Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Hybrid vigour: The future of events?

By Amanda Meade, Marketing Manager Events and Experience at Permutive

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

During the course of the COVID pandemic, there has been a clear emergence of a new word to describe how we gather – hybrid. This model has spread with everything from hybrid offices to hybrid classrooms and finally, hybrid events.

With COVID restrictions easing, there has been a lot of talk about hybrid events, but what will they look like and can they really work? 

Anecdotally, countless colleagues and peers have shared that they cannot wait for in-person events to come back. They miss the unique opportunity these moments create for building relationships and trust, and their more informal and social nature. Putting a screen in between people effectively removes this aspect of in-person interaction. 

In their Virtual Attendee Experience Report, Bizzabo found that attendees mostly remember the social aspects of events they attend. Their analysis of data from 967 events over a 12-month period, combined with surveys from 700 attendees, also revealed that attendees are having less fun at virtual events and that virtual events allow little room for spontaneity as “attendees struggle to ignite spontaneous conversations”.

Zooming out further, in-person events have significant financial benefits for individual businesses and local economies. The International Association of Exhibitions and Events found that B2B events contributed $101 billion dollars to the U.S. GDP in 2019 and over 6.6 million jobs rely on in-person events. 

The desire to attend in-person events coupled with decreasing COVID cases, increasing rates of vaccine adoption and greater prevalence of Zoom fatigue will help in-person events make their comeback. In fact, Northstar Meeting Group’s most recent PULSE Survey revealed that 82% of event planners surveyed will hold live meetings this year. 

While many people are excited to close their laptops and leave the confines of their homes to experience an event live with their peers, others are not as eager. And for good reason.

Virtual events allow for greater reach and inclusivity. They give attendees the opportunity to choose how they experience an event. People who can’t attend or who are uncomfortable with attending in person can still engage with the event online. Virtual events are also more cost-effective for organizers and attendees alike, as they eliminate the cost of travel, accommodations, venue, rentals, catering…the list goes on. 

So let’s talk about the area where in-person overlaps with virtual on the events Venn diagram – hybrid events. As the world opens up post-COVID, the question still remains: how can we ensure that our events have power, serendipity, and fun when we’re working from a hybrid model?

Put health & safety at the forefront.

As the world opens up post-COVID, we must put specific, clearly defined health and safety protocols in place to ensure attendees are protected throughout the entire event. Be sure to communicate these standards to prospective attendees so they feel psychologically safe to commit to coming to the event in the first place. 

Prioritize content and interactivity.

Focus on providing real value both for learning and networking. Develop programming with strong, differentiated content featuring diverse speakers who offer unique and innovative perspectives. Encourage networking and community building by hosting smaller events around your main event. Consider 10 – 20 person virtual watch parties where attendees can view sessions at the same time and chat with each other in real-time. For sessions that involve international speakers panels, you may consider organizing scaled back in-person events where a small group of attendees can watch those sessions live while they are also live-streamed to the main stage and online.  

Take a walk, crawl, run approach. 

Start small and scale up. Limit the capacity of your event and extend your reach beyond that through virtual formats like live-stream or on-demand. Give attendees the choice to attend in-person or online as well as the choice to watch live or on-demand. Flexibility is a defining benefit of hybrid events models and having an on-demand option is essential.

Build back better.

Be selective about what type of events you choose to include an in-person component. While certain types of events like team building activities, happy hours, conferences, and trade shows just don’t translate well to online formats, there are cost-implications to hybrid models that must be factored in. In addition to investing in quality A/V technology and staff for live streaming and recording, organizers have to factor in the costs associated with implementing proper health and safety protocols. This means adequate safety supplies and equipment, expanded safety services, and onsite healthcare staff, all of which has a price tag.  

People yearn for human connection and so, even during the darkest days of the pandemic, people found ways to do so – whether via Zoom or cheering and clapping from their windows at 7:00 PM daily. 

The hybrid model offers a compelling vision for the future, where the benefits of online and in-person can be combined, strengthening the overall event experience itself.  As we move forward, careful planning of hybrid events can ensure we continue to benefit from the magic of bringing people together.