Hybrid Events: Preparing for a Digital Future

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Hybrid events are becoming more popular due to the world’s current coronavirus-affected state, the rise of remote working, and because of their appeal to global audiences. But what is this new event format and how can you prepare for it?

We break down this new event form and outline what companies can do to create hybrid events.

What Are Hybrid Events?

Hybrid events combine virtual and physical experiences—these events can be expos, conferences, talks, or seminars that are held at venues attended by audiences, both in person and online. While some speakers and hosts are present on stage at the venue, others join in via video calls

Another aspect of hybrid events is that they are often recorded and shared with attendees after the conference is over, as well as with other interested or paying parties.

Because of the nature of hybrid events, they appeal to audiences who aren’t able to physically attend a conference—online events are far more accessible to larger audiences.

But holding a hybrid event takes a certain amount of planning. We share the best ways event companies can start preparing for a digital future.

Optimize Your Content

The content you design for a live event, or for an entirely virtual audience, can’t be used as-is in a hybrid event setting. Because the audiences are mixed—virtual and in-person—designing content for one or the other will lead to you losing someone’s interest. 

Instead, you have to take into account how best to keep both sets of audiences engaged. For instance, interactivity for virtual audiences will be different for live ones—in-person attendees can simply raise their hand to ask a question.

In such situations, giving virtual viewers the option to send their questions across via social media would be a good alternative. Don’t focus the entirety of the talk around a presentation deck or PowerPoint slides—this won’t keep online audiences interested.

Add more interactive elements to keep your virtual audience engaged, such as live polls, social media conversations, quizzes, and Q&As. Hosts should also be directed to speak not only to each other and the live audience, but to turn to the camera to address the virtual attendees. 

Sessions should be kept short—an hour-long, with added time for spill-overs. Longer discussions could alienate your virtual audience who would be uncomfortable sitting in front of a screen for that long.

You should also record sessions and make them available on-demand for audiences who are unable to tune in live or attend on the day.

People may not be able to stay online for a day-long conference and should be able to access the sections they are interested in after the fact.

Invest in Technology

The content you create for a hybrid event will be greatly influenced by the kind of technology you use. Even with the best presentations and speakers, you could lose your audience if you don’t have HD screens, good streaming software, and excellent internet connectivity.

When you have speakers appearing both virtually and in-person, it is imperative that their internet connections are strong and that the screens you use are high-resolution. This will ensure that live attendees can see them clearly at the venue but also that virtual audiences see them and their content via the live stream.

And the webinar software needs to be well chosen—when you’re streaming to your virtual audience, they should get an uninterrupted, clear visual throughout. Losing connection partway through, choppy visuals, or the sound cutting out will take away from the virtual experience, impacting your event’s goodwill.

It’s important to test all the technology and power systems needed for the event before it takes place—this will help to catch the glitches before going live.

Organizers should also anticipate hashtags being co-opted by non-attendees—or worse, trolls. Have someone monitoring the social feeds to ensure it doesn’t go off the rails. The best way to ensure your technology is up to standard is to test everything in advance.

Manage Marketing

An event can only be successful if people attend it—the best way to let people know about your hybrid event is through a well-planned marketing campaign.

There are several elements required in marketing your event. For one, you will need to build and maintain a website, or at least a landing page dedicated to the conference.

This page or microsite should be branded for the event and will need to include all the necessary event details—time, venue, ticket prices, speakers, and agenda.

Building a blog that converts visitors into customers is another crucial step in your campaign—and can help improve your SEO and SERP scores.

The visuals you use in your campaigns need to be powerful and consistent with the event’s branding—across banners, posts, and newsletters, use the same image styles.

Social media is an invaluable marketing tool—its organic reach is massive, and there is no better way to increase engagement between brands and customers. Adopt an event-specific hashtag to promote your conference on social channels, and consider partnering with sponsors and influencers to boost your message.

Social media contests are a great way to boost your reach and attract new followers—discounts, giveaways, or one-on-one sessions with speakers make for great prizes.

Marketing needs to be as much a priority as operating your event if you want a large enough audience to make profits.

Add Interactivity

We have already touched upon the need for interactivity in hybrid events—particularly to keep virtual audiences engaged. There are a number of ways to make your event more interesting for everyone involved. Including live polls and hosting Q&As are great ways to encourage audience participation.

A social media manager can track the event hashtag and share questions from online participants on the social screen at the venue. The manager can also reply to attendees or comment on their posts—this will increase the levels of engagement.

Create an interactive quiz to share with participants—ensure it fits with the theme of the talk and enhances their understanding of the subject.

The one thing you don’t want at your hybrid event is a passive audience—it is their dynamism that makes the event lively and engaging, which is why you need to add more interactivity.

Measure Event Response

The completion of an event can come as a huge relief to organizers—but the work does not end there. You need to examine the event response to make the next one even better.

There are a number of areas that you can study when it comes to event response—and which will help you set your KPIs :

  • The number of registrations versus the number of attendees
  • Clicks on posts and newsletters
  • Website traffic
  • Feedback from speakers, hosts, and attendees
  • Revenue generated from the event versus the cost of the event
  • Social media engagement
  • News coverage
  • Leads generated from the event

Compile your data into charts and graphs for easy understanding—data visualization will help teams better extrapolate what worked and which areas require improvement.

Feedback and Follow-Ups

Part of measuring for event success is getting feedback from all those involved with the conference. 

First and foremost, you need to ask attendees—both in-person and online—how they liked the event and what they would like to see improve. You can use survey forms to get feedback from participants—but try to keep the forms short and sharp.

Use more multiple-choice questions or radio buttons instead of asking them to write paragraphs—the less strenuous the exercise, the more results you will receive.

The survey also acts as a form of following up with the audience—so they don’t lose connections with your company.

You should get feedback from speakers about their experience—this could be invaluable in adjusting operational areas for the next event.

Ask your internal staff about the areas that worked smoothly, and where the roadblocks were. 

Look through your social media reviews and make a note of the points made there—remember to respond to negative feedback with sensitivity and reply to the user quickly.

Feedback and email follow-ups are essential for continuing your event business—it is hard work setting up an event, but there is still work to do once it’s over if you want to succeed.

Summing Up

Hybrid events are the future—but preparing for them can take some work and planning. We have shared the key steps for preparing for a hybrid future. 

To recap, these are the steps:

  • Format your content
  • Get the right technology
  • Start marketing your event
  • Be interactive in the event
  • Measure event success
  • Get feedback

By following these steps, you can begin creating hybrid events to boost your reach and grow your company.

Ronita Mohan is a content marketer at Venngage, the online infographic maker and design platform. Ronita regularly writes about the digital world, sales strategies, and small businesses.