Being in two places at once...

What’s a hybrid event and why should you care?

Jon Hodges | Digital Director
4 mins
When people talk about hybrid events, they talk about bringing worlds together - joining a real-world brand experience to its online virtual counterpart. One audience attends in person, living your event, while the other logs in remotely to soak things up at their own pace.

A brief recent history

Covid-19 changed the world in so many ways. One of them was an openness to and understanding of hybrid events. Brands grew more comfortable with virtual events and, as the world began to open up again, they looked for more flexible approaches.

As hybrid events have grown in popularity, one concern we often hear is this: won't adding a virtual component diminish my in-person attendance?

Organisers worry their audience will take the easier online option. And as a result, they deliberately compromise its quality to make sure their event remains a ‘must attend’.

However, the post-covid resurgence of in-person events highlights an enduring desire for face-to-face interactions. Adding a virtual audience boosts engagement and lowers barriers to entry – potentially converting virtual attendees into in-person participants in subsequent years.

Still, there's a lot that goes into making a hybrid event successful. To understand that, we need to get more specific about what hybrid events are – and what they could become...

Is Arsenal vs. Manchester City a hybrid event?

Competitive sport is watched by one audience in the stadium and another on barstools and living room couches. The Academy Awards ceremony is attended by golden-gowned celebrities and broadcast to our homes.

But these aren’t hybrid events. It isn’t just a new name for something that’s been around for decades.

We define a hybrid event as something that enables both of those audiences – at home and in-person – to engage with and influence the experience.

So why go hybrid?

The advantages of hybrid events have been laid out elsewhere, so here’s their key benefits in brief:

More sustainable. If you shrink in-person event and put more weight on a virtual component, you cut emissions from production and, crucially, attendee travel to the event. 80% of the carbon emissions generated by the Coachella music festival come from attendee travel, for example. Cutting size also helps you cut cost, due to the expense of set builds and venue rental.

A bigger audience. In 2020, IBM pivoted their in-person ‘Think’ event to virtual and more than tripled their audience. The risk of losing in-person attendees to an easier, cheaper digital component is far outweighed by the potential to increase overall engagement – for this event, and future events.

More sponsorship opportunities. For sponsors, hybrid events mean better reach, better targeting and new ways to talk to digital attendees one-to-one. And that’s in addition to all the sponsorship options that come with in-person events.

A rich content library. All the livestreams, keynotes, panel discussions and Q&As you’ll record for your at-home audience have a valuable afterlife. After the event, this content can be repurposed into varied and inviting digital marketing, or brought together on a Netflix-style streaming channel and made available as a catch-up service.

Know your audience. Every action in a virtual event leaves a digital trace that is invaluable for improving future events. Analytics can reveal not only how many people viewed each part but how long they watched for, how they engaged and – with chat feeds and live polling – how sentiment changed over time.

Better agility, more flexibility. With hybrid events, audience size can scale up and down more easily to meet real demand. And should unforeseen circumstances suddenly make your in-person experience impossible, a hybrid set-up lets you pivot to a fully virtual event in hours, saving what would otherwise have been a total loss.

Every action in a virtual event leaves a digital trace that is invaluable for improving future events.

A primer on successful hybrid events

Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind when it comes to hybrid events is that you’re creating two distinct audience experiences within a single whole.

To succeed, you must balance the needs of these two groups. Navigate the different drawbacks and benefits of in-person versus virtual attendance, and bring both together with a strong, consistent theme.

You’re creating two distinct audience experiences within a single whole.

For your virtual audience…

Engage fully. They should never feel like they’re sitting in the cheap seats. Give them a dedicated presenter at the in-person experience – their representative on the ground, taking them through the live event.

Make content engaging, interactive, and brief. Your at-home audience isn’t captive, so holding their interest is a minute-to-minute battle. Use live polls and chat feeds. Keep presentations brief and visually motivated. Vary formats, with fireside chats, panel discussions, Q&As. One-to-many, one-to-few, one-to-one.

We’ve found the best reference for how you approach virtual is to treat it like an entertainment magazine show, keeping everything short, dynamic and visually interesting.

Use a range of camera angles, animated stings and overlaid information to give virtual attendees ‘in-play analysis’ they can only get by watching from home.

Your at-home audience isn’t captive, so holding their interest is a minute-to-minute battle.

For in-person attendees…

Let them know that if they miss anything, it will be uploaded to the event portal post-event for online on-demand viewing. This is added value for very little extra effort, and it takes away the stress, for them, of trying to cram everything into their day.

It is also important to create moments at the live event that are ‘you had to be there’ experiences. Elements of your programme that will not be recorded or uploaded because they’re exclusives that justify the extra effort of attending in person.

And bringing it all together…

Virtual attendees should have flexibility to consume content at their own pace, but some elements of their programme should be live, too, to create a shared sense of occasion where they’re ‘watching alone together.’

These live elements should be shared with the in-person audience, so both groups are unified at important moments like your keynote address.

At the live event, consider an installation that links both groups on a person-to-person level, too. A digital networking lounge where in-person attendees can talk to individuals from the virtual audience, drastically widening the scope and scale of everyone’s networking opportunities.

Ivory has the expertise and experience to find the right mix for your hybrid event. Talk to us today to find out more.

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