The combination of face-to-face and virtual events makes it possible to take advantage of the best of both formats to provide visitors with quality content in the way that best suits their needs. In this article we will see how to promote and organise successful hybrid events, exploiting all the characteristics of the two formats.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately brought various commercial sectors into a crisis, including the industry linked to the organisation of events which has had to face new challenges and invent innovative ways of attendance. The silver lining is that the digital world has come to the rescue of the events industry, thanks also to tools already introduced and developed in the past. Although there is no doubt that, from 2020 onwards, the events industry has evolved and changed in a rapid and almost forced way, for some years now, there has been interest in hybrid events, a combination of in-person and virtual events.
In addition to the need to organise safe events in a period like this, the mix of physical and digital has made it possible to bring new functionalities that an in-person event wouldn’t have allowed to fully exploit, as well as guaranteeing the participation of people who, for a different reasons, are unable to physically go to the venue of the event. This mix has been a sort of lifesaver for the industry in the past two years and although it is still likely that many people will prefer in-person events, the possibility of virtually accessing them will also be important in the future.
As a matter of fact, in a recent survey conducted by Freeman Data Solutions, 78% of the more than 20,000 industry professionals surveyed agree that hybrid events will be the norm for the next few years as well. Although it is very difficult to make reliable predictions (also due to the fact that the digital and technological world are moving at a very fast pace), it is likely that hybrid events will be a widely used option, at least in the short term.
In this article we will try to provide advice and suggestions in order to leverage the potential of the two formats and create a successful hybrid event.
Table of contents
Take advantage of the best of both formats
Even if, initially, it might seem useless or even harmful to give a digital connotation to your face-to-face event, that is not the case. A hybrid event benefits both those who are there physically and those who attend virtually. To a greater audience corresponds, in fact, a greater exposure both for the organisers and for any sponsor and speaker. Participants, in turn, will have many more ways to meet other people and access content. Likewise, speakers who have no way of physically participating in the event will still be able to provide their contribution.
Having said that, it is important to remember that hybrid events must allow people to live an experience that is as close to the presence in the flesh as possible even to those who connect virtually. Very often, when we talk about virtual events, we simply think of a meeting on some platform such as Zoom or Skype, or of a live streaming from some physical place with a chat to ask questions. But to make the most out of the opportunities provided by hybrid events (and to define them as such) it is necessary to make available to all attendees, including those connected remotely, the materials, experiences and networking opportunities that in-person attendees have access to.
How to promote a hybrid event
Hybrid events allow you to take advantage of different promotional strategies, depending on the results you want to achieve.
To avoid that the possibility of digitally attending the event could diminish the physical presence, you can consider selling tickets for the two formats at the same price. In this way, participants can choose what best suits their needs. In the meantime, we make it clear that the quality of the two fruition experiences will be the same.
Another strategy is to create two distinct promotional campaigns: one focused locally, to encourage in-person attendance, and one with a wider reach to advertise the virtual event. If, on the other hand, the event has a purely local character due to its nature or the topics covered, online participation could be promoted once the available physical places have been sold out.
Finally, there is always the up-selling strategy: proposing tickets with greater opportunities at consequently higher prices for both or only one of the two formats of the event. Up-selling can, for example, give an aura of exclusivity to the face-to-face event.
How to organise a hybrid event
Organising a successful hybrid event requires a wise combination of in-person networking experiences and digital content delivered to a much wider audience. Let’s see in detail how to do it:
Before the event
Provide all the necessary information
An excellent way to exploit the potential of digital technology is to show in advance the place where the physical event will take place and the functionalities of the platform for the virtual event. Although many users are now used to video calls and live streaming, each platform and – above all – each event includes unique options that it is useful to show in order to allow visitors to familiarise with them and be ready at the time of the event, maximising the opportunities for interactions.
This is not only useful for the attendees, but also for the speakers or the exhibitors. In this case, you could send them a short guide with all the information they will need to prepare themselves and, if available, also data on attendees (divided in in-person and online). This way, they will have a clear understanding of who they will talk to and can prepare the materials and content they will use in advance.
Furthermore, in order not to discourage users who decide to attend the event virtually (but also to provide valuable information to in-person attendees and resolve their potential doubts), it is advisable to keep the frequency of the communications high in the days leading to the event and respond in a timely manner to any question that may arise. E.g.:
- Provide information on how to download the platform app (if available) or the link from which to access the event.
- Provide information on the internet speed required to be able to take advantage of the event without interruptions. A big stumbling block when users have to purchase services provided through live streaming is the fear of not having a solid internet connection. Giving this information in advance (perhaps even linking a tool to check it) allows you to reassure potential participants.
Test (a lot)
It is also good practice to carry out some tests before the event. This should not only be limited to the speeches of the speakers or the organisers but it applies also to the infrastructure that hosts the event. Trying in advance the screen sharing option, the chat, the rooms, video cameras and audio systems allows you to know in advance what you will have to do on the day of the event and act quickly in case any unexpected problem occurs.
Even during the event, it may be necessary to resort to tests, therefore you could create a hidden session visible and accessible only to the organisers and speakers, so as to be able to test everything and possibly organise the next moves with the speakers that are not physically present at the event.
During the event
One of the biggest challenges when organising hybrid events is creating sessions that are engaging for all attendees, including those who are virtually attending.
Forbes suggests, after an initial welcome, to start directly with networking activities to allow live and online attendees to arrive and connect, get ready for the event, become familiar with the context that surrounds them (be it physical or virtual) and introduce themselves. After that, it’s the turn of one or two major speeches. Undoubtedly, the virtual participation modality will return a different experience than the face-to-face participation, but it is important that the engagement of online users is also kept very high in order to ensure the success of a hybrid event.
Therefore, the timing should be adapted to the digital format, with the individual sections of the event taking place in about 30 minutes. It often happens that, during an in-person event, visitors have to leave to answer the phone or perform other activities. The same also happens to users who are connected online, but the problem is that the availability of other media could easily distract them and keep them away for more than a few minutes. In order to avoid the loss of interest, some short breaks should be provided and communicated in advance, so that attendees know that there will be some time to, for example, respond to emails.
In addition, you should invite people to activate the webcam in case of interventions and/or questions (but remember to ask to turn off the mic when they are not speaking) and, if by chance there are comments in the chat, it is advisable that a moderator reads them aloud, to allow everyone to understand what they are referring to. You should also read the name of the person who sent the message, in order to personalise the conversation more.
In this regard, it can be useful to divide the online participants into some smaller rooms to stimulate participation and mutual information exchange. These rooms should always be open and accessible to facilitate networking activities. However, as mentioned above, to further monetise the event you could use limited access rooms for those who have purchased a Premium ticket, with additional content and opportunities.
Help visitors and users
Both the physical event and its virtual counterpart should include a help desk to help visitors find their way around and find what interests them the most. Customer assistance is an essential activity for any type of business, including events, and must be carried out always.
Therefore, it is important to indicate on the programme all the micro events that will take place during the main event, specifying their physical and virtual location, their duration and their content. If there are any last-minute changes, it is necessary to announce and reiterate them several times in order to avoid confusion among those who participate virtually, who could otherwise decide to disconnect if they do not find what interests them.
If there is no live broadcast, it is advisable to show a waiting screen that also indicates what the next speech will be and a countdown to allow participants to organise themselves accordingly. An exclusively black or non-optimised screen could lead users to think that the event is over or that there are technical problems.
These screens are also another useful promotional and branding tool: they should always include the logos of the event, the organisers and the sponsors, as well as a message to express gratitude towards partners and attendees.
After the event
After an event, there is often a frenetic activity of networking and lead generation. Therefore, it is necessary to continue with the communications, request to fill out surveys and leave comments and organise follow-up meetings with sponsors and exhibitors. If done properly, hybrid events allow to get a great amount of data and feedback that, once analysed, can provide important information for future events and commercial and promotional activities.
Online events are partly easier to organise, since it is not necessary to find a suitable location for a certain number of people, organise catering and book accommodation for participants and hosts. However, purely virtual events usually don’t have the same level of engagement as face-to-face ones.
A hybrid experience elevates an on-site event and broadens the potential audience, providing opportunities for meaningful engagement that couldn’t be achieved with a physical or virtual event alone. Event organisers who may encounter limits when it comes to the number of attendees due to the geographic location and size of the venue can thus accommodate a larger audience, while sponsors are able to amplify their visibility.
Depending on the type of event that you intend to organise and its purposes, combining an in-person and virtual event allows you to take advantage of the best of both worlds, in order to provide participants with an experience that is as immersive as possible. However, it will be necessary to observe the aforementioned rules if you want to organise a successful hybrid event.