How to organize successful hybrid events
The mix of face-to-face and virtual events makes it possible to take advantage of the best of both ways to provide visitors with quality content in the format that best suits their needs. In this article, we will see how to promote and organize successful hybrid events, exploiting the characteristics of the two formats.
Unfortunately, the global COVID-19 pandemic has put various commercial sectors in crisis, including the industry linked to the organization of events, which has had to face new challenges and invent innovative ways of participating. The positive side 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 talking of hybrid events, a mixture of face-to-face events and virtual events.
In addition to the need to organize events safely in a period like this, the mix of physical and digital has made it possible to bring novelties and functionality that an event in attendance could not have allowed to fully exploit, as well as guaranteeing the participation of people who, for a whole series of reasons, they are unable to go to the place of the event physically. This mixture has provided a lifesaver for the industry in these two years. Although it is still likely that many people will return to prefer the event in the presence, the possibility of virtually accessing it will also be important for the future.
In this article, we will try to provide advice and suggestions to make the most of the potential of the two formats and thus create a successful hybrid event.
Take advantage of the best of both formats
It might initially seem useless or even harmful to give a digital connotation to your event in presence, but it might not be so. A hybrid event benefits those who manage to be there physically and those who virtually follow. A greater audience corresponds, in fact, to greater exposure both for the organizers and for any sponsors and speakers. 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 contribute.
It is important to remember that hybrid events must allow people to live an experience as close to the presence in the flesh as possible, even to those who connect virtually. When we talk about virtual events, we often think of a meeting on some platform such as Zoom or Expertshare, or at most a virtual events platform some physical place with a chat to ask questions. But to make the most of the opportunities offered 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 attendees have access to in-person.
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 the possibility of digitally connecting to the event detracting from the physical presence, you can consider selling tickets for the two modes of participation at the same price. In this way, participants are left to choose the method that best suits their needs, communicating that the quality of the two fruition experiences will, in any case, be unchanged.
Another strategy is to create two distinct promotional campaigns, one focused locally to encourage participation in the presence 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 places for attendance have been sold out.
Finally, there is always the up-selling strategy: proposing tickets with greater opportunities at higher prices for both or only one of the two ways of using the event. Upselling can, for example, give an aura of exclusivity to the event in attendance.
How to organize a hybrid event
Organizing a successful hybrid event requires a clever combination of in-person networking experiences and digital content delivered to a wider audience. Let’s see in detail how to do it:
• Before the event
• Provide all necessary information
An excellent way to exploit the potential of digital 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 are good to show to allow visitors to familiarize themselves and be ready at the time of the event, maximizing the opportunities for interaction.
This is useful for the attendees and the speakers or exhibitors. In this case, you could send them a short guide with all the information they will need to prepare adequately and, if available, also data on visitors (divided between physical presence and online presence) so that they have a clear understanding of who they should contact and can prepare the material they will use in advance and with full knowledge of the facts.
Furthermore, in order not to discourage users who decide to participate in the online event (and to provide valuable information to visitors in attendance and resolve their potential doubts), it is advisable to keep the frequency of communications in the previous days high and respond promptly. Anticipation of any questions that may arise. E.g.:
Provide information on how to download the platform app (if provided) or the link to access the event. Provide information on the speed of the internet required to take advantage of the event without interruptions. A big stumbling block when users purchase products that provide live streaming is the fear of not having a strong enough connection. Giving this information in advance (perhaps even linking a tool to check it) allows you to reassure potential participants.
Do (many) tests
It is also good practice to carry out some tests before the event. This should be limited to the interventions of the speakers or organizers and the infrastructure that hosts the event. Trying in advance the sharing of contents on the screen, the chat functions, the subdivision into any 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 of any problems. Unexpected events.
Even during the event, it may be necessary to resort to tests. Therefore, it could be envisaged to create a remote session visible and accessible only to the organizers and speakers, to be able to test everything necessary and possibly organize with speakers who are not physically present at the event.
During the event
One of the biggest challenges when organizing hybrid events is creating sessions that are engaging for all attendees, both face-to-face and connected online.
Forbes suggests, after an initial welcome, starting directly with networking activities to allow live and online attendees to arrive calmly and prepare for the event, familiarize themselves 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 interventions. Undoubtedly, the virtual participation modality will return a different experience than face-to-face participation. Still, the involvement of online users must also be kept very high 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 connected users, but the problem is that the availability of other means could easily distract them and keep them away for more than a few minutes. To avoid the loss of interest, some short breaks should be provided, which should be communicated in advance, so that you know that there will be some time shortly to, for example, respond to emails.
In addition, you should invite people to activate the webcam in case of interventions and questions (but remember to ask to turn off the microphone when you are not speaking) and, if by chance there are interventions in chat, it is advisable that a moderator read them aloud, for Fr. let everyone understand what you are referring to, and also read the name of the person who sent the message, to personalize the conversation more.
It can be useful to divide the online participants into some smaller rooms to encourage participation and mutual information exchange. These rooms should always be open and accessible to facilitate networking activities. However, as mentioned above, to further monetize the event, limited access rooms could be used for those who have purchased a Premium version of the ticket, with additional content and opportunities.
Helping 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 (and for which they probably paid for). Customer assistance is essential for any business, even for events, and must be declined in various aspects.
Therefore, it is essential to report on the program all the micro-events that will occur during the event, specifying their location (both physical and virtual via links), duration, and contents. If there are any last-minute changes, it is necessary to announce and reiterate them several times 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 indicating what the next speech will be and a countdown to allow participants to organize themselves accordingly. An exclusively black or non-optimized screen could lead users to think that the event is over or technical problems.
These screens are also another useful promotional and branding tool: the event’s logos, organizers and sponsors should always be included, in addition to thanks.
After the event
After an event, there is often a frenetic activity of networking and lead generation. Therefore, it is necessary to continue with communications, request to fill in surveys, leave comments, and organize follow-up meetings with sponsors and exhibitors. If done properly, hybrid events allow for collecting a large amount of data and feedback, which, once analyzed, can provide important information on which to base subsequent events and commercial and promotional activities.
Online events are partly easier to organize since it is unnecessary to find a suitable location for a certain number of people, organize catering and book accommodation for participants and any hosts. However, purely virtual events usually don’t have the same level of engagement as those that take place face to face.
A hybrid experience integrates an on-site event and broadens the potential audience, offering opportunities for meaningful engagement that couldn’t be achieved with a physical or virtual event alone. Event organizers who may be limited in the number of attendees due to the geographic location and size of the venue can thus accommodate a larger audience, and sponsors can amplify their visibility.
Depending on the type of event you intend to organize and its purposes, the mix of face-to-face and virtual events allow you to take advantage of the best of both ways to provide participants with an experience as immersive as possible. However, it will be necessary to observe the precautions above to organize a successful hybrid event.