here are the four fundamental flavors of hybrid events were discussed in that conversation.
A primarily virtual hybrid experience is one that caters to a mostly virtual audience. By focusing on the needs of virtual attendees, the entire event is optimized for that interface and engagement. The physical side of the event consists of small in-person gatherings that focus on social experiences at the regional level.
- Consistent production value. Maintaining consistent production value across all sessions is made far easier with this model. This model makes it easier to manage the look and feel, but also ensures the messaging is consistent and cohesive from session to session.
- More reach and exposure. Without the need to travel, more people can attend and do so from the comfort of their home office or even their couch. Furthermore, your sponsors will love the extra exposure given the additional reach.
- Higher production value. This model not only helps maintain consistency, but it also allows your company to stage higher productions. Since your content is planned ahead of time, you can pre-record in a studio, edit sessions for better flow and watchability, and add intros and outros to your videos.
- Engagement. Keeping a virtual audience’s attention for the entirety of your event is impossible. Keeping their attention for most of the event is possible, but it requires highly engaging content. Ever since the pandemic hit, people have quickly grown tired of being spoken to, and would much rather be a part of the conversation.
Increase your attendee engagement with event chats, Q&A sessions, a community board, and experiences, such as DoorDash gift cards, DJs or live musical performances, yoga breaks, and more.
Swinging to the other end of the pendulum, this hybrid style caters to a majority of in-person attendees. With such a large focus on offering exceptional in-person experiences, the virtual side is rather small and limited. It helps to think of this one as the “live studio audience model.” In this model, major content offerings, such as keynotes, can be live-streamed to a virtual audience, but breakout sessions and other ancillary content is either not virtually available or will only be made virtually available after the event concludes.
- Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). This model helps you reintroduce FOMO around your event. Your organization can potentially offer VIP passes and create immersive event experiences that will encourage your virtual audience to make the transition to in-person event opportunities. This is especially important if you intend to charge for your events again.
- Translating physical to virtual experiences. In-person experiences are different from virtual experiences. Translating and converting those moments that the live audience experiences can be a challenge. As you try to do that, it’s important not to make your virtual attendees feel like second-class citizens. Both groups of attendees need to feel valued and engaged.
This model needs your total focus and dedication on both the in-person and virtual experience because it hosts a significant amount of both virtual and in-person attendees. A unified experience is exactly what it sounds like, meaning this type of event has the exact same agenda and content for both audiences and everything occurs in real-time. This model also requires your team to build and manage a unified experience, ensuring physical and virtual attendees are having their needs met and questions answered. You’ll also mediate the interaction between both your in-person and virtual audiences via community and in-session chat rooms.
- Accessibility and visibility. This model is highly accommodating and lets registrants attend the event in a way that best fits their schedule, location, and preferences. The key is that both audiences get the same content and the same experiences but from two different perspectives. Moreover, this helps maximize the visibility for your sponsors and what sponsor doesn’t like to reach more eyes and ears?
- Execution effort. This model is a big undertaking that will need a lot of planning and orchestration. You may only be planning one event with this model, but your team will need to monitor two audiences. While the planning stage might feel like one event, the execution will feel like two events.
The word separate hardly makes one immediately think of “hybrid,” but while this model hosts separate experiences, it’s all held under the same roof. A separate experience hybrid event creates two fully immersive and distinct experiences within a single event.
There are two ways to go about this model:
- One event, two unique audiences. This flavor of the separate experience model involves the creation of two fully immersive and distance experiences within a single event. The virtual audience here would have a unique agenda with virtual-only sessions and experiences, while the in-person audience would have their own unique agenda, sessions, and experiences.
- In-person, followed by virtual. This is kind of a delayed broadcast of sorts because you will host an in-person event and follow it up with a separate virtual event. Essentially, your team would record and leverage content from your in-person event to use for the virtual event content. You’re still just planning one event, but you’re recording your sessions and making them accessible to a virtual audience after the event concludes. This way eases your team’s workload of planning two unique agendas.
- On-demand content. The biggest pro about the second flavor of this model, the delayed (In-person event followed by a separate virtual event) is that in-person attendees have the opportunity to re-watch sessions. This offers a great experience for these attendees because you’re helping make sure they are able to see all of your content and help them retain the important information from your sessions, as well as share with their colleagues.
- Virtual audience engagement. With either flavor of this model, you’ll have a lower adoption or subscription rate with your virtual audience because their version of your event is not live. With virtual and hybrid events, organizations are using a new metric called Return on Attention (ROA) to measure success. Depending on the outcomes you’re hoping to achieve, this model might make it more difficult, especially if what you’re hoping for is a lot of virtual engagement.
- Planning and execution. One event is a big undertaking, but with the first flavor of this model, you’re essentially planning two separate events. This can be even more taxing on your team because with both audiences having unique agendas, your team will need to plan two different sets of content.
The Iron Horse insight.
The beautiful part about the emergence of virtual and hybrid events is that it’s taught us a lot about creating experiences and why they are so important. When live events fully come back, we’re not going to be able to get away with filling a traditional venue and putting a speaker on stage for an hour-long presentation with no engagement. That would be considered a glorified live zoom call nowadays. When you’re preparing for your hybrid events, start by exploring different experiences against your goals, and consider who your audience is and how they would want to experience your event.