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Hybrid events present new challenges for event planners as they need to engage and delight two different audiences. And whilst it may not be easy, understanding hybrid can’t be avoided. They offer greater choice for attendees. They can help extend the audience reach of an event and promote greater diversity and inclusion too.
The issue of sustainability can’t be ignored either. The COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow has highlighted how much more countries need to be doing to reduce their impact on the global environment. There is no doubt that this will also contribute to the increasing demand for hybrid events.
The benefits are clear but there is a reason why many organizers are struggling coming to grips with a hybrid strategy for their events moving forwards. They carry a lot more risk. There are also a lot of assumptions people make that can be detrimental to the success of a hybrid event.
With this in mind, let’s look at some of the most common mistakes that appear time and again in the design and delivery of hybrid events:
1) Not Understanding WHY
Not understanding why you are planning a hybrid event is the single biggest mistake any organization can make. The reasons must be clearly addressed right at the start. If you and your stakeholders don’t have a strong rationale, there is no point in proceeding.
Let’s not forget that in-person and virtual events are available as alternatives. What is it about combining your audiences into a hybrid event format that will make it right? Is it because you want to broaden your reach? Is it because you want to increase the inclusiveness of your event? Or is it simply that you want to give your attendees the choice of how they attend an event in this current climate? It doesn’t matter what the reason if you are clear on your objectives.
A number of well-established in-person events have successfully embraced the hybrid event format and it has worked well. We have seen awards ceremonies do well, where the sponsors’ brand reach has exceeded expectations. They are delighted as they get to be in front of all attendees.
2) Not Prioritizing Program Design
The key to program design is spending enough time on it. The emphasis being on the word ‘enough’. Unless you do justice to properly designing a hybrid event program, it will fail to meet expectations. And yes, we may be a long way from the days when many believed that to create a hybrid, all you needed to do was video capture the in-person content and stream it to a virtual audience.
However, expectations of attendees are becoming more demanding and whether delegates attend in-person or virtually, they to want to feel as though you are personalizing the experience just for them.
To do that you need to allow sufficient time to work through the attendee journeys and any issues. And remember, you cannot prioritize one audience over the other. For example, offering Q&A sessions with speakers for your in-person audience over your virtual ones is something you should avoid. Your virtual attendees need to see what value you are offering them too.
3) Hoping the User Journeys Will Work
No planner would leave their user journeys to chance. After all there is too much at stake. And this is accentuated at hybrid events because of the complexities involved. But often, unfortunately, these user journeys have not been tested.
Poor user journeys become obvious very quickly. For example, when weblinks do not work, or it is difficult to upload a photo easily. Or registration involves an endless list of pointless questions. The easier and more seamless the journey is, the better the experience for everyone.
You cannot just focus on your attendees either. You need to be looking after your speakers, your press, your exhibitors, your sponsors and more. All these people have a user journey to go on.
The best thing you can do is to get each of the journeys tested from beginning to end. It’s always the attention to detail that will lead to flawless execution benefiting you with a positive ROI at the end of the hybrid.
4) Not Holding Rehearsals
Not holding rehearsals for an in-person or a virtual event is a bad idea, but it’s even worse when you are producing a hybrid event. It’s worse because you have more moving parts to contend with. You have two audiences, multiple speakers (virtual and in-person), hosts, and crew.
The only way to make sure your hybrid event runs perfectly is to run rehearsals. You need to practice bringing in virtual guest speakers, you must test the audience interaction tech and you must make sure that you know who is directing the event.
Go through the running order from top to bottom. Don’t make the fatal mistake of just talking through what will be happening. It’s not enough. You need to go through everything as though it were live. You can adjust sound, lighting, and scripting at the rehearsal stage. But once you go live, you are live, and you cannot start again.
During rehearsal arrange to have a small group of in-person and virtual attendees to give you ‘in the moment’ feedback which will be invaluable. They will be able to let you know how well the timing for the voting or Q&A is working and much more.
5) Not Managing Time Effectively
Letting time run away is a big mistake if you want your hybrid event to be a success. You need to be in control of time, not be governed by it. Whilst at an in-person event, speakers may be able to stretch the timing a bit, it’s not the case with your hybrid event. You must always remember the audience that you cannot see, they will be tuning in, and they will expect you to be on time.
To make sure everything runs smoothly and both audiences have great experiences it is a good idea to use hosts. Have an in-person and a virtual host. By working together, they will help keep everything on track and to time.
6) Not Promoting Opportunities to Sponsors and Exhibitors
Failing to properly promote opportunities to exhibitors and sponsors would mean that you are missing out. Missing opportunities for you to raise revenue and but also to provide additional value for attendees.
It is highly likely that you will need to educate sponsors and exhibitors on how a hybrid event can increase their reach and revenue. The most important point is that they can be in front of both sets of attendees.
And whilst sponsors for in-person events understand what they are looking for, many still need to understand the opportunities with the virtual audience. For example, when it comes to virtual, you could interest them in 1:1 video meetings, in-platform advertising and push notifications, personalized matchmaking, curated VIP roundtables or focus discussions.
Highlight the opportunities available and develop customized offers. Some will want to place emphasis on the in-person attendees, others will want to focus on virtual viewers, and some will want equal emphasis on both attendee types.
7) Not Using Virtual Hosts and Producers
Whilst you should not prioritize one audience over the other, the virtual component is relatively new for some planners to incorporate. However, help is at hand in the form of virtual specialists such as virtual hosts and virtual event producers. It makes sense to use this expertise if you don’t have sufficient experience. It also allows you to coordinate things a lot more easily.
In brief, a virtual host acts as the conduit between the production team, the speaker, and the attendees. The host can demonstrate how the technology works to enable delegates to get the most from their experience. In addition, a virtual host can look at questions and comments coming in and they can also scan the poll results.
The virtual host takes their instructions from the virtual event producer who is the person that brings everything together for the virtual delivery. In a hybrid event, it is essential that your virtual specialists work in alignment with the in-person content director. It’s the only way in which you will be able to produce a seamless event.
8) Thinking There is One Set Formula
There is no magic formula for hybrid event success. There is no formula for what a hybrid event should be. Debate continues in the events sector as to how a hybrid event should be defined. However, there are only two key components to a hybrid event, you have an in-person audience, and you have a virtual audience. That’s it.
You decide how much content needs to be provided to both audiences at the same time. You decide where and when the programs should separate. It’s up to you.
But the key point is that you are in control of what you do with your hybrid event. It doesn’t matter what other organizations are doing. There are different hybrid event formats you can use and as always what will be best will depend on your objectives.
Conclusion – Use Hybrid Events Strategically
Hybrid events are not going to disappear from the events landscape. They may in time be called something else, but their significance won’t change.
What matters most is that organizations have an event format that they can use when it makes the most strategic sense for them to do so. To hold a hybrid event that combines in-person and virtual attendees can be very powerful.
And there is no going backwards. With Covid-19 effectively stopping in-person events, the only option was virtual. Now that is has been shown that virtual productions work, there will be a lot more demand for hybrid events.
It is for you to decide when a virtual event will work and when an in-person event will work. And of course, it’s your strategic decision that will determine when you need to hold a hybrid event.