With Omicron case numbers dropping and having less severe symptoms for the vaccinated and those without pre-existing health concerns, more states are relaxing social distancing and mask requirements – signaling the return of physical events and meetings. As Bob Priest-Heck, CEO of Freeman, noted, IN-PERSON EVENTS: WHY VIRTUAL CONNECTIVITY IS NO LONGER OPTIONAL physical events are going to need to leverage the unique power of digital. The benefits of reaching larger audiences and generating more actionable analytics – as well as year-long engagement – are significant.
A hybrid event combines both in-person and virtual elements – enabling you to reach a larger audience, including many people that are still not ready to travel and join large crowds, those that are experiencing reduced travel budgets. or simply don’t have the time to travel as they have too much work due in-part to the Great Resignation.
Unfortunately, the challenges with producing a hybrid or, as John Chambers the former CEO of CISCO likes to call them, “blended versions of in-person and virtual meetings”, are even greater in part due to the same Covid issues that are driving virtual events adoption overall. First, in general, attendance at physical events is still way down from pre-pandemic levels. Many of our clients are reporting 50% drops in registration – which puts a lot of pressure on revenues affecting every line item in the event budget and, ultimately, the user experience. Revenues from exhibit sales and sponsorships have not been as affected but we haven’t heard of anyone with sponsor and exhibit revenues being on par with the good old days.
Many organizations have either trimmed or lost members of their events team and are stretched to do more with less – and that’s just the physical event execution. Hybrid events are a whole additional, simultaneous event execution challenge that many organizations do not have the staff to execute well, if at all. With Engagez, we can assist with your staffing problem as our team can take care of your remote audience while you remain fully engaged with your on-site audience.
When considering a hybrid format for your event, it’s important to fully understand your objectives, your budget, and your desired level of participant interactivity. In the continuing series of articles, we’ll help lead you through the initial processes of planning your hybrid event – including format, level of interactivity, and staffing. Separately, we’ll also dive deeper into costs and production alternatives that can ease the burden.
What Hybrid Model is Best for You?
Two of the most important aspects of organizing a hybrid event are ensuring that both physical and virtual participants are equally included and that all have the opportunity to engage with each other. It’s important to make sure you have a hybrid event platform that supports both sides of your event in order to streamline and simplify the process. Engagez has settings and features in the platform that cater individually to people who are attending at the physical event as well as those participating remotely (book a demo to see that in action). Providing this inclusivity and engagement will first require you to consider which style of hybrid event works best for you, and the level of interactivity you’ll provide your attendees. There are a number of hybrid event formats to choose from, including but probably not limited to:
The Single Site Event
In the very early days of television, they simply turned cameras on a play being performed on stage. It took some time for them to understand and develop the new form of media, the same challenges we now face when creating virtual or hybrid events. At its most basic, the hybrid event – just like early television – uses technology to stream the content from the actual physical location to the virtual audience. Often called a single site event, it has the advantages of having an increased reach and accessibility to a potentially global audience, and can be viewed in real time or on demand. This format can work well for a passive event – where there is no real-time interaction needed – and can be useful when the focus is to simply provide information. But, it also faces the typical challenges faced by virtual events: keeping attendees engaged; providing networking opportunities; creating worthwhile experiences for both virtual and in-person attendees; and being able to monetize the event.
The Event After the Event
An offshoot of the single-site event is the event after the event. This involves recording a small, real-world event and using the content for a later virtual event that adds engagement and networking opportunities. The recorded content may be generated from a “home office” meeting with top management, or even with a celebrity speaker to kick off the proceedings. It may just include the live keynote speeches – or can be broken into segments that the virtual participants can use for breakout sessions and panel discussions. This format can be particularly useful when dealing with international participants, as it can be tailored to different time zones and languages.
The Networked or Multiple Hubs Event
A networked event consists of two or more concurrent in-person events that are connected virtually. This provides attendees the benefits of a smaller, more intimate session that is combined with access to sessions and other attendees taking place elsewhere. It has the advantages of providing in-person networking and has smaller venue requirements. In these times, having smaller in-person meetings means it is easier to ensure that safety protocols are followed. However – as there is no single, centralized location for the event – this model requires a high degree of precision planning. The hubs all need to understand how they are contributing to the production of the event. It can be challenging to create a balance between the groups, ensure all have the chance to speak, to maintain engagement with and between participants, and deal with the logistics of having multiple event venues.
The Hub and Spoke
Lastly, the hub and spoke model is quickly becoming the favored format for hybrid events. It features a central in-person event that is broadcasted to many smaller, in-person events in different locations. This enables event organizers to provide centralized content and speakers, build upon past events, add another dimension to the attendee experience, and bring together a global audience – while also validating the importance of regional sites. Even though this model has a lead venue, the regional hubs have the opportunity to run their own activities as part of the overall event. The hub and spoke model can require a higher production budget as it combines the physical main event with the necessary technology and services for creating the virtual side. As always, finding a balance between physical sites and the real vs. virtual world is vital for success.
Other styles will certainly evolve as we continue to think outside of the box and utilize the virtual/hybrid platform for engagement. Your organization may very well create your own model, built upon your unique needs. Once you have chosen your hybrid event format, you’ll want to consider what kinds of interactivity you will provide your participants in order to keep them engaged and achieve your event’s objectives. In future articles, we’ll discuss what options for interactivity are currently available, what staffing will be required, and what special features venues are currently offering for hybrid events.