In early 2020 when corporate events went all-virtual by necessity, companies quickly pivoted and adapted to the new reality. Now that we’re halfway through 2021 and millions of people have been vaccinated, regulations are loosening, facilities are opening up, and many people feel more comfortable gathering with others for in-person events.
As a result, hybrid events are on the rise. By bringing in-person attendees together with virtual attendees, hybrid events are somewhat similar to live TV shows, where an in-person audience experiences a production live. At the same time, a remote audience watches the event from their computers or mobile devices in their home offices or workplaces.
Hybrid events are new for all of us, which can feel a little intimidating. Together, we’re learning as we go. If you’ve held both in-person and virtual events and are now considering combining the approaches, we have a few insights and resources to help make the process run smoothly.
To start, take our Hybrid Event Quiz to help guide you in determining if a hybrid event is best for your business and marketing requirements.
Read on for some things to think about before hosting a hybrid event.
1. The Differences In Your Two Audiences — In-person Attendees Versus Virtual Attendees
It’s essential to think about how people attending your event in-person will have different characteristics, expectations, needs, and experiences than those attending virtually.
First of all, these two audiences will have different levels of investment in the event. People who take time away from work and possibly incur expenses to travel to attend in person will undoubtedly be more invested in the experience. During presentations at the event venue, they’ll likely be completely focused on taking in the content. They may ask questions or share their perspectives during presentations, and they may discuss the content with fellow attendees during breaks. They’re also more likely to attend the presentations from start to finish.
On the other hand, people attending virtually won’t have invested anywhere near the same amount of time, and they may not have spent any money to attend. Because their investment is lower, their participation may be lower as well. In their offices or at home, they’ll be free to multitask during the presentations. Often they are listening with one ear while distracted by other things happening around them. The bottom line is that you’ll need to work harder to engage your virtual attendees because no matter how interested they are in the content, they won’t feel as invested as those who made an effort to attend in person.
Next, consider attention spans. In-person attendees will have an easier time focusing on your content for more extended periods, as speakers and screens will be right in front of them. They may also feel motivated to pay close attention if a presenter makes eye contact or asks them to answer a question or share a perspective.
On the other hand, virtual attendees may start fully engaged but then begin to experience screen fatigue. The presentations won’t feel as immediate to them, as the presenters won’t be in the same room. They’ll be able to turn their cameras off, so they won’t feel the same need to stay engaged. And as mentioned, their attention can quickly shift to other work or household tasks.
Networking is an important consideration, too. People who have taken the time to attend in person will want opportunities to meet and talk with others. But while virtual attendees will understand that there are limitations to networking remotely, they may still want opportunities to connect with others online. As such, you’ll need to consider offering virtual breakout sessions or other small-group meetings to foster those connections.
One more thing to consider is how both types of audiences will need to navigate unfamiliar environments. You’ll need to help in-person attendees find their way around your event venue and manage any processes around safety protocols, like social distancing, hand sanitizing, and more. As for virtual attendees, they may be unfamiliar with the digital environment or your particular event platform, so you’ll need to prepare them for a smooth experience by providing plenty of tips, guidance, and troubleshooting support if required.
2. The Differences In Technical Planning
For a live-only event, it’s okay to have standard internet service. For a hybrid event, you need to be able to stream your content live to your online audience with the highest-quality video and the fewest number of hiccups. It’s also important to think about IT response times. What happens if the internet or A/V drops while the event is streaming? With a virtual audience present, it would be best to have IT support at the event venue to ensure that microphones work well, video presentations and other displays run smoothly. The ability to quickly respond to any technical issues that may hinder the live or online experience is a plus.
You’ll also want to plan for multiple video cameras and feeds so the online audience can see the event from more than one perspective to keep things fresh and engaging.
3. The Differences In Audience Experience
In order to create a meaningful experience for virtual attendees at hybrid events, it’s important to first understand what you can’t give them.
You can’t deliver the atmosphere of a live event. Virtual attendees won’t experience the feeling of being there in person, with the building of anticipation through music, video displays, and more. You also can’t give them face-to-face moments or eye contact.
However, you can do things to bridge those gaps. Use an emcee to bring energy and immediacy to your presentations. Use storytelling to connect with attendees across distances will bring a more authentic and intimate feel. And use chats, Q&As, polling, and gamification to draw virtual attendees in, make them feel part of the action, and bring them a greater level of satisfaction and connection to the content.
Crawford Group Can Help You Plan, Produce, And Execute Your Next Hybrid Event
Whether you’re looking to host one event or a series — or multiple sessions within a larger live, hybrid, or virtual event setting — Crawford Group can make it happen. We empower organizations like yours by providing event production services that drive measurable results.
We offer a full range of services, from pre-event planning to production to post-event management, and we work with you to determine the right level of support. We’d love to share our best practices with you and your team. Check out our website for more details on how we can help you with your Hybrid Event.