Best Practices to Ace Your Hybrid Events

Events hold power: the power to educate and inform. The power to activate a community. The power to raise brand awareness. The power to gain — and retain — customers.

Shared experiences allow people to create and establish business relationships. Events offer the space in which to cultivate and nurture those experiences.

Less than two years ago, event organizers primarily focused on executing in-person events. But COVID-19 has forced us to rethink our approach. As companies further adapt to pandemic-driven disruption, event organizers are reimagining and adapting tried-and-true strategies in new, creative ways.

Enter hybrid events. A hybrid event blends in-person and virtual event elements to create a unique and unified experience, often offering attendees and sponsors the “best of both worlds.”

Many organizations see hybrid events as not just a stop-gap measure for the near future but as an integral part of their event mix moving forward. In fact, 97% of respondents in a Bizzabo survey believe 2021 and beyond will have more hybrid events than in past years.

A hybrid event strategy offers many benefits with its inherent agility and flexibility, helping companies increase their reach and inclusivity while future-proofing for the unknown. Hybrid events work best when all attendees have similar access to content as well as opportunities to engage with each other and the presenters. By adding virtual elements to in-person events, participants can consume content on their own schedule, giving them more agency in crafting their own event experience.

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Four models of hybrid events

With event marketers believing we will see more hybrid events in 2021 and beyond, it’s incumbent on event professionals to adopt the philosophy that hybrid isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution but a spectrum. It’s about creating a shared, integrated, and personalized experience for all attendees. It’s not — and shouldn’t be — a homogenized experience, but rather an opportunity for each participant to deliver value and drive impact for everyone.

Two simultaneous events: A combination of an in-person event integrated with a virtual event, with concurrent networking and content streaming. In this format, events bring audiences together. From a sponsorship perspective, this approach expands reach, maximizing visibility and viewership. The potential con? Increased costs generated from co-creating, producing, and running two events simultaneously.

Delayed events: Includes a live programming segment for the in-person attendees with a secondary, on-demand component for future consumption by an online audience. This approach enables event organizers to focus on one event at a time. The potential con? It can become more difficult to successfully engage a virtual audience.

Live studio audience events: Replicates a high production broadcast by bringing small in-person groups together — like a live television show — with the majority of the audience attending virtually. This model allows participants to target strategic accounts and high-level prospects for a personalized experience. The potential con? You’re still carrying increased costs from producing two events simultaneously.

Speaker-only events: Gathers the entire content framework and all presenters — internal and external, thought leaders, celebrity presenters, and employees — to one centralized location where event organizers control the messaging, look, and feel. This option ensures the content representing the brand’s look and feel is high-quality and standardized for everyone. The potential con? Increased costs for physical space and production support.

Best practices to host successful hybrid events

Hybrid strategies help foster and maintain engagement long after an event concludes when the planners create trust between the attendees and event organizers — and among the attendees themselves.

But even before that trust-building begins, event organizers must define the event goal, whether it be to:

  • Raise brand awareness for the company and its products or services.
  • Generate leads, accelerate sales, drive retention or provide education.
  • Build communities and cultivate prospect, customer and employee relationships.
  • Generate revenue from sponsorships and sales.

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These best practices will help to achieve your event’s goals.

Create chemistry

While content keeps attendees engaged and returning, chemistry and the connections between speakers, guests and viewers elevate the experience for everyone. A strong emcee generates chemistry by creating energy, connecting dots for the audience, and helping the whole program make sense. Because you don’t want to lose the virtual audience while entertaining those in person, a good host also caters to virtual attendees.

Deliver positive attendee experiences

Gather needs via emails and surveys or by creating channels for people to connect and talk. Use data to personalize attendee experiences — like a choose-your-own-adventure approach — and tailor outreach and follow-up communications. Create communities and opportunities for serendipitous virtual encounters via breakout rooms and workshops. Use video conferencing, chats, and whiteboarding to replicate in-person experiences. Focus on personalizing the content journey by offering more topic choices (when appropriate) and event formats tailored to provide the information or insights attendees find most relevant.

Set up speakers for success

Guide speakers on the nuances of — and differences between — translating in-person experiences to a virtual format. Share best practices for virtual speaking and suggestions or tips to create and maintain engaging presentations.

Don’t ever cut rehearsals or rehearsal time. It’s a critical component for success and helps ensure speakers’ comfort with the technology. If time permits, plan a mock event a couple of weeks before the actual event. Reviewing everything and conducting pressure testing with the technology lets you see what breaks so you can address it before go-live.

The value of data

A hybrid events platform collects and aggregates trackable metrics to provide data-driven insight into your target audiences.

With a hybrid strategy, virtual tools can integrate with existing event programs to cultivate continuity, increase operational efficiency, and help keep the event data in one place. Hybrid event platforms have the power to generate a vast quantity of data for many stakeholders: organizers, presenters, marketers, and brands.

The right event management software integrates smoothly with tools of record like Hubspot, Marketo, or Salesforce. The software collects data from attendee registration, audience engagement features, content consumption habits, breakout rooms, and online discussion sessions into a master data set from which teams can:

  • Aggregate data.
  • Create actionable reports.
  • Learn the complete story about the hybrid event’s performance.
  • Better understand attendee needs.
  • Use lessons learned to plan future, even better events.

The power of transformation

Well-designed hybrid events deliver personalized experiences. They’re authentic and transparent. They cut through the noise and deliver a real impact when event teams plan each step and element deliberately and thoughtfully: the content, the format, the delivery, the speakers, the stakeholders.

Hybrid event strategies capitalize on the need to connect by building stronger attendee communities. They offer the best of both worlds: in-person interaction and an opportunity to connect globally without limits.

Events foster human connections. Successfully crafted and well-executed hybrid events deliver immersive, truly transformative experiences.

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