Creating a hybrid event program that personalizes the experience for both in-person and virtual attendees can be challenging. One wrong move and you run the risk of inadvertently upsetting one audience over another.
At the same time, it is important to understand that there is no secret formula to creating the perfect hybrid program. No set recipe, no secret sauce. Event planners are free to create experiences that bring people together in a way that works for them. This may not suit some who like to follow templates and tick boxes as they go. But for those who like to be super creative, the lack of a set formula is good news.
NEW eBOOK – 10 Critical Steps to Successful Hybrid Events
With this in mind, we take a look at some of the top things event planners need to think when designing and managing programs for their hybrid events.
1. Choose Desired Outcomes
Before you can start deciding on how to plan your hybrid event program, you need to be clear on what outcomes are needed. It is the same principle when producing any event. However, it is worth examining whether the outcomes work for both sets of attendees or whether you need to have outcomes that relate to each audience type.
For example, what outcomes are you working towards for your sponsors? Some are getting used to the idea of ROI from virtual events. It’s new and clearly not as familiar as ROI from in-person events. Therefore, you need to be clear how a hybrid event that combines both elements will look for the sponsors and how you will measure and analyze the data. Whilst the outcome for your sponsor is likely to be more awareness of the brand, your work will be to figure out what that means and how you will deliver across the event.
2. Passive vs Active Hybrid Program
There are no rules stating that a hybrid event must be super interactive. Some hybrid events can be passive. For example, your virtual attendees could just enjoy the content that is streamed to them. This is perfectly acceptable. It works well for some events, where the focus is to give information and not to encourage questions or comments. Think of a documentary or airline safety announcements on flights. They never encourage interaction, and it wouldn’t make sense for them to do so. What sessions do you have where passive viewing would work best?
Equally, your hybrid event can be as interactive as you want it to be. The virtual delegates can become involved in a variety of ways. They can be encouraged to send in questions, get involved in chats and participate in group tasks. You also need to consider what activities you will deliver for your in-person delegates. And what activities you will produce that means in-person and virtual delegates come together and work as one. Some platforms like Eventsforce, for example, can support these blended experiences via shared polls and Q&As during sessions.
All you need to do is to design your hybrid event that allows any attendee to participate without any ‘user’ obstacles.
3. Choice of Hybrid Set-Up
In designing your program, you will need to consider the hybrid model you will be using. We looked at these in a previous post. But in broad terms you can have a hybrid event that uses a single physical location for the in-person attendees. Or you can use several physical locations. In either of these scenarios, virtual attendees participate in the usual way via a weblink.
Once you have decided on the model you can get into creating the program. This needs to be in line with both the outcomes needed and the level of interactivity required. As you can see, everything is connected and plays a key role when it comes to program design!
4. The Attendee Experience
People attending your event need to feel special. You need to communicate with each attendee with equal importance. That way you are likely to experience better engagement too. A common mistake is to create a program for in-person attendees and then add a virtual component to it. That is also a problem as clearly the in-person program was the one that came first and in effect dominates the overall event.
When you put together your program, make sure they speak directly to the targeted attendee. For example, during the in-person program you could suggest a walk around the venue to check out its facilities and history. For the virtual attendees, you may decide to do a studio interview with a speaker that has just been on. You have lots of scope. Just make it obvious you are planning the program with the attendee journey in mind.
Designing programs for your different audiences is a skill. Having separate hosts for in-person and virtual audiences can address some of their needs and help manage their expectations. The hosts can ensure event communication and content feel personalized to the audience.
With breakout sessions, there are opportunities to design your program where online and in-person attendees interact. Having online attendees present and beamed in to the in-person breakout sessions or roundtable discussions, for example, can help the two audiences engage and connect.
5. Stakeholder Input
Whilst it is highly likely that the bulk of your energy will go towards ensuring that the attendee experience is as top notch as possible, it would be a mistake to forget your other stakeholders. They all have a role to play as well to help drive your hybrid event to new levels. Whether it is speakers, hosts, sponsors or exhibitors – you can involve them to a larger or lesser degree in your program design.
When it comes to speakers and presenters, be crystal clear that they need to speak to ALL attendees. Not just the ones they can see. Push them to be on time and not overrun as that will not help – especially with your online audience. Make sure you understand what they will be presenting and be fully aware of all activities so that they work for your attendees.
When it comes to sponsors and exhibitors, don’t just make it about the branding. Think about how you can involve them in the content. They can be on panels, face tough questions or take part in a debate. One thing is for sure, hybrid events offer lots of opportunities for everyone involved. It is best to maximize them as far as possible. Your stakeholders will love you for doing so.
6. Decide on Your Budget
One of the key considerations in determining the levels of sophistication in your program design is of course, budget. However, if you see budget and keeping costs low as a primary issue and do not put that against the bigger benefits available you will always be disappointed. Hybrid events require more investment than an in-person or a virtual event simply because you are running one event with two experiences.
The same principles with budgeting apply as they do for putting any event on. However, it is worth pointing out that the virtual component of a hybrid event is not free or low cost. After all, people and technology systems like virtual event platforms are needed and they need to be paid for. It is wise not to fall into the trap of believing because it is online, less budget is needed.
Once you have your budget you can start to look at what you can spend money on and where it should go. Now you can really get stuck into designing your program. The less budget, the more entrepreneurial in your thinking you will need to be.
Conclusion – It All Comes Back to Your Hybrid Event Strategy
Hybrid events helps organizations to expand their reach, expand their income and expand their sustainability credentials. But they could also achieve that with a virtual event, so “why a hybrid format?” And this is the fundamental question. Where do hybrid events fit in the overall comms strategy of the organization?
Maybe you want to hold a hybrid event because of the nature of your audience. For example, your event has a 50% international audience and because of travel restrictions and uncertainty, these people won’t be able to come to your annual conference. It doesn’t make sense to exclude them, and therefore a hybrid event would be a good solution. You would have an in-person event for your local audience and a virtual component to cater to your international audience.
Hybrid events make a lot of sense for many reasons. However, they shouldn’t be planned if their benefits are not clearly understood. You’ll be better of producing an in-person or virtual event.
To bring all your attendees together and spend the time and resources on making them a success is something not to be taken lightly. But when the program sings and the hybrid event is produced for the right strategic reasons, the impact is huge.
Planning hybrid events? Eventsforce is an all-in-one event management platform that can help you run successful hybrid events. Reach out to more people, blend virtual and on-site experiences, and manage ALL your event attendees on one platform. Learn more.