Hybrid events are nothing to fear.
They’re also easier to host than you might think.
Despite what you might believe, they don’t require a ton of high-end technology, like virtual reality, augmented reality, holograms or anything of the sort.
You can make a quality hybrid event with accessible technology that doesn't require years of experience and expertise.
In this blog post we'll explain what hybrid events are, plus the benefits for you and your organization:
And if you'd like to jump into hybrid (or virtual) events, download our free ultimate guide to virtual and hybrid events. It covers all the essentials, like the tools you need, live streaming tips and what to expect when you take your event online.
Ready? Let’s get started.
What are hybrid events?
Hybrid events are, quite simply, a mix of live and virtual events.
You take your live event, complete with an audience, content, and more, and you add a virtual component to it so your audience can participate and engage with your event, no matter where they are.
Let’s look at that last part of the sentence: “… so your audience can participate and engage with your event, no matter where they are.”
Engagement is the essential ingredient in hybrid events.
It's what separates your event from a TEDx video on YouTube. Inspiring, yes. Educational, definitely. But engaging? No.
Engagement is also what distinguishes a hybrid event from a live event with tech elements.
Your audience won't watch your event from their television, they'll take part via their mobile devices or their computer, meaning they can offer feedback in real time.
A hybrid event is not…
- Streaming your sessions from your phone
- A sharable video on demand (VOD) after the event
- Putting your live audience before your online audience
What a hybrid event is…
- A seamless integration of technology to facilitate participation between a live and virtual audience
- An experience that caters to all audiences in a viewer-friendly way
- Putting your online and live audience on the same level
You put a lot of effort into planning the attendee journey for your live participants.
You must apply that same care to your virtual audience as well to ensure they get the most from your hybrid event.
What do hybrid events look like?
Hybrid events can take a multitude of appearances, as it depends on your own event format and your audience.
However, the best hybrid events have one thing in common: they put the audience journey first, for both audiences.
This means treating your live and online audience equally, and ensuring they can get the most from your event.
For example, Austrian Wine hosted a hybrid wine tasting by bringing wine tasters together, and providing a platform from which the tasters could connect with the winemakers for more information or to place orders.
Both user journeys were weighted equally, and as a result both parties could interact with each other and, more importantly, conduct business.
Or consider a hybrid hackathon, hosted by Junction. They leveraged their partner networks around the world to host local hub events that connected together with the larger virtual audience.
They knew that a hackathon thrived on collaboration between the hackers, but gathering many people under one roof wouldn't work. By using local hubs, they ensured those who wanted to attend could, but they also had a platform to host their virtual attendees.
These are just two examples of a hybrid event - but as you see, they both started with the participant journey.
Another essential element of a hybrid event is a hybrid event platform. Think of this as your virtual venue, minus the 3D characters and booths.
When you're choosing a virtual event platform, remember that your attendees don't want to replicate the literal experience of walking through your event.
What your attendees want to do is:
- Engage with your event content in a way that makes sense, and
- Grow their network and make new professional contacts.
3D renderings of your event aren't necessary to achieve these goals.
In fact, they can often slow down your audience by adding an unnecessary layer of complexity that can scare off less tech-savvy attendees.
Stick with hybrid event platforms that focus on simplicity and a exceptional user experience to ensure it's a cinch to enjoy your hybrid event.
Benefits of hybrid events
So why should you host a hybrid event? Are they worth the extra set up and resources needed?
Well, did you know hybrid events have been happening since 2012? The CDC hosted a virtual event when they couldn’t afford to bring their attendees together due to budget cuts.
But just because their participants couldn’t commune, didn’t mean their need for knowledge decreased.
So, they hosted a hybrid event to ensure their audience got the valuable information they needed while working within their means.
It offered them the flexibility to keep their event running - one of the many benefits.
So as you’ll find out, hybrid events are well worth the extra investment, set up and (minor) learning curve.
1. Increased reach & attendance
It's a misconception that your audience can either take part virtually or in person – there is no in between. You may think that by hosting a hybrid event, you split your total attendance.
However, the opposite is true. Hybrid events allow you to increase your reach and gain more attendees, not fewer.
A study found that nearly 98% of attendees at a hybrid event were not planning to attend live, meaning your event can reach a new audience who either is uninterested in going to your live event or unsure of the benefits.
This helps boost your attendance in future events, as it lets would-be attendees "sample" your event.
23% of event organizers who hosted a hybrid event said more attendees participated in future events, and 65% said they saw no change in live attendance.
And there will always be attendees who would love to attend, but cannot for one reason or another.
With a hybrid event, you lower the barrier to entry for both demographics – those who want to attend, but can’t, and those who are unsure if your event is worth their time.
This increases your reach immensely, as you broadcast your event to a larger audience than ever could be possible in person.
2. Higher engagement with your audience
Adding a virtual element to your live event opens up many more engagement opportunities than would be possible at a strictly live event, both during and post-event.
This is because your virtual audience is actively participating from their mobile devices or desktop computer, meaning they can talk, share, like, comment and much more.
For example, you can host polls during sessions that include both the live and online audience.
Or, you could have a Q&A session with a speaker live, then invite them to have a Q&A with your online audience, commonly at a studio that broadcasts your live event online.
You can even help live and virtual attendees network with each other. You can dedicate one area for in-person meetings, and have a second area for those with virtual meetings, scheduled by event matchmaking software.
How can you keep track of all these engagement avenues? The easiest way is to start with your attendees. What will their journey look like, whether online or offline?
By planning your event audience-first, you ensure that you weave in the necessary engagement opportunities that make the most sense to them.
3. More powerful sponsor opportunities
72% of corporate sponsors are interested in participating in a hybrid event, as long as they can effectively reach both audiences.
That's because hybrid events are incredibly valuable for sponsors, for a couple reasons.
Reason one is the increased reach. More attendees at your event means a larger lead pool for them, which is the #1 reason for sponsorship.
They can communicate 1:1 with interested parties while also interacting online virtual attendees. Some demographics, particularly Millennials, prefer virtual communication, which may lead to increased participation at their virtual booth.
Reason two is the increased opportunities for sponsorship. Instead of sponsoring strictly live collateral, they can sponsor livestreams, event apps and more.
This also offers you more flexibility in your sponsorship prospectus – you can have live sponsors, virtual sponsors, or both.
A third reason is an increase in reportable metrics. 72% of sponsors are shifting their budgets, not cutting them during the COVID crisis, meaning they are looking for new opportunities. And as those budgets shift to increasingly digital areas, they require the data to justify their expenditures.
A hybrid event can report on many relevant metrics, ensuring your sponsors see that they spent their money well.
- Is your virtual event platform giving the best experience to your sponsors?
- The 6 questions your virtual sponsors will ask that you need to answer
4. Reduced environmental impact and costs
We've already seen the impact that reduced travel has had on the environment. Streets are empty in previously gridlocked cities and emissions have plummeted.
Some reports predict global energy usage to drop 6% - which might not sound like much, but it's the same as the whole of India going dark.
While face-to-face meetings are still important, going hybrid is a great way to accommodate attendees who might feel guilty about their personal carbon footprint.
This way, they can still take part in your event and enjoy it, while also doing their part to decrease carbon emissions.
It also may reduce your in-person headcount, meaning there is less need for catering or disposable accessories.
5. Reduced travel costs
Continuing with the same trend, hybrid events can significantly decrease travel costs across the board for everyone involved.
While attendees saving money is obvious, hybrid events can also allow for decrease travel costs for your sponsors and crew.
Work-from-home has become the new normal for companies and employees around the world.
For example, both Facebook and Google announced that workers can work from home for the rest of the year, and Twitter made work-from-home a permanent option for employees.
And even as live events become more plausible, there's still an option for virtual management. For example, there are many AV crews skilled in virtual broadcasting, meaning you save money on costs – and so do they.
As well, your sponsors can save on travel costs by sending fewer representatives to your event. And if you include virtual sponsorships as part of your prospectus, they can participate 100% online while still generating value.
When budgets are tight, hybrid events are excellent for bridging the gap between cost and results, for attendees and sponsors alike.
6. Feed your marketing pipeline for the year
Instead of keeping your event exclusive, you can easily repurpose and reshare digital content to keep a steady stream flowing to your audience.
For example, you can share the entire livestream (or certain pieces of it) to promote your future event. Sharing your livestream also ensures constant visibility for sponsors who are a part of the stream.
Streaming your event also has the added benefit of ensuring you don’t forget to record anything. With the high focus on broadcasting, you can rest easy knowing all your content is recorded for later use!
You can also determine future marketing campaigns from your previous content. Was there a session that attracted a lot of attendees? Maybe you can expand on it.
If you use an event networking tool, look at the matchmaking data after your event as well. You can find excellent content ideas by studying the interests of your attendee base.
Or, you can analyze the questions received at different sessions and see if a common question came up. That can help you provide content to answer the questions of your audience.
7. Improved return on investment (ROI)
ROI is tricky to calculate at events because of all the moving pieces.
However, hybrid events offer increased return on investment, due mainly to the increased reach and the scalability.
Because you are getting more attendance through your hybrid events, that can translate into greater views for sponsors and more sign ups after the event.
As well, you gain lots of data to provide more accurate reporting on your performance (more on that in the next section).
Regarding scalability, the technology typically needs to be set up once, then it's easy to replicate that process at all of your events. A virtual event platform doesn't require crews for set-up and take-down.
Plus, there is also potential to scale down your live event while scaling up your online presence. This allows you to reduce onsite costs while still reaching a large audience, boosting your margin.
8. Valuable data
An enormous benefit of hybrid events comes from the data and the insights it shows.
For example, at a live event, you can do a head count and estimate how many viewers participated in a session.
But with hybrid events, you know the participation numbers, plus how they engaged and when they dropped out of the session.
You also gain information on your attendees' interests through matchmaking data and session participation, which can help you improve your future content.
And for sponsors, well, they gain essential info on booth traffic and attendee engagement, helping them prove a positive return on investment.
Because of the online nature of hybrid events, you gain a lot of trackable metrics that will help you learn more about your event and improve it in the future, metrics that you simply can't measure offline.
9. Greater flexibility
If you're still on the fence about hybrid events, consider what would happen to your event if travel was disrupted again.
It could be a global pandemic, like COVID-19.
Or, it could be a natural disaster. Consider the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland in 2010, which affected nearly 10 million travellers.
Without a hybrid event platform to fall back on, your event would simply not happen, and your attendees would find something else to fill the time. That could mean a competitor event.
Hosting a live event with no digital fallback is, quite simply, a dangerous proposition.
Especially when the technology is so accessible and prevalent.
Hybrid events offer valuable insurance because you now have a way to host your event in some form if attendance to your event is reduced.
Also, the infrastructure and investment into hybrid events ensures you are well-prepared for virtual events, meaning that you aren’t scrambling when external forces conspire to threaten or cancel your event.
So instead of placing all your eggs into a live event, adding hybrid events to the mix diversifies your portfolio and ensures you will have a successful event, no matter what.
10. Address the changing needs of your audience
It’s impossible to say how the COVID-19 crisis will change the world when all is said and done.
However, one thing for certain is that this crisis has changed how we use technology in our daily lives.
By some reports, nearly half of the US workforce now works remotely. While there are pros and cons to remote work, no one can deny that it possible.
As well, sponsors are shifting their budgets to adjust to the changing environments, and will sponsor your virtual or hybrid event if you can ensure your attendees engage and interact with them.
Your audience has shifted their needs, and your event needs to adapt to continue providing them.
Keeping only live events in your portfolio is not a safe play anymore – it’s a gamble.
Hybrid events allow you to cater to both demographics: those who wish to participate live, and those who want to participate in their own way.
How to host your own hybrid event
Even if you've never hosted a hybrid event before, don't let that stop you from trying. The time is perfect, and the technology is more accessible than ever.
And, in reality, they aren’t a challenge to host. Not if you have the right tools and the right knowledge.
We at Brella are here to help. Since 2016, we've helped organizers like you host incredible events, both offline and online, with a focus on facilitating relevant connections between your participants.
One of our clients recently found that by focusing on providing relevant connections to each participant, they improved audience retention by up to 4x and exhibitor retention by up to 3x.
Read their story and download the report to learn how you can improve your retention rate with a clear focus on audience connections at your next event.