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The Future of Hybrid Events: One Event, Two Experiences

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By Chelsey Tyler

Senior Client Partner

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If your organization relies on events to launch products, educate audiences, build connections or reach any other number of objectives, you’re likely in the midst of one of two scenarios: placing events on hold indefinitely or strategizing ways to shift your in-person events experience into a solely virtual one

The majority of people agree that physical events will reappear as we come out of lockdown, but that they’ll be very different. Even once the risks posed by COVID-19 are less prevalent, businesses may still lack budgets to send attendees to events, people may still be wary of traveling, and gathering in large groups may continue to be discouraged.

Thinking beyond 2020 and beyond coronavirus, what new event tools and technologies will emerge that will drive change? And most importantly, what new behaviors and expectations will attendees have? The digital investments you make this year and next will set you up for a strong hybrid event in the future — with even more profitable, practical and engaging ways to connect and continue doing business.

What, exactly, is a hybrid event? 

Hybrid events aren’t necessarily new, but the need for them has increased due to COVID-19. By combining virtual and in-person experiences (expos, conferences, demos, seminars, etc.), a hybrid event can be non-linear and creates opportunities to reach an even broader audience throughout the year — while delivering unique, highly-customized content and experiences. Hybrid events take place at both traditional venues and online, with some speakers presenting on stage and others joining via video. This dual approach can capture attendees’ imaginations as physical experiences are enhanced by digital and vice versa.

What’s the challenge for organizations rethinking an events strategy?

According to a Hotel Business survey of event planners this month, respondents said the biggest barrier to a hybrid event is lack of experience — followed by cost, risk of failure, perceptions of low attendance, confusion with technology and gaining stakeholder buy-in. 

There’s no doubt we’ll continue to gain insight as we collectively tread this new ground. Consider challenges like:

  • How to make both in-person attendees and those taking part virtually feel equally engaged
  • Recreating the spontaneous connections and networking, aka hallway conversations, that happen live 
  • Using new digital tools and formats to spark creativity
  • Creating an authentic experience while eliminating distractions
  • Combating screen time fatigue
  • Adjusting to the change in energy that comes with presenting virtually (some of which we address here)

As Google Cloud Next’s technology partner for the last four years, including managing the transition to a fully-virtual event in 2020 with Next OnAir, we have experience tackling these challenges — small hurdles compared to the vast opportunities hybrid events create. Leveraging digital technology alongside hybrid events will open the door to wider audiences, amplified content, new models for sponsorship and revenue generation, and improved insights. 

An enhanced experience for everyone, no matter the “venue” 

By following the model of “one event, two experiences,” you can create engaging, inclusive and accessible experiences for everyone. For example, you wouldn’t ask virtual attendees to sit and watch an in-person networking breakout or workshop, but you might offer virtual attendees exclusive opportunities to meet with speakers or to participate in online group discussions with experts. Then, join your audiences together by connecting your in-person and virtual guests in specific topic breakouts that merge live and video networking. 

For virtual attendees, consider offering live sessions multiple times so people can attend at the time that works best for them, but can still experience the energy of an in-person event. By also offering sessions on-demand, you can accommodate time zones and increase your reach even further.

Amplify and hyper-personalize your content

As you develop content for two types of audiences, make respectable screen time requests of your virtual audience — how long would you be willing to watch a live keynote or workshop? If you’re considering on-demand content, virtual audiences can consume at their own pace, and in-person attendees can watch sessions again to re-capture valuable information.

Moving forward, we’ll likely cease to see one-size-fits-all schedules in exchange for more personalized learning that blends a traditional event content with a learning management system (LMS) and social media. A hybrid event also creates opportunity for people or organizations who may not have otherwise shared knowledge to participate together — your list of possible speakers grows when you can tap into people who are willing to speak virtually but may not have been able to make an in-person time commitment in the past.

Get creative with sponsorships

With new event models comes new sponsorship and revenue generation models — a disruption of the traditional vendor hall. Sponsorships are vital to events, so how can you ensure your sponsors get the same value during a hybrid event? Consider that your sponsors now have an amplified audience with the addition of virtual attendees. Rather than signage, a booth and swag, you could offer sponsors digital elements like mobile app ads, push notifications, sponsored website pages, video spots prior to viewers accessing on-demand content and more. 

Expanded data leads to new revenue streams

Hybrid events will open the door to deep analytics and contextual information about your attendees. If you leverage custom technology to facilitate your hybrid event, your organization will have year-round opportunities for engagement and thus, a more regular cadence of leads.

Provide opportunities for digital participation and engagement to learn more about where attendees — in-person and virtual — go on your event site or in your app, what sessions they like and more. Incremental revenue generation opportunities come when you leverage this data gained before, during and after the event to re-promote content and products. For example, if a virtual attendee tuned into a new product demo, you can now follow up with a free product trial or discount code to pursue early funnel interactions. 

The current coronavirus crisis can be a catalyst for digital change and innovation within your organization. Will you watch others strategically pivot, or will you use this opportunity to create standout experiences for your expanded audience? Reach out for a free, two-hour workshop where we’ll help you consider all the ways in which hybrid events will maximize your brand for years to come.