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Right now, virtual events will likely stay the dominant player in the events space for at least the next six months of the year. However, as we start to see the impact of Covid-19 vaccination programmes and lockdown restrictions slowly start to ease, in-person events will return – albeit in a modest size.
And when this happens, hosting a hybrid event that enables both in-person delegates and virtual attendees to participate will make a lot of sense. Which is why we’re seeing so much hype around hybrid in the industry right now. Interestingly, however, a new poll from Eventsforce has found that 70% of event organizers are NOT considering hybrid as part of their 2021 event strategy. Which opens up the question as to why.
What is the deal with hybrid? Should it be part of your event strategy moving forwards? And what are some of the key considerations you need to think about before taking that step?
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the some of the most important pros and cons of hybrid events.
The Benefits of Hosting Hybrid Events
If there’s one takeaway from the last year is that virtual events can work if planned and executed well. And one of the key benefits? The ability to reach out to more people and engage with those who typically didn’t attend in-person events. Which is great. To put these people aside once in-person events return, will not make any sense. There are other benefits to the hybrid model too, including:
1) More Choice for Everyone
Hybrid events offer greater choice for attendees. They can choose whether to attend the event in person or as a virtual delegate. It provides them with options. They are not required to travel half the way around the globe if they don’t want to. They can simply attend virtually. But if they want to travel and physically meet other people, then they can.
Some people may not have the time, money or the support needed to go to an event as an in-person delegate. However, with a virtual component being a key part of a hybrid event there is no reason for them to miss out.
Hybrid events are also good for the organizations that hold them. No longer is there a need to be restricted by physical venue space. The virtual opportunity has knocked down all boundaries. This means a business can decide how many delegates it wants to invite to the in-person event (ex. VIP customers), rather than try and get the biggest space possible to cover as many people as possible.
Some organizations are developing a ‘hybrid hub’ approach that links virtual delegates with hubs of people attending the event in-person. Everyone is joined together through a digital experience but delegates enjoy a different experience. Hybrid events certainly provide choice.
2) Greater Diversity and Inclusion
Greater inclusion of attendees is one of the best things about hybrid. They allow those delegates that were not going to be able to attend to now do so – this could potentially mean more revenue for your event too if you charge delegate fees. We already mentioned issues such as money, time or lack of support as being key reasons for people not being able to attend in-person. However, there are other factors as well. For example, some delegates may not be able to attend due to being unable to obtain the necessary documentation, e.g. a visa application to get into a country. A virtual delegate of course doesn’t need a visa.
And as hybrid events increase the inclusion of attendees this means you will get more diversity of opinion as a result. The two go hand in hand. More diversity of opinion leads to deeper and richer discussions and debates. That can only be a good thing.
3) The Sustainable Connection
The benefits of hybrid events in terms of their sustainability value is considerable. Traditionally, the only way people could attend events was by going in-person. Often that resulted in delegates travelling long distances and staying away from home for a number of nights. Those actions had an adverse impact on sustainability initiatives, not least because air travel is one of the biggest contributors to climate pollution. So offering attendees an alternative to travel by having a virtual component demonstrates how beneficial hybrid events can be for the environment.
However, sustainability isn’t just about the impact on the planet. Hybrid events are also sustainable when it comes to generating income and profitability. Remember their extended reach to those people that typically couldn’t attend in-person events. That reach is good for you, good for your sponsors and good for your exhibitors. Plus, if you’ve been holding virtual events in this last year, surely you can’t suddenly exclude the virtual audience once we are back to in-person events. That would make no sense at all. Hybrid events offer the ability to develop your sustainability credentials with both planet earth and your profitability.
The Cons of Hosting 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. Let’s take a look at some of the most common concerns we’re hearing in the industry:
1) Complex to Deliver
One of the big challenges with hybrid events is that they are complex to deliver and potentially costly. Essentially, delivering a hybrid event means producing two events and therefore you will need more resources.
You cannot offer the same experience for both audiences either. The virtual attendee experience has to be different to the in-person one – otherwise why would one bother? If you do not develop programmes that speak to the attendee type you risk not satisfying either set of delegates.
Long gone are the days of streaming to a virtual audience by placing a camera in the back of a plenary session. Your attendees are way more sophisticated and demand more. The virtual component has to be a production in its own right, which is distinct from the in-person experience.
You also have to think strategically about your pricing decisions. What will you charge for an in-person delegate? Will you need a smaller venue for a smaller audience? Will that help with costs? How much should you charge for a virtual delegate? In addition to delegates, pricing needs to be adjusted for increased sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities. There is little doubt that hybrid events require more complex decisions to be made.
2) Audience Envy
Following on from the complexity issue is the tricky challenge of audience envy. Does it exist? It does. Any delegate that attends an event is interested in what is in it for them. It’s only natural.
If you go to a hybrid event as an in-person attendee, do you really care about the experience of the virtual audience? Probably not. And if you’re a virtual attendee, are you really fussed with what’s going on at the physical location? Again, it’s pretty unlikely. That’s not to say delegates are not interested in what’s going on beyond their programme but they are more interested in the one they are attending.
And this is where hybrid events need to deliver and exceed expectations to reduce any potential for audience envy – as this will impact attendance the next time round. The last thing you want is for one audience to believe that they are being adversely impacted by you providing your other delegates with a better experience.
Perception is always tricky and that is where you need to diligently ensure that neither set of delegates feel they are missing out.
3) The Need for Change
Hybrid events by their very nature challenge people to change. Whilst they do not shout change they certainly cause it because of the opportunities that they provide. Delegates have more choice and organizations can decide whether or not to hold hybrid events. And whilst you can argue that is a good thing not everyone seeks or wants to change.
In-person events have been the only gig in town really (until now). People are used to how they work, what is expected and how business is generated. They are comfortable and can easily argue if something is not broken then why fix it.
However, Covid-19 changed everything and events went virtual big time. Virtual works and if you add that to an in-person event to create your hybrid experience you are making big changes. Not everyone wants change or is ready for it and this can be a challenge for the successful roll out of hybrid events.
Conclusion – Time for Evaluation
Whether you believe that hybrid events are the future and are the ‘new normal’ is entirely up to you and your organization’s objectives (and budgets!). But before you come to any conclusion, you will need to let go of any ‘unconscious bias’ you may be holding.
Hybrid events offer an alternative, a new way forward, but they do come with complexity. They come with risk and they come with benefits. They can be hard to navigate but at the same time they offer endless possibilities.
There really are pros and cons to consider. But one thing is clear they should be included in your discussions now to establish how and when they should be used. They certainly have a place within the mix you offer of in-person and virtual events.
Running virtual, hybrid or in-person events? Eventsforce can support you with registration, abstracts, live streaming, audience engagement tools, remote speaker management, networking and virtual sponsors and exhibitors. Watch video, book a demo or get in touch with the team to see how we can help!