Johnny Martinez, head of marketing and business development at Shocklogic and EN 30 Under Thirty member, examines the phenomenon of the hybrid event
Hybrid events is one of the big trends that has divided opinion in the industry for the past few years. A hybrid event combines a standard live, in-person meeting in a physical location with a virtual online component for remote attendees.
The topic of hybrid events has been debated at length and, while many event professionals believe in the advantages of adding a virtual experience to their live events, there are still doubts around whether hybrid events are the right fit for certain audiences. It’s important to think carefully about how to communicate effectively and engage with remote participants as well as those who are physically present.
This article looks at some of the key premises to consider when organising hybrid events.
The technology for hosting virtual attendees has improved considerably over the years. However, having a simple web stream is no longer enough. Attendees now demand a more robust virtual experience, which means that event planners and speakers need to work harder to keep their audiences engaged.
The Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has implemented a point-based system for its virtual attendees, which encourages them explore all the functionalities that the virtual portal has to offer and participate remotely in live- streamed sessions and Q&As.
As a member and participant to PCMA’s virtual events, I value how much investment has gone into creating an interactive experience for remote users. If you are organising a hybrid event, there are certain suggestions that I think should be considered:
- Begin with the end in mind. Organisations that proactively add hybrid elements early on generate stronger outcomes than those that add hybrid components later in the process. They see hybrid elements as a way to overcome challenges in existing live events.
- Corporate social responsibility (CSR) must be at the forefront of the strategy for organising hybrid events. Event profs rarely use CSR, green thinking or sustainability as justification for the increased use of hybrid events. Paperless conferences, for example, not only help save the environment but also time, resources and money.
- ‘Hybrid meetings are expensive’. The issue of price often conflicts with the potential for substantial cost savings. There are few indications that events are weighing total production costs against expenditures.
- Hybrid events create a legacy after the event. Only 50 per cent of event professionals say they record conference content for on- demand access. Organisations recognise the value of sharing content with people who are unable to attend onsite. This means that information shared and exchanged at the face- to-face event is easy to access after the event.
- Event profs who organise hybrid events must recognise their diverse audiences. Most attendees would prefer the virtual experience of a hybrid event to resemble a talk show, but most event organisers produce hybrid events in traditional lecture formats.
- Hybrid meetings create challenges in the bidding process. Event profs generally source technology and address connectivity demands before knowing their exact needs, so they sometimes contract with service providers that are unable to support their needs.
- Content suitable for a remote audience. Event profs with experience creating hybrid events say that they are adapting the content of their face-to-face events to the needs of the remote audience. Hybrid event organisers often seek to reduce production costs by live-streaming only the most popular sessions. Others seek to limit the offer to a remote audience as a way of encouraging more people to attend the face-to-face event.
- It’s even more important to train speakers for hybrid events than for face-to-face. The attention span of remote attendees is shorter, therefore speakers must be more engaging. They must acknowledge remote attendees and look at the camera. The loss of physical connection requires speakers to develop new skills to engage. The camera is your friend.
- Meetings cannibalisation is a myth. Given time and budget, delegates still prefer face-to- face meetings. But, organisations are still afraid. About 37 per cent of meetings professionals say that they face scepticism from stakeholders who think that hybrid will eat away at face-to- face events.
- Measuring hybrid events in the same ways as traditional events. Metrics include inputs (number of viewers, social media interactions) and delegate satisfaction, which are both easier to gather online than face- to-face. However, digital event tools allow the collection of more in-depth data that can facilitate more output-driven metric.
Editor’s note: This column appeared in the October issue of EN. The digital edition is available now.