Engage360

Hybrid Events: Nailing the Virtual and In-Person Experience (Part 1)

Hybrid events are a great way to expand your audience reach and offer the option of either attending in person or virtually. But what is a hybrid event exactly and what are the benefits to offering a digital component to an event?

A hybrid event typically combines a physical event with elements of a digital event, usually running simultaneously and with overlapping content and interactive elements all broadcasted over the Internet. These types of events can be done in many different ways such as having an in-person audience at a physical venue with guest speakers tuning in remotely or having half of your audience in-person and the other half remote while all content is available in person or live-streamed through a virtual platform. 

A successful hybrid event can be difficult to achieve as live-streaming video content to a remote audience is just a one-way broadcast, offering limited or no interaction for the remote audience. Without the other “event experiences” such as being able to network, meet and interact with those onsite, remote attendees will be less engaged and, as a result, the program will not deliver the full results that could be achieved. 

Follow along below for seven tips on how to host an interactive and engaging hybrid event!

Define Your Target Audience

Before you begin planning any type of event, you’ll need to define your target audience. To do this, ask yourself questions like: Who would benefit from engaging with the content I am providing? Who are my current clients/customers? Where are the gaps in my current customer database? What industries could benefit from this event?

Set Expectations for In-Person and Virtual

A hybrid event is very different from an in-person event and a virtual–and that’s ok as long as you define your audience’s expectations.

Setting expectations can cover a lot of topics, but one important one to discuss is whether your in-person attendees will also have access to the online venue. This is something you’ll want to inform your attendees about in case you want in-person attendees to be able to interact with your digital attendees (we highly suggest you do).

Another expectation to go over is the procedure for the event. This covers in-person regulations such as time to arrive, agenda, conference location and digital procedures such as how to login, who to contact in case of a technical issue, and how to use the platform you have decided on.

Your agenda is a crucial component of setting audience expectations. Not only does your agenda let your audience know what kind of content to expect, but also when to expect it. It’s necessary to state on your agenda that there will be a digital component to this event and whether or not the online content will differ from your in-person content. Allowing audiences to see the two agendas, should you have one for digital and one for in-person, allows for attendees to choose which experience they would prefer.

Keep Digital Audiences Top of Mind

When considering your digital audience, there are many factors to keep in mind. One of these factors is time. Wherever your physical event is being held will be during a specific time frame to meet your in-person audience’s needs. This time frame does not necessarily suit the needs of your digital audience as they can be located across the globe and in various time zones (a great benefit). In order to meet their needs, consider offering on-demand videos and extended meeting times for those who wish to network.

Another great way to keep your digital audience top of mind is allowing them to schedule 1:1 meetings with sponsors, vendors, and networking opportunities before the event begins. These pre-scheduled meetings will not only allow your digital audience to plan out their day ahead of time but it will also help your vendors and sponsors to set aside time specifically meant for engaging with the digital audience.

Read our recent post on face-to-face meetings.

Can virtual meetings offer the face-to-face interaction that people crave during virtual events?

Create Shared Experiences

Bridging the gap between your virtual and in-person audience can be achieved through shared experiences. Shared experiences offer a point of connection for your two audiences to discuss and remember long after the event has ended. There are many ways you and your team can come up with shared experiences but a few that are typically successful are:

  • Make sure the session Q&A is for everyone! During the sessions, have an online host in the room that is logged into the virtual event platform and scan and encourage questions from the remote audience that they can ask on their behalf in the room. Oh, and make sure that every question asked on site is either repeated or done into a mic that is connected to the virtual platform. Don;t forget, our virtual host in the room will also need a mic.
  • Allowing both virtual and in-person attendees to submit Q&A questions for guest speakers ahead of time is also a nice touch. (This allows both types of audience members to feel heard during the presentation)
  • Creating a virtual social lounge that all attendees have access to. This allows virtual attendees to engage with physical attendees and discuss conference content.
  • Providing small group meetings and roundtables. Again, this is a great way to engage both types of attendees!
  • Providing an interactive experiential activity. Activities such as photo booths with a physical location and a digital experience are a great way to highlight all your attendees–and bonus points if they allow you to create a display wall with all the pictures! A great way to create shared experiences is also to livestream activities such as a cocktail/cooking class, a Comedian guest speaker, and a DJ.

Encourage Collaboration

Collaboration is a great way to engage your audience–whether they’re remote or in-person–and is key to the hybrid event experience. As mentioned in the Shared Experience section above, a great way to engage audience members is to allow networking and social meetings. Roundtables, breakout rooms, and group sessions encourage attendees, both digital and in-person, to talk about the presentation, get to know each other, and chat with your event sponsors. One way to accomplish this is to provide either access to the virtual site to physical attendees or to have tablets accessible to those on-site.

You can also engage all attendees by enabling gamification and awarding prizes to those who interact with the digital site the most. This encourages your physical attendees to also be involved with the online component of your event, creating a truly hybrid experience for them.

Drive Awareness

As with any event, you’ll want to drive awareness about it in order to reach a larger audience. The benefit of a hybrid event is that it offers prospective attendees the choice to attend in person or online. Highlighting this choice of a hybrid experience acknowledges your attendees needs, recognizes the changing atmosphere of the world around us, and eliminates the issue of travel and hotel costs.

You’re more likely to get more attendees when offering a hybrid event, so you’ll want to include this information in your press releases, social media posts, and any promotional material you produce.

Respond to Feedback

As with any event, you’ll want to drive awareness about it in order to reach a larger audience. The benefit of a hybrid event is that it offers prospective attendees the choice to attend in person or online. Highlighting this choice of a hybrid experience acknowledges your attendees needs, recognizes the changing atmosphere of the world around us, and eliminates the issue of travel and hotel costs.

You’re more likely to get more attendees when offering a hybrid event, so you’ll want to include this information in your press releases, social media posts, and any promotional material you produce.

Talk to one of our event strategist about supporting your hybrid event goals.