Event audiences are growing more and more sophisticated in their needs and expectations. What wowed attendees of the 1980s and ‘90s doesn’t even get a raised eyebrow nowadays. Attendees want more from the events they attend; they want to be intrigued, challenged, and entertained. Thankfully, online technology can help you do all that and more. Instead of making big changes to the core of your event, add virtual content or features. Creating a hybrid event with both offline and online components is a great way to do this.
What Are Hybrid Events?
Industry events typically take place at a conference center or similar venue. People attend the event in person to network, learn, and engage with event content. In contrast, virtual events are held entirely online. Attendees meet in virtual spaces to interact with digital content. Then there are hybrid events, which incorporate elements of both. They provide event content and activities both at a physical venue and online, for those who can’t or choose not to attend in person.
For example, one way to create a hybrid event at an industry conference might be to set up an eLearning portal. Online viewers can see live broadcasts of conference events, along with learning material. For a trade show, a portal like this might include exhibitor and sponsor information, plus live broadcasts of keynote speakers.
What’s in It for Event Planners?
Live events have some big advantages that are hard to ignore. But virtual events have their own special advantages, some of which can’t be replicated at live ones.
The solution? Hold a hybrid event that incorporates elements of both.
In-person events offer unparalleled opportunities for face-to-face interaction that are difficult to replicate online. Live event networking is a combination of scheduled appointments and organic or chance meetings. For any attendee, that random stranger they bump into in the exhibit hall might just become a major sale. At a live event, you never know exactly what or who is around the corner. While online events are getting better at facilitating networking with avatars and in chat rooms, they may not cut it for people who love attending physical events for the spontaneous networking.
In contrast, there are unique benefits to virtual events that live events can only dream of. A virtual event has far fewer barriers to attendance. Lower cost, no travel requirement, and fewer accessibility issues means that almost anyone can attend.
Another major plus for virtual events is data. Virtual attendees generate data with every action they take while on the event website. That data can produce valuable insights. Live events can’t generate user data of the same quality due to the difficulty of tracking people seamlessly across the event space—and sometimes over multiple days. When it comes to analytics, virtual events are king.
Hold a live event, and you must forgo those advantages. Hold a virtual event, and you lose the face-to-face interactions that are such an important part of live ones. The solution? Hold a hybrid event, and retain all those advantages, and more.
You Can Plan an Unforgettable Hybrid Event
Hybrid events take a little more preparation and attention to detail than planning either a live or a virtual event does because it’s important that neither the live nor the virtual aspect of the hybrid event is overlooked. Don’t consider a hybrid event as a live event with a few virtual bits and pieces tacked on. The online content is an integral part of the whole, and should be planned accordingly.
Define Your Goals and Objectives
As with any event, the first step in planning is to define your event goals:
- What do you hope to achieve by holding this event?
- What are your objectives for live versus virtual content?
- What are the goals of your attendees? How will your event help them achieve those goals?
Start by defining your goals, so you can keep them in mind throughout the planning process. It’s also important to think about what your attendees are trying to achieve. If your event content helps them further their goals, they’ll be more likely to return for the next event you plan.
Once you’ve defined your goals, set your objectives. While your goals for both live and virtual content might be the same, your objectives may differ. You may also find your objectives change over the course of planning the event, particularly for the virtual portion. If you’ve never hosted an online event before, you may decide to refine your objectives as you learn more about what your virtual content will look like.
Provide the Necessary Tech Infrastructure
Having the right tech in working order is essential to a hybrid event. Every webpage that’s created for the event must be working perfectly. That means no dead links or inaccessible pages, and the site must have enough bandwidth to handle the load.
Don’t assume that all your virtual attendees will have the tech knowledge needed to access the site and all of its content. Make sure to provide clear and thorough instructions that they can follow to access the site and view and interact with content.
It’s also important to have a solid plan in place for dealing with problems. A glitch in the system could mean hours of downtime, with virtual attendees unable to access content. Ideally, you’ll have a tech team to oversee all aspects of the virtual experience, so that any problems can be dealt with quickly.
Optimize the Agenda
Most people will access a virtual event from home, or perhaps the workplace, so it’s important to consider that virtual viewers will have distractions that in-person attendees don’t have to contend with. In order to attend online, attendees are likely sitting at computers for most of the time, and few will be content to sit for eight hours or more watching presentations. Don’t ask them to. Optimize your event agenda so speakers and other presentations take up around half the time each day. Then weave in other added-value content that people can dip into as they please.
If you’re livestreaming a conference, for instance, plan to have scheduled downtime throughout the day where there are no major live presentations. During that downtime, you can stream content that adds to the virtual experience but isn’t “required viewing.” This might include:
- Interviews with sponsors, exhibitors, or speakers
- A roving reporter who visits exhibitor booths
- A recording of after-hours event entertainment from the night before, like a comedian or performer
This kind of content is simple but effective and doesn’t need much in the way of equipment. It can also become part of the event archive, available for viewing after it’s over.
Providing an effective schedule of virtual content can be a difficult balance. You don’t want a schedule that requires virtual attendees to sit at their computers for an entire day, but you also don’t want dead air during event hours. If you leave online viewers with nothing to look at, you risk losing them to anything else that’s going on around them.
At in-person events, accessibility accommodations need to be made so everyone can comfortably attend and take part. That means things like:
- Access ramps
- Wheelchair access
- Preferential seating
While physical accommodations like ramps aren’t necessary for the virtual portion of your event, other accommodations might be. For instance, live captioning should be provided for online attendees who are deaf or hard of hearing. This is particularly important for content that invites virtual participation; without live captioning, those people are excluded from taking part.
Another consideration is that at a virtual event, you may have attendees from all over the world. The bigger the event, the more impossible it becomes to create a schedule that accommodates all time zones. Some virtual attendees may be viewing during the evening or early morning, or even the middle of the night. This is another great reason to optimize your agenda for virtual viewing. If you spread the most popular or important speakers and presentations over the course of the event, they will be more accessible for global viewers.
Craft Effective Content
Traditional live event content includes speakers, workshops, and seminars. The virtual version of this kind of content typically means one of two things: Either it’s streamed live, or it’s recorded and then uploaded to view online. This isn’t a true hybrid approach, as the virtual user is still secondary to the in-person viewer. A true hybrid event considers both viewers as equally important. It engages the virtual user as well as in-person attendees.
For a speaker presentation, a hybrid approach might take questions from both in-person and virtual viewers during the Q&A. Another option is to present virtual viewers with polling questions during the presentation. The results can then be given in real time. They might even be discussed in the presentation itself, to include virtual viewers and highlight their input.
Plan to Follow Up
The end of an event means it’s time to gather and analyze data, and this is just as important for a hybrid event as it is for any other kind. The difference is, after a hybrid event, there’s a lot more data to analyze. With a significant part of the event online means, your virtual attendees generate data as they view and interact with content.
There’s also post-event survey feedback, which is particularly important if you’re holding your first hybrid event. You’ll be able to analyze and compare feedback from live and virtual attendees and use it to improve future in-person, virtual, and hybrid events.
Add Value to Your Event by Making It a Hybrid
Planning a hybrid event takes a little more effort on the front end, but the result is something that takes all your customers and prospects into account, no matter where they are and what their situations. By providing well-crafted virtual content, you can build an event that’s more valuable for you and your sponsors, as well as everyone who attends.
Let the event experts at BeyondLive help you plan and implement a successful hybrid event. Contact us to learn what we can do for you!