Energize Both Audiences, Connect Them and Vary Content Forms to Win at Hybrids

Creating successful hybrid events will be easier said than done. How do you deliver equally valuable experiences when one audience is in person and the other sits at home? Here are lessons from one group that successfully did it, two event experts and a content marketer who advises learning virtually and discussing in person, and “content atomization.”

For their hybrid CEO Summit in Florida in May, Destinations International decided to hold no concurrent sessions, instead opting for just main-stage sessions—where people could watch in-person (177 attended) or livestream (100).

But they made sure to engage both audiences during breaks. “We had about eight to 10 of our partners do 10-minute little fireside chat recordings, so they would have something to do while it was break time for the live audience,” said Rori Ferensic, senior director of education at Destinations International, in an article on Associations Now.

“Most every one of our speakers remembered to engage the virtual audience, making sure they felt like they were recognized and remembered. Throughout the entire virtual piece of the event, we were getting comments in the chat box about how engaged they felt. So, we felt really good about that.”

And while socially distanced tables at the live event were given a topic to discuss, virtual attendees were grouped in rooms to discuss the same topic. About 25 minutes later, both groups shared what they discussed with each other. “That is how we connected both audiences,” Ferensic said.

As in-person events take center stage again, hybrid will become a goal as companies don;’t want to lose their new virtual audiences. In a session we held last week as part of our Reset, Reinvent, Revenue event, Nicole Quain, digital marketing manager for MCI USA, said that while the new normal sounds “daunting,” we’ve been doing [virtual events] for a while. Now it’s a matter of bridging the two together.”

Here are a few hybrid event tips from that session and elsewhere:

Decide on your goals. There will be many “hybrid opportunities,” said Jenny Teeson, managing director of the International Live Events Association. “Ask yourself do you want to drive people [to attend] in person or online? Are you offering the same experience? Are you giving them opportunities for how they want to engage?” For Destinations International, it was their international audience that they encouraged to sign up virtually. Ferensic warned about the cost, however. “[Audio visual] is normally expensive enough with any conference. Adding a livestream really added to that part of the expense.”

“Try things and then adjust; see what really works,” said Teeson. “Dive deeper. Maybe bring back a popular speaker [from your event] for a [specific] membership group or to do a Q&A. There’s no magic solution [besides] trying different things and seeing what sticks.”

Learn virtually, dive deeper and then discuss in person. “Getting people to return to an in-person venue will take time, but you can use your hybrid events to start to encourage them,” wrote Melissa Bouma, president of the content marketing company Manifest. “One type of nudge: What if you built your event around a flipped model, where the learning was done online, but the post-learning discussion happened in person?” There could even be a few-month lead-in of focused virtual events building to the in-person event where there’s a deeper dive and, of course, more discussion.

Offer bite-sized content. “Repurpose, don’t just regurgitate,” said Quain. “From an hour-long webinar, pick a 30-second or one-minute clip. Use it so someone won’t just bypass the event. Try to be fresh with it. Slice up content [so it’s] optimized for the [social media] channel [you use]. How does your audience engage with certain channels?” This has become known as content atomization. “Atomization is traditionally defined as converting a substance into fine particles or droplets,” writes Manifest. “By applying this science to content, we break content into smaller fragments to build multiple versions and content types.

“Is there a way your audience can be more integrated?” Quain asked. “Use live functionality. Consider how you will motivate attendees?” Swag giveaways can be popular, she said, in-person, of course, but also virtually with mailed packages. A virtual audience would feel good to have the same swag—be it a mug, shirt or something creative or specifically for a session—in front of them as the in-person attendees. “The more you can spotlight your audience and make them feel appreciated, the better.”

“The key is knowing your audience—their likes, dislikes, patterns of behavior,” Quain said. She pointed to the reasons that audio-based Clubhouse is now popular. “You can stop in and sit in on conversations or have them,” she said. “It’s a whole new thing to tackle.”

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