While Hybrid Events Are the Clear Destination, Doing Them Well Will Take More Thought

“What makes for a great hybrid event is really finding a kind of the core idea of the multi-screen experience.”
John Capano, SVP of Impact XM

If pivot was the events word for 2020, then hybrid will hopefully be the word for 2021. An overwhelming 78% of those surveyed by Pathable plan to host events with both in-person and virtual components, if in-person gatherings are allowed. What’s more, just 17% of those surveyed planned to host in-person-only events when that’s permitted. But staging a good hybrid event will take some creativity and thought.

I listened to a good podcast from EventBuzz this week between Capano and host Savannah McIntosh of PurplePass. (I love that they include the transcript!) Of course, the tendency of late has been to say that we’ll all be doing hybrid events soon, when in-person events are allowed to take place again.

But Capano contends that hybrid cannot simply mean having your regular in-person conference, and then live-videoing it for folks who can’t attend. A lot of thought has to go into what works for an event that is designed both for in-person and on-screen attendees.

Here are some thoughts from Capano and others who are thinking about the return of in-person events:

Augment the live aspect. “It’s really how do you build an event that’s engaging across all areas, and really leveraging technology in such a way to augment the live aspect,” Capano said. “And so when we talk to our clients a lot, they talk a lot about virtual reality, we actually talked a lot about augmented reality because this idea of hybrid really is augmented reality. It’s let’s take a live event and let’s lay on a digital layer in an augmented way and have everyone have a connected engaging experience.”

Virtual can boost in-person. “It used to be almost everybody you talked to felt like, ‘Well, I don’t want to do a strong virtual event because it’ll cannibalize my [audience],’” said Capano. “And people have now realized that having a great virtual part of your live event is the best way to increase your attendees at your next [in-person] event. [See FOMO.] It becomes the kind of the marketing engine that scalability is the marketing that drives your future attendees.” Adds Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association: “One half will see the event virtually. They will see how safe it is and want to come in-person next year.”

Virtual is still about knowing your audience. “What’s the purpose of your meeting and what are you trying to achieve?” Capano asked. “Then design the technology to fit that. Once that’s done, just ideate the heck and brainstorm the heck for ways to get people more engaged, like shorter content, snackable content, ways for them to interact, ways for them to not only interact with, say, the speakers or the acts, but also other people at the event, adding in gamification to kind of make it fun and interesting and a little bit competitive.

Pack a surprise. “Add in some ‘Easter eggs,’ because that’s something again, that we try to do [to keep virtual people engaged],” Capano said. “What are the cute, little surprise, delight moments, those things are all very possible in the virtual world, you just have to put thought against them, because they’re a little different than they would be like exactly what you might do in a live setting.”

Here are a few ideas from an article in Trade Show News Network this week:

Decisions will need to be made quickly. Virtual events pioneer Pathable predicts that 38% of decision-makers will choose between hybrid, virtual or in-person for their events within the first quarter of the year. Furthermore, about 40% of planners say they will settle on a platform to host their events by March.

Virtual must stay in the conversation. “INVNT Co-founder and CEO Kristina McCoobery is optimistic that brands will return to in-person events, albeit smaller than past levels. But of note is that 2020 opened the door to reaching larger numbers of attendees through virtual events—a fact that won’t be lost on savvy groups. ‘Virtual attendees mustn’t be treated as an afterthought, and their experiences need to be carefully curated in the same way they are for an in-person audience,’ she said.”

Look for more customization. “How do you get attendees to engage more at events? Start by adjusting your event rather than expecting your guests to change their behavior organically, said David Peckinpaugh, president of Maritz Global Events. ‘By better understanding our event guests, we can design more personalized experiences for their event journey,’ he said. ‘Most importantly, we need to let design dictate event structure and content rather than simply cutting and pasting from previous live event agendas.’”

Get creative with offerings and pricing. McCoobery believes that “we’ll start to see more and more monetized interactive competitions followed by exclusive content offerings to unlock, immersive activities that allow audience members to create their own avatars and explore a space or live gig with others, and tiered payment plans, including VIP packages.” That is a mouthful!

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