After event organizers were forced to rethink their plans in 2020, virtual and hybrid events saw a sharp uptick in popularity. And it’s likely these kinds of events will stick around. In particular, hybrid events, which combine aspects of virtual and in-person events, have significant benefits that may make them a popular choice in the future. If you’re on the fence as far as online events go, learning more about their offerings may have you wondering: Should I plan a hybrid event? Find out who hybrid events work great for and whether they’re right for you.
What Is a Hybrid Event?
Live events take place at a physical venue, for instance a convention center or hotel. Virtual events take place online, in a variety of virtual spaces and platforms. Hybrid events combine elements of both. At the first hybrid events, the bulk of the event’s content still happened at the physical venue. For those who couldn’t make it, supplemental content, such as video of speakers and presenters, was made available online.
However, partly in response to COVID-19 and partly due to the natural evolution of the event industry, hybrid events are changing. It used to be that most content was available at the live venue only. But now the online part of the hybrid event is an increasingly significant part of the whole. And it’s increasingly important to deliver a quality event experience online as well as at the venue. There’s also a new emphasis on a unique online experience, rather than a second-rate version of the in-person event.
How Do Hybrid Events Compare to Virtual Events?
Online events have some major advantages, but live events have unique benefits too. The biggest overall benefit of the hybrid event is that you don’t have to choose between the two. Holding a hybrid event, versus a solely live or solely online event, lets you retain the advantages of both.
Advantages of Virtual Events
Online events—and by extension, hybrid events—have significant advantages. They are unmatched in terms of their ability to generate useful data. While an in-person event can also provide useful attendee data, it can be difficult to track individuals seamlessly across the entire event space and timeline. Online, it’s exactly the opposite. It’s easy to track individual users and just as easy to combine individuals into different user groups to monitor trends. The ease with which this data can be generated, categorized, and analyzed, is unmatched. A virtual event can provide a wealth of useful information.
Another major benefit of virtual events is that there are fewer barriers to attendance compared to live events. Ticket prices are generally lower. Other financial costs are eliminated, as attendees don’t need to travel or book accommodations. There are no accessibility issues, apart from those that might apply to computer use. And there are no geographical barriers. Anyone can attend any virtual event, from almost anywhere in the world.
Disadvantages of Online Events
In-person events have a social interaction aspect that virtual events can’t quite replicate. A well-designed virtual environment can do a good job at replicating parts of the experience, but for many people, live events are better when it comes to networking and other interpersonal interactions.
Another aspect of live events that virtual events can’t replicate is the sheer spectacle. Think of huge events such as E3 and CES. The biggest brands in attendance compete to build the largest, showiest, most impressive exhibits. Nobody will ever forget Google’s huge playground installation at CES in 2019 or the E3 2019 moment when Keanu Reeves casually dropped in on Microsoft’s Xbox press conference. These moments are well known even among people who didn’t attend those events. It’s impossible to overstate their value, and, for now, they’re unique to in-person experiences.
The Hybrid Difference
Hybrid events combine both live and virtual events in the same package. This means they retain all the advantages of virtual events, including reduced barriers to attendance and improved data analytics. But, thanks to the inclusion of the live event aspect, the disadvantages of online-only events no longer apply. Attendees can visit a physical venue to see amazing exhibits and experience the networking and social benefits of live events. Meanwhile, those who are unable to attend in person—or who prefer not to—can still enjoy a valuable event experience online.
Should I Plan a Hybrid Event? Pros and Cons to Consider
Hybrid events compare well to both live and virtual events, of course, since they retain all the benefits of both. But hybrid events themselves also have some unique benefits and a few challenges that it’s important to consider.
Pro: More Options for Attendees
For attendees, hybrid events mean more choice. Reduced attendance barriers allow more people the option to attend. Plus, the ability to have a valuable event experience both online and in-person makes attending virtually a viable choice; it’s no longer just a fallback option for people who can’t go to the “real” event. With hybrid events, the online option is just as “real” as attending in person.
Pro: More Inclusion Equals Greater Attendee Diversity
The hybrid model eliminates many barriers that prevent people from attending events. It’s cheaper to attend an event online, and both geographical and physical attendance barriers are eliminated. People who previously couldn’t attend an event may be able to if that event becomes hybrid.
When you reduce barriers to attendance, your event can attract more people, as well as different types of people. And with a more diverse range of people comes a more diverse range of experiences, ideas, and opinions. And that makes for richer debates and discussions, lending even more value to the event content itself.
Con: Hybrid Events Have More Moving Parts
In some respects, a hybrid event is like producing two events on the same timeline. This is especially important to remember when it comes to your audience. Both in-person and online attendees expect a high-quality experience. Neither will want to feel they’re getting second place in that regard. These days, your online audience wants more from an event than a livestream camera recording from the back of the room. Going hybrid with your event means committing to high production values for both virtual and live content.
The bottom line is, it’s important to deliver a great experience for both sets of attendees. It doesn’t have to be the same, but both the in-person and the virtual event must deliver valuable content and an enjoyable attendee experience. And this does necessarily make hybrid events more complicated to put together than either live or virtual events.
Con: Budgeting May Be More Challenging
Budgeting for hybrid events may be tricky, at first. You’ll be working with an entirely new event model without a firm idea of how that model will ultimately affect your costs and revenue. Some costs will increase, but some will decrease. And in 2021, at least, you’ll still be planning with COVID-19 in mind, which may increase certain costs. Some hybrid event factors that might affect your budget include:
Venue costs may decrease if you have reduced attendance and space needs at the live event. But in 2021 remember to also factor in the effect that social distancing will have on your space needs.
Health and safety is another cost that may affect your budget in 2021. At some venues this could be part of the cost to book, so it’s important to check and make sure if this is something you have to cover yourself.
Technology may be your biggest budgetary change. Professional-quality streams and other online content, plus the cost of setting up an event website to host virtual content add up. On the plus side, any video content you create becomes a long-term, valuable asset that can be used for training, marketing, and even future events.
Minimum spends on accommodation and catering may be harder to meet when you have fewer in-person attendees. You may need to look for new hotel or catering vendors to avoid minimum spends that no longer work for your budget.
Hybrid Events Are Here: Are You Ready?
Hybrid events may not end up being the new normal in every industry, but they are here to stay. They offer clear advantages over other event types, but their greater complexity means being able to rely on an experienced, knowledgeable team like the professionals at BeyondLive is even more valuable. Don’t miss the opportunity to meet clients and prospects exactly where they are and precisely where they want to be: online and in person.