The future of events in 2021. Hybrid programs become the new norm

As the world and our technology is evolving, so do people’s interests and wishes. 2020 was the year where lots of events turned virtual, but by the end of it, we were ready to take it even further.

How does” taking it further” looks? Well, it can look like choosing to make an outstanding hybrid event, that can excite even the pickies viewers with its fresh and bold approach over the regular live one, or, more recently, fully online event. It’s time for brands to put their audience and clients first and to make a goal out of fulfilling their needs.

This means making sure you provide content that’s relevant to the times, in a manner that can catch their attention (keep in mind we are in an era where our attention span keeps getting shorter), and that you care about safety regulations and accesibility for larger audience.

“An era where in-person and virtual attendee experiences are meaningfully integrated combining the irreplaceable value of in-person with the amazing reach, insights, and possibilities surfaced by technology in the virtual medium.” – Eran Ben-Shushan, Bizzabo [1]

This article will analyze what a hybrid event is, why it should be something to consider for your brand in 2021, and how you can make it work for your business strategy. Furthermore, we will share our personal experience and knowledge with you by elaborating on how we made it work during our hybrid event organized recently for one of our dearest clients.

Why make a hybrid event

When a virtual event and a live one mash together, you get a hybrid. It combines the best bits of both to make a new form of entertainment that’s accessible to a greater number of people while also keeping the fun and excitement that you’d typically get with a live event.

Maintaining the safety regulations, distances between people, and making sure everything is sanitized at all times, might be difficult during a live event with lots of audience.

On the other hand, an entirely virtual event has its downsides, too. For speakers, talking in front of a computer, while looking at small black screens with names on them it’s not much of an exciting experience and it doesn’t really compare with the feeling you get when you see even a small crowd in front of you, ready to listen.

With a hybrid event, you can pick which conferences and programs work best online, and which live, and people can choose the option that works for them. It’s also a paramount step to making the audience return to the all in-person events, without feeling they are forced to.

Reach a global audience

From the audience perspective, it is great. If you promote it well, your event is set to reach a much wider audience, since the barrier of traveling risks and expenses is removed. You’ll even get people who wouldn’t normally travel to your event, but who will want to take part in at least one conference, if you make it possible to reach it from the comfort of their homes. [2]

Everything you record for the virtual component can be kept, reshared, or placed for VOD (Video on Demand). This will generate an ongoing audience coming in, even weeks later, after the event is finished. The possibilities are endless with this content. You can even share portions of it through the year, until the next edition of your event is set, turning them into promotional content that’s already made.

Flexibility

As mentioned, with the possibilities of virtual content, you can watch videos later. But more flexibility can also help the organizers. With people being unsure whether they’re ready to travel or not, with safety regulations in each place continually changing, you can offer a feeling of security, if you allow people to switch their tickets from live to online, or even the other way around, if they decide just before the event that they’d actually prefer the other option.

Also, this helps you to be ready for any unforeseen event. Does a new regulation appear and your live event can no longer take place in the format you wanted? No problem, you can switch to virtual; after all, everything is already set.

Some really successful events in 2020 followed the path where they let people decide for each program and conference during their event whether they’d like to attend it live, or virtually.

When to host a hybrid event

That being said, you still need to make sure you can fulfill some requirements before setting to prepare your very own hybrid event.

Create a safe space

Make sure you can host the live part in a safe environment, that was thoroughly disinfected and where there’s enough room for social distancing. Also, keep in mind being able to follow all the regulations imposed by your country.

Get the right equipment and people

Secondly, before going hybrid, make sure you have the right equipment and people for the virtual part. For a successful hybrid event, you will need more than just a live streaming camera. You need multiple microphones, cameras, special hosts that will make sure the virtual audience feels included.

How to make a successful hybrid event

Make it interesting

How often do you manage to watch a 1 hour Youtube video without any interruption? Let alone a movie. While when going to a live event you unavoidably disconnect from the outside world, and the only thing you need to do is sit in a chair, listening intently to the speaker, when taking part in a virtual one, at home, where you’re surrounded by distractions, when family members run around and keep talking, you’ll probably find it’s a lot harder to keep yourself focused.

A hybrid event needs to take into account this and find a way to keep the viewers interested. One way to do this is by keeping the virtual meetings short, around 20 minutes. It will also help to have a host that keeps viewers entertained, maybe even by asking them to be an active part of the whole event, by challenging them to answer different questions.

Another great way to make things exciting would be making the platform interactive enough to catch the audience’s attention.

” Instead of treating the virtual audience completely differently than the venue audience, we’re going to put more emphasis on the virtual audience and spend more time and effort engaging them.” – Mark Wilson, Cramer [3]

Know your audience

The first step brings us to the next one. Who is your audience? Are they corporate workers, who will need to make time in their busy schedules to attend your event? Are they stay at home parents who make their appointments in their spare time without children? Keep this in mind when arranging your event’s structure and make it so that you know your audience will be able to attend it.

Connect the two parts

Remember that a hybrid event is just that: one event made of two components. Even if some of the conferences will only take place offline and others only online, make the whole program be connected and always compensate what you can’t give online, by offering something even more exciting. Don’t let people feel like they’re missing out on anything by not participating in-person, or, even worse, make them feel like they’re taking part in a much less exciting event than it normally would be. [4]

Keep in mind external factors

Always have a back-up plan! What happens if one of your live programs can’t go on as planned? What happens if your live streaming server fails? How do you make sure all your audience (online and in-person) is up to date with the newest changes? These are questions that need a well-thought answer. You need to be ready to react to anything that happens around you.

Plan your budget

Even if you’re familiar with both live and virtual events, but it’s the first time you try a hybrid one, you might be surprised that the costs will be quite different. The more in-depth you plan every program, the better view of your budget you’ll have.

You can even make a Gantt Chart with all the activities (pre-event, during the event and post-event); you can divide it by activities, people in charge, resources and, of course, you can write down back-up scenarios for every situation. When you have covered all the possibilities, it’s easier to keep track of your budget.

Our most recent hybrid event with international exposure

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, our team recently worked on a hybrid event, for one of our clients. We organized a special event to mark the opening of their new headquarters in Romania. Keeping in mind all the safety regulations, we set out to make an event where we could have both the employees of our client from Romania and the international ones, as well as partners, stakeholders, managers and team members etc. We have put together the agendas of various teams and team members, from the President of the Company, the General Director of the Company in Romania, to Ambassadors, the representatives of our client’s strategic partners, to translators and local team members, in order to have everyone attending the official opening of the new headquarters in Romania.

Taking everything into account, the answer was clear: we had to make it hybrid. We mixed in-person speeches with online real-time interventions of people from the other participating countries. The whole event was streamed live using Zoom and Microsoft Teams platforms.

The unique hybrid event included live interventions from our guests, a live Q&A session and virtual, guided tours of the building and facilities.

Overall, we took the best bits that both methods could offer and mixed them to get the best result possible. We ensured post-event visibility through social media and PR efforts, reaching over 300,000 people in our client’s industry.

Key-takeaways

Planning a hybrid event will require a lot of patience and thinking outside of the box. Get yourself a good team, analyze the other similar events that are already taking place, and start there. What are they missing? Could you make it better? Could you tailor your hybrid event especially for your target audience? Ultimately, don’t think like a brand, but like a person. After a challenging year, what would you like to see at an event, what would it take to surprise and charm you? If you put yourself in the viewers’ shoes, you’re already closer to getting it right and your hybrid event might be the next big thing everybody is talking about.

References:

[1] The Bizzabo Blog. 7 Expert Predictions That Will Shape Hybrid Events In 2021. Rachel Rappaport. December 30, 2020. Available at https://blog.bizzabo.com/hybrid-event-takeaways-2021 (last visited on 05.02.2021)

[2] Forbes. Four Reasons Your Company Should Pivot To Hybrid Events. Jennifer Best . January 4, 2021. Available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2021/01/04/four-reasons-your-company-should-pivot-to-hybrid-events/?sh=a2851f444ce1 (last visited on 05.02.2021)

[3] The Bizzabo Blog. 7 Expert Predictions That Will Shape Hybrid Events In 2021. Rachel Rappaport. December 30, 2020. Available at https://blog.bizzabo.com/hybrid-event-takeaways-2021 (last visited on 05.02.2021)

[4] PheedLoop. 20 Honest Hybrid Event Predictions to Prepare Event Planners in 2021 and Beyond. January 2, 2021. Available at https://pheedloop.com/blog/20-honest-hybrid-event-predictions-to-prepare-event-planners-in-2021-and-beyond (last visited on 05.02.2021)