By: Sneha Das Gupta -- Principal Analyst
20 June, 2021
The world has been reeling from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for a period of more than a year, a period that has witnessed a steep decline in the face-to-face meetings market. The industry itself has come to a grinding halt.
With restrictions on indoor capacities being imposed and the reluctance of attendees to join meetings physically, the event industry is gradually metamorphosing to a nature of event delivery that has been prevalent for a few years but is expected to have a major impact on future events. Herein germinates the idea of hybrid meetings/events.
With the escalating popularity and cost-effectiveness of virtual events, hybrid events have become a popular means of enhancing participation in traditional events at relatively economical costs.
Introduction to Hybrid Meetings/Events
A hybrid event is a tradeshow, conference, unconference, seminar, workshop, or other meeting that amalgamates a “live” in-person event with a “virtual” online component.
With the ever-increasing popularity coupled with the cost-effectiveness of virtual events, hybrid events have become a popular channel of increasing participation in traditional events at relatively cheaper costs. They also facilitate the participation of people who might be unable to attend in person due to travel or time zone constraints or in their environment-friendly driven endeavor to reduce the carbon footprint of the event.
Typically, the virtual component includes an online representation of the live event. For instance, online participants might have access to the following:
Live audio or video streaming of keynote speakers or workshops along with their presentation material (e.g., via Ustream, Livestream, Eventials, Sonic Foundry)
Online presentations (ranging from webcasts to sharing of content via SlideShare)
Hybrid event webcast with synchronized slides alongside live and webcast video presentations)
Creation of a live commentary of proceedings (e.g., through Wthashtag, CoverItLive)
Online chat or discussion forum facilities (e.g., through Pathable or moreconference)
Event photographs (e.g., via Flickr) and videos (e.g., via YouTube, Vimeo, Qik)
Integration of other social media tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
Provision of Internet access, usually through channels such as free Wi-Fi, is the norm at hybrid events. These online tools not only provide a means for physical attendees to interact with each other but also facilitate a physical event to reach out to a wider audience with event organizers and online participants and for online participants to interact with each other. Some events have featured “TwitterWalls” (created using applications such as Twitterfall), where Twitter comments about the event are shared with physical attendees.
There is also an option whereby event content can be recorded and made available online to trigger further discussions after the event has ended, frame a knowledge portal for event participants, and assist in marketing next year's event by sharing highlights from the current year.
Hybrid Events that Accommodate COVID-19 Guidelines
The event industry has been given a rousing wake-up call by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, event planners possess more flexibility to provide their attendees with experiences that work for them and their comfort levels.
Additionally, hybrid events can help improve the following:
Social distancing efforts
Technology options for biosecurity
Food and beverage handling
Cleaning and PPE
Adoption Rate of Hybrid Meetings
In 2021, planners have been cutting down on virtual events, and the future of hybrid events is gradually taking shape and becoming a reality. Several hybrid event ideas are emerging that will inspire event organizers across the globe. While most organizers believe there will be a massive uptick in hybrid events in 2021, the gravest concern for going hybrid will be maintenance of safety standards. The statistics below elucidate the reason the future is expected to witness more of the hybrid model.
According to various surveys conducted in the industry, the following inferences have been drawn that clearly reflect the unwillingness of attendees to join in-person events and their inclination toward virtual/hybrid solutions. Hence, currently, the adoption rate of hybrid events is increasing and is expected to boom once the world becomes normal again.
An overwhelming majority (97 percent) of event marketers believe there will be more hybrid events in 2021 than ever before (Bizzabo, 2020).
The majority (59.4 percent) of event marketers believe a hybrid solution that manages both virtual and in-person events will be a significant component of their 2021 event strategy (Bizzabo, 2020).
The majority (71 percent) of event marketers believe they possess a clear-cut understanding of what a hybrid event is (Bizzabo, 2020).
Event organizers reported that 23.6 percent of their events in 2021 will include a virtual component and will be smaller local events with fewer than 25 attendees who will require no air travel or hotel rooms (AMEX, 2020).
Just under half (41.1 percent) of event planners would only attend a physical event in person if it was local (Event MB, 2020).
Of event organizers, 55 percent report that safety is the most significant hindrance for resuming in-person events (Event MB, 2020).
Half (50.7 percent) of executives think that in the future, all live events will possess a virtual dimension (Marketing Charts, 2020).
Importance of Hybrid Meetings in the Current Scenario
Hybrid events are the perfect solution regarding those programs that can effectively be staged both onsite and virtually. The following are examples of perfect hybrid event programs:
Global town halls
Hybrid events are also extremely useful solutions in situations where many attendees who would typically attend in person cannot do so. Below are some instances of when an attendee who normally might be onsite for an event may have to attend virtually:
The attendee cannot or does not want to travel owing to health or safety concerns.
The attendee’s organization has a limited travel budget and, consequently, cannot travel to the event.
The venue where the company will be hosting the onsite part of the event has capacity limitations, so not all attendees will be allowed to gather onsite.
A best practice may be incorporated to send out a pre-event survey to assuage the current situation and thought processes of the invitees. If the company deduces that many would prefer the option of attending virtually, a hybrid event may be the most feasible recourse to take.
Management of Hybrid Meetings
Planning a hybrid event and organizing the various diverse components should be done in a manner that is logical and structured.
Type of Event: It is imperative to decide what type of event the company would like to put on. This may seem pretty straightforward, but by clarifying the objectives, the company can then establish the best way to achieve them, e.g., venue, platform, choice of speakers. For example, an awards ceremony will not require audience participation, whereas a business meeting will be smaller in scale, but all attendees need to communicate and potentially present documents or work.
Venue: Once the company has decided on the type of hybrid event they wish to stage, it will then be time to select a venue. For instance, if the company plans on hosting a large-scale academic conference with a keynote stage and smaller seminars to run simultaneously, they will require a venue that has a primary space with additional smaller rooms. The company can then scale the technological needs to achieve this, e.g., small brainstorm sessions in smaller rooms could employ Whizwall, an app that allows multiple attendees to share the same whiteboard.
Speakers/Contributors: The content that the company offers will be an integral part of the hybrid event’s success. Keeping this in mind, the company should not only select engaging speakers with exciting pitches but should also ensure that they are comfortable with simultaneously catering to both the physical and digital audience. This could include ensuring answering live Q&As from both sets of audiences.
The main points of differences between internal and external hybrid events will be illustrated first, with some of the most typical examples of each.
Internal Hybrid Events
Internal events are programs that are held to benefit the company’s internal stakeholders, including employees, leadership, and staff. For many companies, it is nearly impossible to gather all the internal stakeholders in the same room for a meeting. This is where hybrid events come into play. Pick a venue for the event, like the company’s headquarters, and then live stream the meeting to the rest of the company.
Below are some examples of common internal hybrid events:
Global town halls
Larger team meetings
Company spirit weeks
External Hybrid Events
External events are programs that are targeted toward the customers, prospects, clients, etc. Transitioning the live external event to a hybrid setting can help attract more attendees and reduce the carbon footprint.
External events that can be made hybrid include the following:
Conferences and trade shows
Speakers-only Hybrid: If the company has multiple speakers that the company would like to have in studio for an in-person panel or live interview or discussion with the rest of the audience being completely virtual. This setup is technically considered a hybrid event where speakers are able to provide a genuine in-person experience, and attendees are able to view the experience virtually. Having a person-to-person interaction can make a significant impact on an event, even if it is only a handful of people who experience the in-person part.
Live Studio Audience Hybrid: This type of event is another form of hybrid, specifically made for TV or broadcast production. The live studio audience may become more popular throughout the year and going forward as well. The in-person experience for the live studio audience renders a sense of exclusiveness and could be utilized as a means of extending the event experience to those beyond the general public attending.
Micro Experiences: Micro experiences will be another upcoming trend expected to be in vogue for the year. A micro experience is a downscaled physical experience with just sufficient person-to-person interaction to keep an attendee hooked throughout the event. Gatherings such as multi-city viewing or watch parties are great instances of a micro experience.
Drive-in Experience: A drive-in experience or event is a gathering where the attendees drive to a large outdoor space and experience the event within the comfort and safety of their own car. Traditionally, the event would have one main stage or screen displayed for the attendees to view. The event may also have a dedicated radio station where attendees can tune in and listen to the audio from inside their car.
A successful hybrid event requires the same elements and features as an onsite event. Paired with a great virtual streaming provider, these elements will make the hybrid event a great success.
Engaging Content: The content is arguably even more important at a hybrid event. Not only do the in-person attendees have to be engaged, but the virtual attendees should be involved throughout the event. It should be ensured that all the speakers are well prepared and that their presentations are engaging by efficiently managing their content and overall agenda.
Marketing: A hybrid event attracts both in-person attendees and virtual attendees. This gives the organization the chance to attract twice or more times the number of attendees to the event, which means that marketing the event takes on the utmost significance. An attractive event website should be created that exhibits all the program information and prospective emails sent to attendees to draw in a record number of people.
Registration: The hybrid event’s registration process should be as seamless as that of an onsite event registration. A branded event registration webpage should be created with the organization’s colors and event information so that prospective attendees can easily find all the details about the program. Customized registration paths for the in-person attendees should be created versus the virtual attendees so that they can sign up for appropriate sessions.
Appointment Scheduling: When some of the attendees are participating virtually and others in person, it becomes more difficult to schedule meetings. The company can use an appointment scheduling tool to block off times on the attendees’ calendars that are reserved for networking. They can communicate and set up times to meet directly through the tool. That way, virtual and in-person attendees can view availabilities on one another’s calendars and network efficiently.
The benefits of a hybrid event for meeting and event planners are encapsulated in the benefits of hosting both the in-person experience as well as the virtual. Restrictions do not appear to be easing in the near future for in-person meetings to resume full throttle. Hence, event planners are beginning to capitalize on the benefits that hybrid events can bring. Another growing indicator for an adaptation to hybrid is the fact that participants are more engaged and are enjoying the new format.
The shift to hybrid events is a reflection of changing attendee behavior and expectations. If the client is searching for reasons to add a digital or streaming component to their event, here are some key benefits of hybrid meetings/events.
Enhanced Reach and Attendance: One of the most significant advantages of a hybrid event is offering a rich attendee experience to a larger audience. Attendees are no longer confined by travel limitations, unexpected costs, and health regulations when choosing to attend the event. Eventually, the company will be able to fill the maximum number of seats at a fraction of the cost.
Higher Engagement with the Audience: By utilizing virtual tools, programming, and information sharing, the attendees will be able to reap benefits and gain more knowledge compared to a traditional in-person event. By furnishing extra resources, content, and live digital interaction, virtual and in-person attendees will be totally engaged with one another.
Sponsorship Opportunities: Online engagement is an attractive avenue for other companies to utilize sponsorship deals. By finding event sponsors, the company is able to reduce costs and provide more recognition to the sponsor’s name. It is important to take advantage of the online environment and to seek creative virtual event sponsorships that will help usher in more revenue, eventually culminating in increased ROI. If the company is streaming the event live or offering it on demand, it is a great opening to drive revenue via banner ads, ticketed content, sponsored segments, digital swag bags, etc.
Lower Carbon Footprint: By reducing the number of onsite attendees, the event’s carbon footprint will also dwindle. Attendees will travel lesser, with fewer meals being thrown away and less transportation of rental chairs and tables. The company will not only be positioned as an event powerhouse but also as an environmentally conscious organization.
Thought-leadership: If cost savings leave the company with a more sizeable budget to work with, careful thought should be given to reach out to presenters who may previously have been out of reach or who are new. This creates an opportunity to foster new connections, provide the attendees with access to new and in-demand speakers, and give presenters exposure to new audiences.
Reduced Travel Costs: Hybrid events can significantly decrease travel costs across the board for everyone involved. They also facilitate decreased travel costs for the sponsors and crew. Work from home has become the new normal for companies and employees around the globe. Hence, companies have become more accomodating with virtual presence, which significantly reduces the travel cost of all the stakeholders involved.
Ability to Rewatch and Share Information: Hybrid events usher in best of technology and enhance information sharing across all attendees. Virtual platforms store pre-recorded and live sessions for easy access after the event ends, enabling attendees to revisit and share the content that they found to be of most value.
Available for Any Size of Budget: In-person events can ve very expensive and cost the company a lot of money. However, combining virtual expansion opens up a significant opportunity to scale up event hosting and enhance the impact without changing the budget.
Improved Return on Investment: By utilizing a virtual platform alongside the live event, the company is reducing operational costs, generating a larger lead pool, and expanding the event’s reach for a more holistic event experience.
Valuable Data and Metrics: The advantage of virtual tools is meticulous data collection that provides the company with unique insights on audience engagement that can be utilized and incorporated into marketing and other business operations.
Greater Flexibility: Without event space requirements and a headcount to keep in mind with every negotiation, planners have a greater degree of flexibility when strategizing for a hybrid event.
Event Content: When it comes to hybrid events, the first and most essential priority should be the creation of some engaging content for both virtual and in-person audiences. For instance, do not show virtual attendees an interactive session that only onsite attendees are a part of. Instead, stage a virtual-only one-on-one session for an online audience. Effectively customize the event content so that both the virtual and onsite attendees feel incorporated and valued.
Bad Bandwidth Support: The success of a hybrid event is dependent upon online access and bandwidth support to stage the event online. Most companies try to cut expenses while organizing hybrid events, and while doing so, they hamper the experience of their virtual audience. By choosing a slow connection, the whole online experience is ruined.
Two Events: One of the most common mistakes and challenges faced by planners while creating hybrid events is emphasizing one single event and hosting two events. Hybrid events strike a balance between the virtual and in-person experience. It is essential to focus on creating one event with two experiences for both types of attendees. Deliver the content to both virtual and in-person attendees.
Different Time Zones: One of the greatest advantages of hosting a hybrid event is that attendees from all across the globe can attend the event. Hybrid events present a wider reach with no territorial boundary issue. However, they also give rise to the challenge of accommodating various time zones where the attendees are joining the event from.
Dysfunctional A/V in the Event: Some events only focus on in-person attendees, thus offering them PowerPoint presentations and totally distancing the virtual audience. The company can avoid this by rendering live streaming and webcast applications or integration that provides attendees with all the event content live on one platform. The company might want to consider hiring event companies to respond to the audience’s queries during the event and provide the company with top of the class A/V technology for the hybrid event.
Finding Venues and Hotels: Not all venues will provide the equipment required for a successful hybrid meeting. This is the most significant challenge when it comes to hosting a hybrid event. The venue chosen must meet the requirements of both the in-person and online aspects of the event. Some of the key aspects to consider while choosing a hybrid venue include seamless Internet connection, audio and video recording capabilities, adequate power supply, access to rehearse, and much more.
Trouble Comparing Audio-Visual Offerings: Once a selection of potential hotels and venues is shortlisted, it can be difficult to compare the audio-visual offerings, owing to the different terminology used or simply because they might lack technological knowledge.
Technology Platform Knowledge: The equipment provided can vary in how it is set up and used, leading to a problem for planners
COVID-19 has ushered in winds of change that are expected to stay forever, and companies should consider reappropiating funds into areas that will support the development of corporate meetings and event strategies that are both future-facing and fit for the new normal.
Advanced Hybrid Technology One of the most important successes of translating in-person events to online ones during the past year has been the dissemination of content. Once planners moved beyond basic webinars over Zoom, they quickly discovered that they could deliver engaging content via live, simulative, or pre-recorded videos on platforms that permit global attendees to browse and select sessions in their own time or interact with live moderated Q&As or live polling.
All Areas of Production Quality Hybrid event design should consider camera equipment. The production quality of the event is no longer only about the set and stage design, meeting room layout, and trade show floor combined. Hybrid elements require event app investment, branded backdrops, 4K-quality cameras, state-of-the-art mics, plus video and graphic-mixing and editing expertise.
Videographer Providing the online audience with good video and sound of the hybrid gala requires investing in the services of a professional onsite videographer. An event videographer will film and edit the event into high-quality video footage. Not only will this give the virtual gala attendees a more holistic experience, but the video can also be utilized in promotional videos. This will help attract more attendees to future fundraisers and can also help the company gain more sponsors.
Onsite Producer Getting a live and virtual event to work together can be challenging, which is why it is important to hire a producer or production team to help the hybrid gala run smoothly. These producers can help the company coordinate the live entertainment and provide onsite management.
The future of the meetings and events industry will witness a balance of virtual, hybrid and face-to-face meetings. Technologies have made it possible to conduct and attend meetings remotely, hence reducing cost effectively. Thus, companies will continue to upgrade themselves with relevant technologies that will help them in improving their bottom line.
Use of robotics and mobile apps to maintain social distancing norms: Top venues are already using robotics and mobile apps to guide attendees in an event in order to maintain social distancing protocols. Robotics are used for providing sanitizers and to direct the attendees around the event floor.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR): VR and AR have significant potential for group collaboration, engagement, virtual training, interactive designs, virtual tours, and product demos. They enhance the virtual experience.
Cloud-based software tools: These tools enable easier management and extraction of data from different tools in a single platform. Huge storage is not required to store and manage information. Events can be managed from a remote location, and data can be stored on the cloud and can be accessed from anywhere with the designated credentials.
Emergence of event technologist: Buyers can no longer solely depend on event management companies for their end-to-end meetings requirements due to the drastic level of digital transformation, especially in the time of the pandemic. Hence, the role of the event technologist is created, who is a single individual devoted to aligning event needs with technology to deliver on KPIs. The position combines a strong understanding of the event planning and execution process with a holistic understanding of the technology ecosystem.
Attendee engagement is the most significant challenge event planners face while conducting events in a virtual or hybrid format. The level of engagement can be increased in a hybrid meeting in the following ways:
Platform Accessibility Advanced event technology is required to support hybrid experiences. The platform should offer diverse features and opportunities for the attendees to explore. Platform accessibility means accommodating the experiences and channels with seamless transition between devices and platforms that can provide immersive experiences.
Multiple Sessions The attendees of a virtual event are fragmented. About 20 percent of all attendees view virtual events and sessions on demand. A mixture of on-demand and live sessions makes the event successful. This gives the attendees the choices to join in real time or to revisit the content later.
Interactive Features Interactive solutions can increase the level of engagement of the attendees in a virtual or hybrid format. Features such as polling, Q&As, survey, gamification, and similar activities keep the attendees interested and engrossed in the sessions. Real-time polling helps the company understand audience sentiments and preferences. Immediate feedback also helps the company make real-time changes to the content.
Selection of Different Event Technologies In a virtual format, the attention span of attendees is short. Hence, shorter sessions are required. The whole content needs to sorted into small sections to achieve the desired goal. Different types of sessions work more efficiently with different types of streaming or media tools. Event managers select platforms that can manage these dynamic types of event content and interactions.
User Friendly A platform needs to perform seamless opportunities for each activity and session. It has to be user friendly and easily accessible; otherwise, the attendees will lose their interest. It should all be accessible through a single portal across multiple devices.
Contact Tracing Contact tracing is a must-have feature in the current pandemic situation. Contact tracing apps and/or peer-to-peer social distancing technology can help in mitigating exposure and communicate if/when an infection occurs in an in-person gathering.
Real-Time Check-ins The selected event technology should have the capability to register attendees automatically as they join sessions, whether virtual or in person. This helps in crowd and attendee management of an event. Integration with sensors and beacons helps in physical tracking and navigating through the event venue. Connected IoT devices can also record the attendee traffic, making it much easier to monitor and supervise capacity limits and impose restrictions once the capacity is reached.
Dynamic Experiences Learning styles vary from person to person. Some can retain visuals more than text. Hence, combined and dynamic experiences must be created to increase the effectiveness of a session. Event planners should try to include various different experiences that can be enjoyed both at the event or from remote locations.
Due to COVID-19, companies are forced to shift to virtual solutions. It is not the same as managing an in-person event. It is a completely new experience for the companies to conduct virtual or hybrid events. Practices adopted by companies during the planning and implementation of an event to achieve maximum results are given below:
Specifications: The company’s event team needs to understand the technological requirements, specifications, graphics, and timelines for the selected event.
Technology gap: The event team needs to anticipate the gap between the technologies available and their usability. Hence, they need to provide proper training to all the stakeholders involved in the event.
Effective communication: Proactive communication should be ensured across all communication channels so that the messages are clearly delivered to the attendees.
Negotiation with sponsors: The company should be clear about their offerings and negotiations with the sponsors/exhibitors. They need to be creative to reap the maximum benefits out of the sponsors/exhibitors.
Shorter content: Shorter content segments should be created for the whole meeting agenda, as this helps the attendees to retain the information provided.
Timing: The event team must keep a track of the time zone differences as well as adhere to the timings set in the agenda of the meeting.
Mixture of live and recorded content: Live and recorded content should be seamlessly presented so that no pressure situation or gap in content delivery arises.
Attendee engagement: Attention should be given while planning for attendee engagement, interations, and networking, as it is the main focus of any event to involve and educate the attedees on the relevant content.
Encourage communication between remote and in-person attendees: Provisions should be made so that the remote audience can directly engage with the in-person audience.
Facilitators: Facilitators or moderators should be engaged with to lead the virtual/in-person experiences and to bridge the two groups.
Trials: Rehersals should be planned for speakers, exhibitors, and moderators in the virtual platform before going live.
Wow factor: The attendees can be surprised and delighted with pop-up experiences.
Breaks: Breaks are a must in a virtual setting for attendees to be refreshed and come back with full energy. Both short and long breaks should be provided between sessions.
Analytics: Leverage event analytics to make “real-time” changes and adjustments.
When Does a Company Consider a Hybrid Meeting/Event to be a Auccess?
Engaging video production, content, and networking are the three pillars of success for a hybrid meeting/event. The content should be structured while keeping in mind both remote and in-person attendees. Even customization of content should be made based on liking and preferences of individual attendees. So a proper mix of engaging content ensures the success of a hybrid meeting.
Equal importance should be given to all the attendees involved, irrespective of whether they are remote or in-person attendees. A successful virtual environment involves more than just streaming content. It requires a thoughtfully curated, interactive journey.
Outlook of Hybrid Meetings
The good news is that hybrid meetings are here to stay. Going forward, all major face-to-face events will transition into hybrid events as they have a greater reach. Hybrid and virtual solutions came into the forefront due to the Coronavirus pandemic, when companies did not have any other option to fulfill their meeting objectives. However, even when the situation normalizes, the hybrid format is expected to rise as the most efficient format of meetings.
Hybrid events offer endless possibilities and opportunities to marketers, event planners, sponsors, and attendees. They offer some major benefits that are far beyond the capacity of conventional face-to-face events. With increased reach, attendance, engagement, and return on investment, they have become the first choice of the event industry.
It delivers the promise of making the event successful by bridging the gap between live physical events and virtual events. Attendees can conveniently join an international event from the comfort of their homes without having to pay a large amount, usually spent on travel, accommodation, food, transfers, etc., when participating in an in-person meeting.
The global crisis of COVID-19 has completely disrupted and changed the outlook of our daily functioning. It is even difficult to fathom how the world will look once we recover from the pandemic. The only factor that has enabled businesses and economies to thrive in this difficult situation is technology. Advancement in technology has made it possible for the world to communicate and conduct daily operations from remote locations. Without technology, the world’s economy would have come to a standstill. The pandemic has also changed our ways of adapting the technology available to us.
The need of the audience has changed due to the pandemic. Safety, health, hygiene, and sustainability have become the major concerns. Companies should heed the dynamic needs of their targeted audience and must ensure they adapt accordingly.
Humans are social beings; hence, they are all waiting for the pandemic to end and to get back to in-person meetings. The industry is very optimistic about the future of in-person meetings. However, going forward, virtual components will be added to the event program so that the companies can reach a higher targeted audience. Hence, in-person meetings and events, where larger audiences are required, will transition into hybrid events. Companies have already begun planning and strategizing their future hybrid meetings to achieve a competitive edge over their peers. It is expected that the popularity of hybrid meetings/events will keep growing in the coming years.
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