Your Ultimate Guide to Hybrid Events
Are you ready to boost the engagement power of your hybrid events? This guide will help you take your hybrid events to the next level by providing you with actionable tips and best practices that drive meaningful engagement across online and offline environments.
What is Hybrid Event Engagement?
When planning for a hybrid event, you can’t just hope your audience has a good time. It’s essential to plan ahead of time to ensure your audience has an educational and impactful experience: you need to focus on their engagement.
While you more than likely already understand what engagement is, you may not be as familiar with hybrid event engagement. This type of engagement refers to whether and how attendees are participating in your hybrid event and how pleased they are with the overall event experience. Before we go any further, let’s first discuss what exactly a hybrid event is.
Hybrid Events, Explained
The term “hybrid” means a thing made by combining two different elements. A hybrid car is one that is powered by both gasoline and electricity. A hybrid culture is one made from a mix of two others, like TexMex food. In just the same vein, a hybrid event is a blend of a live, in-person event with virtual online components. Hybrid events invite the participation of those who are physically present as well as those who are attending virtually.
What kinds of events are fit for the hybrid model?
- Trade shows
- Product launches
This is only the beginning! The list goes on, and more possibilities for hybrid events are on the horizon.
A Greater Need for Hybrid Events
Events have always been a staple for organizations in a variety of industries, including education, technology, finance, transportation, and many more. Hybrid events have been around for quite a while, well before the vast migration toward remote employment took place. Companies have been using hybrid events to engage with their employees and other stakeholders for decades, and the trend is accelerating.
While hybrid events have technically been around for a while, they weren’t a main focus of many within the event planning industry before the coronavirus pandemic. Much of the acceleration is undoubtedly due to the need for remote engagement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The momentum toward embracing the hybrid model for all sorts of events can be traced back to the distant 20th century and isn’t expected to let up anytime soon.
The Benefits of Hybrid Events
Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few years has made hybrid events an essential part of life. If it weren’t for virtual and hybrid events, there would not have been many events at all. It would be a mistake to think continuing with events during the pandemic is the only reason they’re so valuable, though. In truth, there are a variety of reasons hosting a hybrid event is beneficial for your organization. Just a few include:
Improved Safety / Physical Distancing
First things first, a hybrid event is second only to a virtual-only event in the way it is able to keep people separated and healthy. The past few years have been extremely difficult for event organizers. It’s not easy to cancel an event when the next wave of the virus threatens. For this reason, many organizers are still on the fence about making the return to in-person events. If they have to be canceled due to an unforeseen problem, then the costs are enormous.
Hybrid events, on the other hand, mean the event won’t need to be completely canceled no matter what, won’t get too crowded, and won't be a super spreader. With fewer in-person attendees, you can take care to space out chairs, limit the number of people in the hallway, and do other pandemic best practices to keep health at top of mind.
Perhaps the most common misconception surrounding hybrid events is that your audience will be smaller. In reality, the hybrid approach lets your events reach more attendees – not less. Some people may worry about virus transmission and choose to attend from home. These people wouldn’t have attended in person, so you’re adding more attendees easily. As another example, an attendee would rather join in-person, but they cannot do so due to travel costs. If they can instead join remotely, then that’s the next best thing for them.
Remember, there’s really no upper limit to the number of virtual attendees you can have. Whereas in-person venues can only accommodate a set number, the sky's the limit for your attendees logging in remotely.
Modernized Engagement for Everyone
Another misconception is that virtual attendees simply sit and watch a video. If you’re handling your hybrid event properly, this is not the case at all.
Hybrid events are a balancing act. You have two types of attendees, and smashing one into the other’s attendance experience won’t work. You must deliver the same content, but differently to both groups. Thanks to hybrid event technology, virtual attendees can engage with presenters and other attendees in much the same way as they would in person. Make sure any content presented is relevant to both in-person and virtual attendees. Don’t plan joint activities that isolate one group from full participation. Virtual attendees can engage over the internet by sharing and commenting on content, submitting live questions to presenters, and participating in video conferences.
Reduced Cost and Environmental Impact
There’s a lot to be said about the environmental impact of travel, particularly airline travel. One study from 2017 found that global business conferences produce 1.89 kg of waste and 176.67 kg of CO2 emissions per attendee per day. For a typical three-day event with 1,000 attendees, that translates into almost six metric tons of waste and 530 tons of CO2 emissions. This is equivalent to 1,233 barrels of oil.
If fewer people need to attend in person in order to gain the value of your event, you’re helping to reduce your event’s carbon footprint. The environmental benefits of hybrid events are enormous. At a time when consumers and business customers are becoming increasingly aware of environmental and social issues, this is a simple way to show you are aware of the global threat of carbon emissions and are putting processes in place to combat them.
Access to Data and Insights
Remember that hybrid event technology mentioned above? It does more than just make your hybrid event possible, it also makes it more valuable to your organization. It does so by providing insights and data that you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to.
These analytics solutions can supply event organizers with a steady stream of data-driven insights. Armed with this information, you can use it to garner a better understanding of your attendees and improve your events every time.
Who Needs Hybrid Event Engagement?
Let’s answer this question with another question. Who needs to host an event? Just about everyone, that’s who! If your organization has an event on the horizon, it would behoove you to consider making it a hybrid one. Then, you can think about engagement.
It is a mistake, yet a common one, to focus on your in-person attendees and let the virtual guests simply sit and watch. Make remote attendees feel like they’re part of the conversation! There are many ways you can show their experience is just as important as those in the building. All it takes is a little focus on hybrid event engagement. This should be an important piece of the puzzle for anyone planning a hybrid event, which is everyone in the event industry.
Use Cases for Hybrid Event Engagement
As the pandemic wanes, or so we hope, event organizers are shifting their focus from short-term survival to back to long-term success. Industry insiders agree that hybrid events will play a central role in that long-term strategy. Let’s dig a little deeper into who can benefit from a focus on hybrid event engagement, and how.
You only get the chance to launch a product once, so you better do it well. Beyond these events, many companies in the tech space also use hybrid events for annual user conferences and internal meetings. It is quite possible to create a high-tech experience for attendees through mobile apps, digital badges, and more.
Events are a large part of the higher education industry. These events are designed to create an engaging environment, increase revenue and fundraising efforts, and build lifelong relationships with students and alumni. Most importantly, they don’t need to be held on campus in order to do so. With the proper hybrid event strategy in place, they don’t need to be held in-person for all attendees at all.
The right planning, processes, and tools keep attendees engaged at all times of your event, whether it’s a graduation, fundraiser, or alumni event. Your virtual attendees can exchange ideas and join the conversation from anywhere in the world, even if they’re far from school.
Organizations in the financial sector need to make planning more efficient and more successful hybrid events a priority. They can do so by giving all attendees an unforgettable experience while maximizing your event ROI, thereby creating a stronger community for your partners and attendees. It’s possible to enhance attendee networking, bring presentations to life, and make remote attendees feel like they’re part of the conversation by sharing relevant digital collateral. This includes PDFs, eBooks, and guides.
Associations and Nonprofits
Creating an engaging environment for members, increasing fundraising efforts, and building lifelong relationships with donors and constituents is a main goal of all nonprofits. While this can be done in-person, it can also be accomplished through hybrid meetings and events as well. Whether it’s a large annual conference or a small board meeting, a hybrid event keeps everyone healthy and socially-distanced at the same time they are engaged with the message being presented.
How Hybrid Events Engage Audiences
The “new normal” is here for the long haul. That means hybrid events are here and they’re here to stay. If you have not done so yet, it’s well past time that your organization learns to not just host them but host them in an engaging way. Pulling off a successful hybrid event requires engaging both your in-person and virtual audience. It’s not as impossible as it may seem. Focus on a few key factors:
It would be a big mistake to assume the venue does not matter if some or even most of the attendees won’t be there in person. What if you booked a venue without wifi? All of a sudden, it’s easy to see why the venue is still an internal part of planning your event.
You want to ensure your event has a strong internet connection, equipment for videotaping and streaming the speakers (like cameras, tripods, microphones, and lights), an adequate power supply, an in-house production team to carry out the needs of your event, as well as measures in place that adhere to the safety regulations of its local and national governments. Don’t forget to make sure it is large enough for all of the in-person attendees!
It is not only possible but actually recommended that you create a uniquely branded experience. In order to do so, you could design and fully brand your own mobile event app, customizing it to your specific needs with many different features. You can then run an email marketing campaign to promote your events and expand brand awareness. You can also create a tailored online presence with an on-brand dynamic event website.
When it comes to hybrid events, a virtual attendee’s overall impression is often made with the technology they interact with. How and where can you use technology to deliver a seamless experience? How can you use technology to drive engagement?
At a very basic level, you will have to make sure that your video streaming service is working correctly and that your presenters are prepared to be recorded and to speak in front of a camera. If you’re trying to work with anything less than the best of today’s tech offerings, it will be impossible to achieve the engagement you’re looking for from your virtual attendees.
This term may be one that is unfamiliar to you. It is the use of mechanics traditionally associated with video games in non-game scenarios. It’s a proven way to promote higher virtual engagement levels.
This typically involves assigning points, ranks, and badges to attendees based on their participation levels. You can go even further to organize things like virtual scavenger hunts too. The gamification of your hybrid event adds a fun and competitive element to the day.
Another way you can deliver a seamless and personalized virtual experience with interactive sessions is through the use of quizzes, Q&As, and polling. This is a great way to keep attendees alert and measure attention levels. They can also provide some useful insights, which you can draw upon to continuously improve your events. One effective method is to use a pop-up feature that appears on the screen to give attendees a few seconds to choose an answer and show they’re participating.
With the right event management software, you can run polls in which both types of attendees can participate. This is just one of the many ways you can show their experience is just as important as those in the building.
How to Plan an Engaging Hybrid Event
Now that you see the importance of hosting hybrid events as well as a few key ideas to put in place in order to improve the engagement of both in-person and online attendees, the only thing left to do now is get to work planning your event.
Catering to all of your attendees at a hybrid event can be difficult. So how do you build an experience that ensures both in-person and virtual attendees are interested, engaged, and excited throughout the event? Start with the basics, just like you would when planning any other type of event.
Play to Your Target Audience
There’s an old saying that states “You can’t sell sneakers to a snake.” Even if you aren’t selling anything at your event, we encourage you to think about your audience. Who will be coming to this event, both in person or online? Without knowing the answer to this question, your planning cannot begin in the right direction.
Knowing your audience helps you figure out what content and messages people care about. This is because most audience members and event attendees are generally most interested in things that directly affect them or their community. Your event planning begins here, with the audience who will be attending your event.
If your event were in-person only, would you expect the attendees to listen to a keynote speaker for a solid eight hours? Of course not. Your hybrid event shouldn’t ignore this basic truth. Virtual attendees have a shorter attention span, not longer.
One of the biggest challenges when hosting a virtual event is combatting screen-time fatigue. That’s why it’s important to allow for breaks between sessions. Virtual breakout rooms should be part of the schedule. Sometimes, this could simply be a short, 20-minute time away from the screen. Other times, the break can be geared toward team-driven activities, such as mini yoga sessions, trivia contests, or virtual happy hour ideas.
Define Presenter Roles
You’re going to have some people on-site who are speaking to the audience directly. These keynote speakers must find a way to be engaging and entertaining the audience. By using the insights gained from the event registration platform, these speakers will be able to tailor the event’s message appropriately and ensure everyone is as engaged during the event as they can and should be.
What about the people who aren’t presenting at the time, though? They have an important job to do as well! We recommend designating an on-site team member to focus solely on your virtual attendees. Have your team’s virtual representative remind your virtual attendees of the agenda schedule, so they are sure to attend the next session, as well as answer any questions and address any technical issues.
Deck Out Your Event Space
Remember, just because not everyone is actually at the venue doesn’t mean you can be lazy or rush the event space itself. Before the rise or virtual and hybrid events, you probably put quite a bit of effort into decking out the event space. Stick to that!
One of the biggest bottlenecks in the early hours of an event is the badging process. With today’s top event-planning technology in place, you can create an efficient badging process that saves time and avoids waste. This will allow attendees to quickly and easily register once they arrive at your event. It’s just the beginning of the way technology can help you make your event space into something truly special.
Promote Wide Participation
Far too many people are growing fatigued by the amount of time spent in front of the screen. If your event is little more than them watching a video, you can bet quite a few will click out and spend their time doing something they find more entertaining. For one, you want to make sure any content presented is relevant to both in-person and virtual attendees. As well, be sure to allow virtual attendees to participate and ask questions during presentations.
Networking is one of the most advantageous parts of an event, no matter what industry you’re in. This doesn’t need to be pushed aside just because some attendees will be virtual. Your event platform should facilitate one-to-one conversations, group chats, meetups, and virtual water coolers. You can host a video chat networking room where in-person attendees can meet and visit with virtual attendees. You can also set up breakout rooms where virtual attendees can connect with other virtual attendees in a more intimate setting.
What Makes an Engaging Hybrid Event Platform?
Finally, the most important thing of all is to choose the right platform for hosting, managing, and promoting your event. With a fully-integrated virtual event management platform, it is much easier to streamline the process from start to finish, including event planning, marketing, hosting, and post-event follow-ups.
The question is, which solution should your organization implement? If you’ve thought they can’t all be the best, you’re right. Today’s event technology market is a crowded space. Many platforms still don’t cater well to virtual and hybrid events, so it’s important to choose an integrated solution that offers all the features we’ve covered above.
Your organization isn’t like everyone else, and your event won’t be either. Events come in many different forms and sizes from huge global trade shows to small business conferences. Why would your software platform only provide you with the same features as an event that’s nothing like yours? Instead, you want to choose a hybrid event management platform that can accommodate the whole range of events because it is highly customizable. It is vital that you can tailor the platform to your unique needs.
Ease of Use
What good is the world’s best software if no one on your team can figure out how to use it? This is one of the most overlooked characteristics when purchasing event management software. Event management software should be highly intuitive and have a minimal learning curve. After all, many people will be using it and they may not all be tech-savvy.
Security and Privacy
When signing up for your event, your attendees give you access to personal information. You’re trusted with this, and you should do all you can to respect this. Moreover, such information is subject to strict compliance directives like GDPR and CCPA. For this reason, security and privacy must be incorporated into the platform by design and default, with data encryption and robust authentication being essential.
Insight into Valuable Data
One of the greatest advantages of any digital technology is that every interaction leaves an auditable data trail that can be transformed into actionable insights. Hybrid event technology should grant the opportunity not just to capture valuable event data, but also to generate intuitive reports that help stakeholders make sense of that data. Was your audience engaged? Did you meet your goals? Is the event considered a success? The right software gives you access to data that makes it possible to answer all of these questions and much more.
As stated above, networking is a very important part of events – even for people attending virtually. A hybrid event management solution should provide integrated networking functions to keep attendees connected, no matter where they are. A smart matchmaking solution can go even further by auto-generating networking opportunities based on similar interests, similar to their favorite social media platform.
Robust Mobile App
A mobile app is perhaps the most essential platform feature of all. For this reason, no hybrid event management platform should be without a dedicated mobile app that you can customize to meet the unique needs of your brand and your events. This app will primarily be how your on-site attendees will engage digitally with your event. This could be via social networking, getting directions to a specific booth, or registering upon arrival.
While virtual event technology came a long way during the pandemic, you don’t want to ignore the necessary tech on-site as well. Creating a seamless onsite experience requires a hybrid event platform that facilitates simple contactless check-in and badging, offers touchless lead retrieval, and can easily regulate attendee access.
Stova offers everything listed above, and much more. We provide schools, organizations, and companies with all the essentials they need to make planning more efficient and events more successful, fostering a stronger community for attendees and more valuable insights for organizers.
Stova, is here to help you deliver engaging hybrid events. We’ve blended innovative technology and best-in-class service to close all gaps in the hybrid event planning process. Our platform brings your virtual and hybrid events to the next level by providing powerful tools and analytics that drive meaningful engagement across online environments.
Are you ready to boost the engagement power of your hybrid events? We know that a hybrid event planning strategy will look different for every organization. While things like screenshots and videos might give potential buyers an idea of the look and feel of the software, there is no substitute for a live demo. That’s why we offer personalized demos, so you can see what incorporating Stova will look like for your organization. We encourage you to discover how our platform can help make your next event one to remember.