Event planners and attendees alike are facing the reality of planning events in a post-COVID world, and the landscape has changed. Regular, in-person events as everyone knew them will likely always look a little different. Remote events have been passable in the interim but are really not a long-term solution when it comes to driving growth. As everyone looks to the future, hybrid events seem to be a viable plan to be able to balance the need to have some in-person contact and also reach a broad audience.
Hybrid events allow you to blend all the elements of a virtual and in-person event together while still practicing safe guidelines. The trick is to have all the right marketing and technological strategies in place to ensure you’re not ignoring one audience and favoring another — and to also utilize your objectives to the best of your abilities. Read on to learn more about hybrid events and how best to tweak them to your maximum potential.
What Does a Hybrid Event Look Like?
If you haven’t yet attended a hybrid event, it’s essentially an in-person event with virtual components so audiences can watch from home. In the current post-COVID world that we’re living in, the in-person side of things might still look a bit abrupt upon entry. Be prepared to see plenty of hand sanitizing stations, temperature checks, contactless check-ins, and other safety features put forth by the CDC for events of various sizes. In order to drive growth with your hybrid event beyond health and safety, which is of dire importance, there are other things you’ll want to think about, such as presenter setup, how to keep your audience at home entertained and how to keep everything in perspective.
Determining Your Marketing Strategy
Hybrid events are no different than hosting a webinar or hosting a face-to-face event in that you must determine your marketing strategy well before the first invite goes out. The good news is, geography is no longer a problem. The difficulty with this is you may not be as in touch with your client base as you were when you were working with a smaller group.
A Typical F2F Marketing Strategy
One of the best ways to determine your hybrid marketing strategy is to draw on what your previous face-to-face (F2F) strategy was (provided you were getting good results). Having a greater reach is not a bad thing at all, but it still revolves around that one key cornerstone: getting people to sign up for the event, whether it’s in-person or virtual.
Travel and Geography No Longer a Factor
With travel and geography no longer a factor, updating your marketing strategies is a must. It’s what you update them to that is the question. What does become easier is tracking the effectiveness of your campaigns since so much will be handled through an online portal. You will have your share of no-shows and cancellations because it’s easy to when it’s virtual. That doesn’t mean you have to give up on them. Don’t be pushy, but allow them (gently) another offer for the next event. Also, with travel no longer a factor, you can offer year-round, accessible content.
Live and On-Demand Content
Depending on the nature of your business and what pitch you are going for, there is also the opportunity to offer live and on-demand content. Even though your hybrid event will have a virtual offering, you will still have people interested in attending and listening to what you have to say, but the time slot just doesn’t work. Just like a regular event, people still have lives, school, activities — so this begs the question, do you want to allow live or on-demand or recorded content, or do you want them to wait for the next event?
Using Technology to Drive Growth
The fact that technology has been the major factor behind driving growth in business for decades goes without saying — but when it comes to your hybrid event, you want to use tech and data to the best of your ability to figure out how to steer this thing. At this point, no one is fond of the term “unprecedented times,” but yet here we still are, trying to decide what the next best step is.
Learning Management Systems
If you’re not using one already, having a learning management system (LMS) at your disposal is a great way to combine both your in-person data as well as your virtual data to track how well you’re performing. In the past, trying to gather data after one or two in-person events was exceedingly difficult; now if a good deal of your attendees are remote, LMS is a good way to effectively track and view analytics online.
Collecting and Analyzing Data
Getting to know your audience better is a vital part of any event, but if you’re hosting an in-person event, you may have the cocktail party, the Q&A, and other sections where you can do this. While this isn’t raw data, you’re still gaining insight. When it comes to your virtual crowd, you’re in the dark. A way you can get past this is by simply gathering basic information without asking for too much. It can be as simple as asking your at-home audience to fill out a form before or after (or both) the livestream. Collecting and using this data can help with the expansion of audiences, which is the driving force behind growth.
Using Data to Improve ROI
Once you’ve collected data, how do you use it to improve ROI? It’s best to have a data analytics dashboard where you can plug in all of these parameters to find out what’s working and what isn’t. It’s going to be touch and go with hybrid events in the first few months, but they likely are the way of the future, so if you find one data set that works in one instance, it’s a good idea to try it out again to see if it was a fluke, or if you’ve made a lasting impression.
Bring Reality to the Audience at Home
One of the initial struggles that organizers have had with hybrid events is keeping the attention of the remote audience. If you think about Zoom meetings you’ve attended, you can see how someone’s attention span can drift with the distractions that come from being at home. So, one of the things that has become important is to make the event seem most “real” to the people sitting at home.
Utilize Social Media
Whatever platform you may be using (whether it be Zoom or something else), remember that you can utilize other platforms to keep things interesting — and to even get attendees at home interacting with each other. This can be anything from a hashtag on Twitter to a private Facebook group set up pre-event, to Instagram posts. If you can find a creative way to make your event seem even bigger to the audience at home, it will hold their attention better, which will give you a better chance of getting your point across.
Adequately Address Your Remote Audience
You don’t want to make the mistake of running your event like your remote audience doesn’t exist. Assuming this is an event where various speakers and presenters will be coming to the microphone, everyone should be addressing the remote audience and trying to get them involved. This is where you want the best technology at your disposal so some back and forth discourse can happen (hint: don’t shirk on the venue) and that your remote audience feels included. This also comes to an excellent reminder not to make a mistake that too many others already have made: Anyone hosting or presenting at the event should be in-person at the event. No one who’s presenting or hosting should be part of the Zoom crew. There are a lot of reasons for this, but “technical difficulties” tops the list. If you lose your main presenter, you lose your event. Presenters have to be in-person.
Provide Real Experiences
You can provide many virtual experiences for your remote audience, including Google I/O and Adobe MAX. But a novel idea is to also use real footage from past in-person events or from past hybrid events. While this may not be a thrilling VR piece, your audience will enjoy taking a moment to see a different side of you as a company.
How to Create Better Hybrid Experiences
Whether you are speaking with your in-person audience or your remote audience, a hybrid event can feel clunky, and trying to create a better experience is trial and error. Some of what creates a better hybrid experience comes from a psychological standpoint and truly is just the art of presenting well.
The Art of Spacing
Managing both audiences at once can be difficult, so spacing is key. Being a good presenter has to do with addressing them both, without favoring either one. However, you’re not always going to be the only one at the podium, so what you can do is try to stick to a strict timeline. Of course, we don’t want to stop the clock if there’s a terrific Q&A discussion going on, but if you feel it’s time and the remote audience is likely getting tired, it’s up to you to end the panel. Space out the timeline in the way you feel it best flows throughout the day or evening, keeping in mind time zone differences for all of your attendees.
Not everything about a hybrid event has to be presentations at a podium or panel discussions. Don’t be afraid to bring VR to the table, incorporate music or art into your events, or have virtual cocktail hours. Try to make your hybrid events as cheerful as your full in-person ones were.
Break Content Into Pieces
Remote watchers at home (and many in-person attendees, for that matter) can’t sit through long spaces of content for too long, so break content into bite-sized chunks, ensuring you don’t drop their attention. If you feel audiences might be getting bored, don’t nervously jump into the next item on the schedule — just keep this in mind for next time and add it to your data set (what worked, and what definitely didn’t work).
When you’re planning a hybrid event, remember that a hybrid event still needs a venue, and CORT can help you with event rental furniture and accessories to make your hybrid event stand out from the rest. Connect with us or head to the CORT Event page for more details.
Photo by Jesus Loves Austin on Unsplash