Hybrid Events: A Short-Term Solution or Long-Term Strategy?
Are hybrid events a short-term solution to current conditions or a long-term shift in the events space? We asked Event Planners if they are planning to use a hybrid event strategy going forward, and if yes, to share their insights into how that will work.
Once we resume a sense of normalcy post-COVID, the advantages of saving on travel & accommodation expenses; and the ability to have more delegates and attendees by offering a hybrid event of both Virtual and physical (In-person) attendance will be surely capitalized upon.Adeola Fowodu, Celebration Events Management
I do believe that a hybrid of “Virtual and In-Person” events is here to stay on a long term basis. If there is one thing that the Covid-19 lockdown has taught us – it is that we are able to collaborate, work, and even celebrate together despite not being able to be physically present together. The ability to bring multiple attendees from across the world together virtually and still achieve the goal of the event is one that we as event professionals cannot deny.
By using Livestreaming tools and collaborating with Virtual Event Providers, we are able to host small to large scale events, meetings, and conferences including weddings. Some virtual providers are able to create a close to reality experience with virtual lobbies, networking, and real-time attendee interaction, polls including games and activities.
Once we resume a sense of normalcy post-COVID, the advantages of saving on travel & accommodation expenses; and the ability to have more delegates and attendees by offering a hybrid event of both virtual and physical (in-person) attendance will be surely capitalized upon.
The key requirement is to have virtual production partners and event managers so as to ensure that the quality of the production and delivery is not compromised.
Adeola Fowodu, Owner/Lead Planner, Celebration Events Management, Bradford, ON
If we can work toward infusing a great virtual experience with a live experience – I can see that being a game-changer.Covesa Gragg, Covesa Kelly Events
We have extended services for Virtual Events to our current customers! I have decided not to release this service to the general public yet, but that’s because I am still wrapping my arms around the possibilities, the technology, and the pricing. The assumption seems to be that virtual events are “easier” but they really are not! I almost feel that the challenge is just about the same as a live event. The only difference is that you physically aren’t there, but the attention to detail, the experience component and the physical exhaustion are all still very real in a virtual environment.
What I have learned during this high digital time is that people aren’t as comfortable with technology as I thought they were. I’m surprised at the many challenges when it comes to different operating systems, computers vs phones vs tablets, etc. All of these challenges become crucial in the virtual event space because those are your attendees having the challenges! So, as excited as I am to add a virtual service to our list of services, I’m practicing some restraint to ensure that my team and I can lead a virtual event with the same confidence and experience that we would in a live event and have the capacity to assist with the needs of attendees attempting to navigate new technology.
I think the virtual event experience will remain an important piece of an event professionals’ solutions for their clients, but I know that face to face contact and interaction are unmatched. I don’t think the complete virtual event experience will continue to trend as it has over the last couple of months but I do believe it will become an element added to live events to allow for larger attendance from attendees unable to travel due to scheduling, distance, or physical limitations. If we can work toward infusing a great virtual experience with a live experience – I can see that being a game-changer.
Covesa Gragg, Founder & CEO, Covesa Kelly Events, Cleveland, OH
With hybrid events, you’re able to serve a larger population and have their opinions and experiences contribute to the event.Amaia Stecker, Pilar & Co.
Events have hard costs obviously, but I would hope that everything would be similar. Perks should not be a focus of an event for the planner or sponsor from my perspective. Sponsors want volume and exposure, so give them that and help them communicate with your attendees. Mail the swag to the people attending virtually or make everything virtual through QR codes and downloads. It’s really important to make both audiences feel engaged and not as if there are two separate events happening at the same time.
We’re finally being respectful of people’s time, energy, and other responsibilities. Not everyone can commit to a five-day conference because of family, pets, daily work responsibilities, their own personal health, or the actual financial commitment needed by attendees. (Note: we need to stop assuming that companies pay for all elements of an employee attending a conference).
Not only are we missing the input and feedback from all the people who can’t attend for whatever reason I listed above, but we’re then homogenizing our attendees. Then you fall into the trap of “doing what we’ve always done” for the same people.
With hybrid events, you’re able to serve a larger population and have their opinions and experiences contribute to the event. Diversity benefits everyone. That’s how you learn and grow. Planners need to take into account both audiences and how to make them feel engaged.
Amaia Stecker, Managing Partner, Events and Fundraising, Pilar & Co., Washington, DC
The biggest benefit of the hybrid event is the size of the audience can grow exponentially.Heidi Hiller, Innovative Party Planners
We just completed our first hybrid event this past weekend. It went very well and there are lots of things to consider when planning a hybrid event as you have two types of guests/attendees. The way the live guests engage is different than the way the online guests engage and the planner must ask the host which of the two is to take priority on the day of the event.
The planners will need to know what they are shopping for and how to provide their clients with the correct platform and tech support to run their online portion of the events. In addition, they need to still do all the planning of the in-person event with the complete understanding that you cannot simply transfer the in-person experience to online. It also means adding the tech team to the space and incorporating and embracing the online event timeline. One must decide which is the primary audience of the event experience and plan it accordingly.
Another consideration is that while live in-person events can last from several hours to several days, the online audience needs to consume it in shorter digestible segments. These online attendees will need different kinds of breaks, different opportunities to network, and experience the event with both the other on-line attendees and the in-person attendees. There may need to be an opportunity for the two (or more in the case of hub events) audiences to connect.
The planner will also want to mix up the content they are sharing throughout the online experience. Unlike the in-person attendees, they will not have the coffee break or meal breaks, so you will want to give them the opportunity to get one on their own time without feeling like they need to be glued to the event. The planner will also need to think of alternative ways to keep the online attendees engaged. These will need to be different than the in-person experiences.
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Another huge challenge is that many of the proven event platforms that might be a good fit for the goals of the event one is planning are sold out for the next few months. Many of the more experienced tech teams, online speakers, moderators, hosts, and panelists are booking up well in advance. Since there is a high demand for moving events to hybrid, there will be many new platforms emerging, so the planner needs to understand how they all differ and make sure they are proven so their event is run smoothly. The planner must really understand what they need to ask for from all providers in order to offer their client and the event the right solutions.
Hybrid events are likely here to stay as events begin to adopt them and see all the benefits. The biggest benefit of the hybrid event is the size of the audience can grow exponentially. While limitations may remain for the foreseeable future on the size of in-person attendees, the number of online guests can be virtually unlimited. With attendees no longer limited by travel costs or schedule conflicts, you can reach all over the world to find attendees. Plus with the addition of post-viewing, people can share the content and watch parts of it later. I would liken this to what the DVR, Amazon Prime, and Netflix (and other subscription services) have done for TV and movie viewing. With the ability to reach these large numbers of attendees, many events will see the benefit of adding the online component and embrace the online audience well after in-person events are once again considered safe and accessible.
Another benefit that is huge, depending on the goals and objectives of the event, is the ability to gather data about your attendees. Through pre- and post-event surveys, by following the path each attendee took through your event, interpreting polls, tracking attendee paths, seeing which parts of the event received the largest chatter on social media or in live chats or Q&A, gathering the locations that your event reached. The event team, the sponsors, and the marketing teams can use this data to analyze and refocus their sales and provide improved event content.
Heidi Hiller, Owner & Creative Director, Innovative Party Planners, Baltimore, MD
By including the virtual element we don’t have the limitations that a physical space does, though we still need to keep the in-person aspect for those who truly do prefer to be face-to-face.Valerie Bihet, The VIBE Agency
This is an opportunity for us to really learn more about the ways people are connecting now online and adding that to a more robust content and education element. This could really increase the reach of your event beyond what it would have ever been with just the in-person component of the past.
The more people you reach, the more opportunity you’ll have for sponsors and a higher net-earnings from the event as a whole. By including the virtual element we don’t have the limitations that a physical space does, though we still need to keep the in-person aspect for those who truly do prefer to be face-to-face.
After COVID-19 passes, I think people will shift how they will choose the events they attend in person v. virtual. For example, if they did 4 live events a year pre-COVID, now they could do 2 in person but even more virtually. They’ll be able to get to more events because there’s less cost and time commitment associated with the virtual element than going to all of these events in person would be.
When it comes to selling tickets, virtual events are out-performing live events because you have more people who can access you without travel expenses. You will have less on-site costs because of the virtual nature so there will be a higher net profit.
The experience virtually needs to be just as strong as those who are in person. That being said, there are not the same costs associated with hosting both sides of a hybrid event. I’d recommend the virtual ticket is 30% less than the in-person. There is still production needed for virtual, but the additional A/V costs are not going to outweigh the cost-savings from having a smaller venue, less food & beverage costs, and other items needed on site.
Valerie Bihet, Director, VIBE, Miami, FL
Not only are you able to get your message out to more people, but your trade show exhibitors will also have more exposure and revenues can increase because of a larger audience being able to be reached.Anthony Navarro, Liven It Up Events
What is great about incorporating virtual event strategy to an in-person event is that so many of the components are already built in, it’s just adding the virtual platform that works for your event. If you have an in-person event, for example, a conference – your General Session/Program is already created, your breakouts are created, your tradeshow floor is curated, etc. All you have to do is add a virtual team to come in and build a platform that will allow you to broadcast those elements to your attendees not attending in-person.
Making sure your virtual attendees can also network with the other virtual and in-person attendees is key as well. We all know a major point of coming together at events is to network, so making sure that is available is key, and so doable. Not only are you able to get your message out to more people, but your trade show exhibitors will also have more exposure and revenues can increase because of a larger audience being able to be reached.
Hybrid is the future and we should all embrace it. You will not have the same experience being in-person vs. virtual and vice versa, however, you will be able to get the message, content, and program out to people all over the world if you have a virtual component to your event.
Anthony Navarro, Creative Director, Liven It Up Events, Chicago, IL
The biggest benefit of a hybrid event is increased reach as they enable access for those who could otherwise not attend.Melissa Park, Global Event Producer
The biggest benefit of a hybrid event is increased reach as they enable access for those who could otherwise not attend.
For a while there, many corporations believed that virtual events were the way of the future and that traditional meetings would be obsolete. While the virtual model has its benefits, mainly cost-efficiency and easier access to key participants in a timely manner, the importance of human interaction and the relationships formed during in-person (aka traditional) meetings became incredibly obvious very quickly.
The level of human connection from being face-to-face with its ability to read and feel someone’s emotions cannot be replicated in any form of online delivery.
Given the above, I don’t believe virtual and/or hybrid events will replace live events once the industry is given the green light to start delivering them again, but I would like to think we’ve learned something during this period and can see the benefits of offering virtual programs to complement the in-person experience. Use this platform to expand your reach with the aim of converting those viewers to live event attendees in the future.
Melissa Park, Global Event Producer
I don’t really feel like this is going away anytime soon and I know that by making hybrid events work well, we are providing new solutions that add value to our clients in the long run.Michelle Stewart, DYV Events
I have a few non-profit organizations using a hybrid strategy for their events in late September and early October of this year. We are really working on simplifying the overall event, including the stage and backdrop, focusing on creating clean designs along with plenty of good lighting for the different camera angles needed to create a quality live stream event. We are working with our production teams to ensure seamless transitions for our program along with incorporating ways to do call-to-action donation pieces throughout the event to engage with our virtual users.
We are using MobileCause.com to help with these activities and hope to be able to appeal to a broader state-wide audience because of it, one which was hard to reach with the event being hours away for some attendees. We are also staggering our check-in times with guests, updating our layouts to ensure social distancing guidelines are being followed along with limiting the number of guests per table.
I know that even with my 2021 clients I am having hybrid solution talks with them about their events as I believe they will still be in high demand. I don’t really feel like this is going away anytime soon and I know that by making hybrid events work well, we are providing new solutions that add value to our clients in the long run.
Michelle Stewart, Owner/Event Planner, DYV Events, Bedford, NH
We believe that there will be a need to augment or replace live events with online options for years to come and we are excited to showcase what’s possible with this new format.Heather Sharpe, Sherpa Group Events
At Sherpa Group, we have always had an expertise in technology and production elements, including show management skills learned in years of theatre training. We have taken those logistical skills and applied them to a new focus on providing support to our clients in converting their live events into live broadcasts….whether they be virtual or hybrid.
We have a major music conference scheduled for October that is going fully online and it has been exciting to research the features and benefits of the various platforms available to find the one that best suits this event’s needs.
We believe that there will be a need to augment or replace live events with online options for years to come and we are excited to showcase what’s possible with this new format.
Heather Sharpe, Event Producer, Sherpa Group Events Inc., Vancouver, BC
Weddings may have a virtual component short term but I believe that non-profit and corporate will incorporate virtual for a long time whether hybrid or partially replace some events as virtual.AJ Williams, AJ Events
We are planning for hybrid events now. Our first hybrid event is a Drive-in Movie gala. It’s a fundraiser which opens with the movie “Tenet”. I hope they don’t move the film’s opening date again, but we have a backup movie.
Our next hybrid event is a Gold fundraiser at the end of August with an outdoor BBQ on the Garden, a large space with social distancing in place. All of our events after that are hybrid. We are planning for 60-100ppl pending capacity and social distancing with an interactive virtual component. Engagement and flexibility are key for our events. See this article about Innovative Virtual Ideas – Reinventing the Virtual Experience for Non-profits.
I think weddings and non-profits events will come back faster than other events. Weddings may have a virtual component short term but I believe that non-profit and corporate will incorporate virtual for a long time whether hybrid or partially replace some events as virtual.
AJ Williams, Founder/Creative Director, AJ Events, Boston, MA
I believe live events will always triumph over virtual events because live events are where you get to experience human connection, and that is what we crave.Courtney Coulombe, Planit Events
So far when I’ve looked into hybrid events, it means you are producing 2 events – the live experience and the virtual experience, so planners need to consider this when quoting clients. Most of the organizations I work with do not have the budget to host events live and virtually, so they are deciding on either one or simply postponing until when we can have large gatherings.
I believe that there have always been hybrid events, it just wasn’t as common as it is now. I could see hybrid events lasting for a while, but again it comes down to what kind of budget the client has. I was recently a co-host of a hybrid event for the ILEA Edmonton Chapter, and it is a lot of work. Being the host and not being able to see the attendees, you don’t get the feedback from the audience, so you really don’t know if it is going well.
I believe live events will always triumph over virtual events because live events are where you get to experience human connection, and that is what we crave. For the time being, we will adapt to the current situation, and one day we will be able to meet again!
Courtney Coulombe, Owner/Lead Planner, Planit Events, Edmonton, AB
At this point, people are still afraid and rules change from day to day AND businesses NEED to go on somehow.Daniela Caputo, Daniela Caputo Event Management
Yes indeed it will HAVE to be turned into HYBRID events; at this point, people are still afraid and rules change from day to day AND businesses NEED to go on somehow … it will be more work due to the novelty of this approach … THANK GOD for AV partners and Technologists – they will be our new BEST BEST BEST Friends !!
I truly think it would be a ‘short term shift’ as you put it – because in the end people are social beings and EVERYONE loves a real hug and REAL Human contact …. Having said this it is a great short term solution for now.
Daniela Caputo, Owner/President & Event Planner, Daniela Caputo Event Management, Montreal, QC
I think incorporating a hybrid strategy for presenting both virtual and in-person events is a necessity in these unusual times.Rene Kraus, Fete Perfection
I think incorporating a hybrid strategy for presenting both virtual and in-person events is a necessity in these unusual times. Obviously the impact on venues, caterers, and most service providers in the wedding industry is great, but the alternative to not having events, no matter how modified, is not a business option.
Right now, a virtual event is a discussion topic for those couples exploring all options, and it becomes a choice in the situations where holding off the wedding is not a strong preference, perhaps due to a pending relocation, military service commitments, or other big life factors.
In my heart of hearts, I really hope virtual weddings are a short-term solution to current conditions and not a long-term industry shift. But we will have to wait and see. In the meantime, my focus on providing the absolute best service to my clients remains as always.
Rene Kraus, Owner/Chief Event Officer, Fete Perfection, Minneapolis, MN
This post was created in partnership with EventPlanner.com; cover photo credit: AJ Williams, AJ Williams Events.
Recommended Read: We asked event professionals how they have modified their businesses to accommodate the new considerations brought on by the pandemic.
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