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Choosing the wrong event tech is always problematic. But the failure aspect is a lot greater with hybrid events. You have two sets of audiences. Two sets of expectations. And the technology you use underpins it all.
With research from Eventsforce showing that 75% of event planners are set to run a hybrid event in the next year, it’s a good time to look at the key questions that will help decide on your hybrid event platform.
1) What Are Your Minimum Requirements?
Before going into tech requirements specific to your hybrid event, it’s important you cover your basics first.
Ease of use – As the planner, you want a system that is simple to use and relatively easy to set up. At the same time, you want to make sure it has a clean, user-friendly interface that makes things easy for your attendees too. Remember that most of their event experience will be on this platform and you don’t want them wasting time figuring out how to make the tech work.
Ability to customise – Look at what kind of customisation options are offered by the platform so that your websites, registration forms, attendee emails, apps and the virtual environment itself all follow the same branding guidelines. Find out how flexible the customisation can be for different events – for example, a medical conference is going to have a different look and feel to a gaming conference.
You also need to consider the way the platform helps attendees customise their own experience. So having the ability to personalise schedules, meetings and agendas is one way. You could make some sessions visible to some people (ex. VIPs) and some to everyone. Look at what customisation options are offered and decide what makes sense for your hybrid events.
Integration – Dealing with a system like Eventsforce that minimises integration issues can be a big advantage. Not only will it save you time in terms of data transfers and getting things done, but it will also ensure your attendees always have access to the most up-to-date event information.
Data security – This is something that can all too easily be overlooked – despite stringent data protection requirements like the EU GDPR. Whether you are communicating with in-person or virtual attendees, making sure that their data is secure and is not easily hackable is fundamental.
2) Will You Rock Registration?
Registration is super important to attendees. It’s often the first real experience they have of your event. Mess it up and they’ll go elsewhere. So how will you ensure that their experience is as good as possible? You need technology that makes it quick and simple – yet personalized too. And it needs to meet the specific requirements for both in-person and virtual attendees.
This is a lot easier if you are using one event management system that can handle registrations from sign-up to check-in. But if you are using separate tech stacks, you are going to need to do more behind-the-scenes work to bring everything together.
For the user, registration needs to be simple, easy, and light touch. For you, it needs to provide the data capture and meet your other minimum requirements.
3) How Does the Tech Help with Session Interaction?
We know that virtual attendees can have a lot more off and on-screen distractions to deal with than those attending in-person. There’s also the issue of shorter attention spans.
The topic of attendee engagement in a virtual environment is a big one – and something we cover extensively in our eBook on virtual event engagement. However, when it comes to choosing the right platform for your hybrid event, things can become a lot more complicated. Not only does the tech provider need to offer tools to facilitate engagement with your virtual attendees, but they also need to look after your in-person folks as well.
Think of things like chat rooms, forums, and breakout sessions, as well as in-session tools like Q&As, live polling, social sharing, quizzes, and surveys. Find out what flexibility you have in using these features. Does it all work across both audiences? Are their opportunities for the two audiences to interact?
For example, something as simple as asking questions can become challenging. For the virtual attendee it’s likely that they will send a question in via the questions app. But for the in-person attendees, surely, they raise their hands rather than log onto their device and send in their question? But if that is what needs to happen then so be it. Just remember that the attendee journey remains critical. Will it become clunky because of your tech choices? Always keep the user experience in mind.
4) Will You be Able to Network and Connect Attendees?
Many people attend events to learn and make valuable new connections. When it comes to hybrid events, the networking opportunities are amplified. Everyone benefits if you have built in some time in your programme for connecting and networking. As well as programme time, you need tech that can connect your in-person and virtual attendees.
As with the session interaction, consider what you want. Do you want virtual attendees to mix with other virtual attendees? Do you want in-person attendees to connect with other in-person folks in the room? If you want either of these options, there is no issue. Solutions for these are already in use and have been for some time.
But you could be missing a huge opportunity by not enabling everyone to network together. As human beings, we gain so much information and emotional connection from being able to see someone’s face as we talk with them. The ability to have live video calls within your tech, either one-on-one or in a group, is a great way to replicate some of the in-person feeling you would get. It helps bring virtual and in-person attendees closer to each other.
Some platforms like Eventsforce VCD also use smart technology so that attendees can get automatic recommendations on contacts and companies that best match their interests.
5) How Can You Engage Sponsors and Exhibitors?
Sponsors and exhibitors have big opportunities with hybrid events. After all, they have two sets of attendees to appeal to. For years, planners have been well versed in securing great deals for both exhibitors and sponsors for in-person events. Since Covid, many planners have upskilled and are now monetising virtual events as well. All that needs to happen now is for the planner to bring their skills together and demonstrate the industrial strength power of a hybrid event for sponsors and exhibitors.
Hybrid events are good for sponsors simply because there is more opportunity available to them. They can increase their reach and engage their buyers as never before. They can reach the virtual attendees they cannot see, but also connect with the in-person ones that they physically meet.
A hybrid environment can help with lead generation too. The physical on-site booth can cater to in-person attendees on the trade show floor, while the virtual booth can help them reach out to a wider international audience. This means they could get their international sales teams involved and maybe make it more personal with different languages and so on.
The opportunities are endless. But you need to make sure your tech platform has the tools that allow you to deliver.
6) Will the Data Analytics Deliver?
Data analytics and reporting are important to any type of event. It helps you determine your event’s success and work out what improvements you need to make in the future. The captured data is also one of the main incentives for your sponsors and exhibitors to keep putting money into your event. Depending on the depth of information you want to extract, you could also look at data on what attendees downloaded, which exhibitors and sponsors they interacted with and a lot more besides.
Understanding what type of data your tech can collect and what reports it can generate is critical. Remember if you are using a tech stack as opposed to an all-in-one system, you are going to need to do some work in pulling your hybrid event data together. When looking at your options, keep in mind how much time you will need to correlate your data reporting.
Conclusion – Be Hybrid Ready
Love them or hate them, hybrid events are very much part of the events landscape now. They are more complex; they require more work and they force you to re-consider what tech you need to support your events.
You can of course, stitch a tech stack together. And there could be good reasons for that. For example, some tech providers specialise in one area and are known to be experts in it. You may wish to take advantage of that.
However, with each separate tech component comes additional work. Things such as understanding how best to manage the relationship, dealing with additional data sets and being sure that the out of hours support will be available are just some of the issues to be addressed.
Whilst the format of events is changing, the expectations of attendees and stakeholders is only ever going to increase. And the tech you end up using should be able to meet these new demands.