The Hybrid Experience: How to Plan Events for Both In-Person and Virtual Attendees

July 9, 2021

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The coronavirus pandemic has changed the global events landscape forever, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s safe to say that the disruption of the past year and a half has also helped accelerate the adoption of digital technologies to benefit everyone.

While virtual events have served as an important stopgap during lockdown mandates, there’s no denying their inherent benefits. Among these are reduced travel and hosting costs and, of course, the fact that anyone with a broadband internet connection can participate.

At the same time, no one can deny the irreplaceable value of in-person events. As they enter into a new era of event management, hosts and sponsors are increasingly focused on merging both event formats to deliver a hybrid experience that can accommodate both in-person and remote attendees.

Hybrid events introduce technology into the traditional in-person event experience to add new attendee experiences. That being said, organizing an effective hybrid experience, in which all attendees can enjoy a similarly high-quality and value-adding experience, can be challenging.

In this guide, we’ll explore several proven hybrid event ideas and tips that you can implement easily with a fully integrated events management platform.

1. Research Your Target Audience

With so many ways to organize and host an event, planners can easily end up overwhelmed by the sheer range of options. It’s also easy to get distracted by the technology as well, often at the expense of attendee experiences.

Since events are about people and networking, it’s important to focus on your attendees before anything else. Only once you have established a clear understanding of what your audience wants should you consider how to approach the planning process and the tech to enable it.

Expectations vary widely when it comes to virtual and hybrid event experiences. On one hand, many people look forward to a return of in-person activities and may be less willing to attend virtual ones. On the other, you’ll likely have would-be attendees who are unable or unwilling to travel and attend an event in-person.

The whole point of delivering a hybrid experience is to accommodate both parties as best as possible. For example, some attendees might prefer to view live presentations online but join things like workshops in person. One of the best ways to find out what your audience wants is to simply ask them outright, such as by publishing a poll or short survey on social media.

2. Determine Your Event Schedule

Anyone can set a schedule, but sticking to it is often a different matter. Virtual events have a reputation among many for being poorly organized and presented, characterized by long wait times, technology issues, and presenters failing to appear on time. Most of these challenges can be overcome with the help of a robust hybrid event platform, but it’s still up to hosts and presenters to stick to their strictly defined schedules.

In addition, the dynamics of virtual events tend to be quite different. They often run shorter than in-person events, simply because a lot of people prefer to limit their time spent in front of the screen. This is why it’s essential to set a schedule that’s mindful of both your in-person and online attendees. Just as important as starting your event on time is finishing on schedule, as you must respect your participants’ time.

Finally, hybrid events are generally more enjoyable and engaging if they keep presentations short and spread over a long period with plenty of breaks in between. These intervals provide excellent opportunities for both remote and in-person attendees to get to know one another, visit in-person or virtual event booths, or consume static event content. After all, no one wants to spend a full day staring at an endless stream of presentations, whether in person or online.

3. Define Roles for Your Presenters

Though hybrid events potentially offer a much higher return on investment, not to mention the opportunity to accommodate many more attendees, they do present some unique challenges. To address these difficulties, it is crucial to clearly define the roles of your hosts, presenters, and anyone else involved.

Especially for larger events, you may want to consider having two managers one for the in-person component, and another for virtual activities. After all, the responsibilities of the roles are very different for each. For example, in-person events have unique technical considerations, such as managing A/V equipment, catering teams, and other onsite responsibilities. Virtual events, on the other hand, rely heavily on internet connectivity and video conferencing software, as well as the need to relay audience feedback to those attending the event in person.

Establishing separate roles will allow each manager to focus on their primary audiences. For larger events, it might also be a good idea to delegate an attendee engagement manager for addressing audience questions and enabling a consistent, unified experience for all attendees.

4. Prepare Your Event Spaces

Given that virtual events are relatively new to many organizers, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they have acquired a reputation for unprofessionalism and technical issues. However, with a dependable hybrid event platform, a fast and reliable internet connection, and professional A/V equipment, this doesn’t have to be the case.

It’s important to put just as much care into preparing your virtual event spaces as it is your in-person ones. This should be a little easier in the case of in-person presentations that are also going to be streamed live to remote attendees since you’ll probably have suitable recording equipment in place already.

Image Source: WIT

Always make sure your broadcasting space is suitable for both audiences. Even if a particular presentation is to be held exclusively online, you should focus on making it professional and as close to the real thing as possible. That means forgoing the tacky Zoom backgrounds!

Be sure to thoroughly test lighting, microphones, camera setups, and any other devices you’ll be using well in advance of the event. Finally, make sure your attendees know what they’ll need to participate in your event. For example, if they need to download a mobile event app to engage with speakers and attendees outside their groups, encourage them to do so ahead of time.

5. Set the Standards for Participation

Many event sponsors and presenters are far more used to hosting in-person audiences than virtual ones. As such, it can be easy for them to neglect remote audiences and instead favor those sitting right in front of them.

Setting the standards for participation requires working closely with your venue partners and presenters to ensure that they regularly acknowledge their remote attendees, especially when they submit questions or call in. It’s important to show your virtual attendees that they aren’t merely an afterthought, but an integral part of your audience.

When giving airtime to remote audiences, you may also want to consider displaying their video and/or audio feeds to your in-person audiences too. With smaller events, such as business conferences, it can also make sense to have a dedicated video screen displaying their camera feeds.

Your virtual and in-person event managers should also work closely to ensure they relay any interactions between each audience group. Presenters should also be made equally aware of the observations and activities of both audiences. This is something technology can help with by making it possible for both parties to submit questions in the same format.

For example, in-person attendees might send questions via your mobile event app, while remote ones do so via the web-based event platform. This way, presenters and managers will receive questions through the same system for a cohesive experience that doesn’t favor one group over another.

6. Focus on Community-Building

Events aren’t all about presentations and workshops. They’re about community-building and networking. People don’t just join events to listen to someone else talking they also expect to make their voices heard and speak with other attendees with whom they have something in common. Consider, for example, the best event you ever attended. Was it great because of memorable presentations or because of the people you met and the networking opportunities? Though both are essential, many people would tend towards the latter.

While these expectations might be lower in the case of virtual events, things are changing fast. There are few better ways to make a real and lasting impact than by encouraging interaction between remote and in-person audiences. Better yet, by providing a way to transform these interactions into meaningful connections, the success of your event can resonate over many months or even years.

Attendees should also have the opportunity to interact directly with presenters. For example, they might visit event booths to talk to hosts in person during intervals or after the event. With a hybrid event platform, there’s no reason why their interactions can’t be replicated in a virtual environment too.

Finally, don’t forget to make your hybrid events integral to your long-term marketing strategy. After all, the best events aren’t those that everyone forgets about shortly after they’re over. To keep things moving afterward, be sure to follow up with your audiences via social media and email and keep a record of all presentations for attendees to view again later.

Stova is a hybrid event platform that helps organizers deliver great events through both digital and traditional channels. Request your live demonstration today to learn how.

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