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How to Level Up Hybrid Conferences & Reach a Wider Audience

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There used to be two choices.

Corporate events could be held in-person at a specific venue, with many guests traveling to attend. Or the events could be virtual, allowing participants to join remotely.

But today, there’s another option.

When travel restrictions and lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to in-person events, nearly everything went virtual. But as restrictions have lifted, hybrid events—those that offer both options, and marry in-person connections with virtual access—have boomed in popularity, and for good reason.

The benefits of going hybrid

While hybrid events came from necessity, event professionals and marketers quickly recognized the numerous benefits of hybrid events. Starting with:

A wider reach. A hybrid event isn’t limited to the number of people that can fit within a venue’s fire code. Hybrid programs open up the list of participants almost infinitely, and that means companies can connect with even more attendees. And more attendees means more prospective customers.

Events with a virtual component are more inclusive than in-person-only events; attendees can participate without having to shell out for transit or accommodations. People who are unable or hesitant to travel due to health concerns can join as well. In fact, more than 80% of event organizers reported being able to reach a wider audience through virtual and hybrid events.

A longer shelf life. When you’re streaming a hybrid event for virtual attendees, recording the event is usually as easy as the push of a button. Recordings are valuable to both the virtual audience and in-person attendees to consume as on-demand content after the event. And marketing and sales teams can use the videos to engage with prospects for months after the event ends.

Versatility. Almost any industry or company event can be hosted as a hybrid event, including board meetings, company milestones, appreciation events, trade shows and even product demos. Just like in-person, hybrid events are beneficial for both companies (giving them speaking opportunities and a platform for lead generation) and attendees (allowing them to access relevant information from industry leaders)—but with the added flexibility of attending in the manner they feel most comfortable.

More sponsorship opportunities. Wherever attendees are, sponsors can be, too. Hybrid events present new opportunities for event sponsors to get in front of participants. Sponsors can be highlighted everywhere from mobile app banner ads and push notifications to sponsored sessions, intro videos before sessions and digital communications before and after the event.

Common hybrid event challenges

Just like in-person events, hybrid corporate events come with challenges. Adding a virtual element means adding several more details to manage, including the event technology and potential for technical difficulties. That technology often adds to the overall cost of the event, although that cost can typically be offset by increased ticket sales from virtual attendees.

It’s also challenging for many event managers to create a positive experience for the virtual audience. The in-person experience includes perks like face-to-face networking, trade show swag and the various snacks and meals that might come with the entry fee. Not having access to those perks, plus the physical disconnect of not being at the event in-person, can feel underwhelming for some attendees. According to one poll, attendees are twice as likely to rate online events “not as fun” as they are in-person events.

But corporate events don’t need to be restricted to only in-person or only virtual. And creating a positive experience for the virtual attendees of a hybrid meeting, conference or trade show is totally possible—and when done well, a hybrid event can leave virtual attendees smiling.

We’ll show you how.

How to host a hybrid conference or trade show

Consider the virtual audience from the start.

For in-person trade shows and conferences, it’s all about the details. The same goes for a hybrid event. To be successful, the virtual experience needs to be well thought out, and that can only happen when virtual attendees and their needs are addressed from the very first steps of the planning process. While not every experience can work for all attendees, every element—from the venue and time zones to breakout sessions and networking opportunities—should be examined from both the in-person and virtual lens to ensure an enjoyable and impactful experience for participants.

Use the right virtual event tool.

It’s often the Achilles’ heel of corporate events and virtual meetings: technology.

Most hybrid event producers suggest finding one solution or platform that can handle all of the event’s necessary functions. Depending on your event, you might want to look for a tool that includes capabilities for the various session types, audience engagement (such as chats and live Q&As) and real-time transcription and translation. You might also look for hosting platforms where in-person attendees and the virtual audience can interact, or opportunities for gamification.

Remember “hybrid” doesn’t always equal “together.”

What you don’t want for a hybrid conference is one where virtual attendees are intrigued by the event marketing, buy tickets and then leave disappointed because everything was tailored to the in-person audience. There are few things more boring and frustrating for virtual attendees than to simply watch an in-person audience experience interactive sessions and not be able to participate. 

That said, not all sessions translate to the screen. Viewers at home might be perfectly fine watching keynotes streamed from sporting arenas; watching a ballroom full of people networking in-person is a different story. Look for distinct opportunities to provide more value to viewers at home—things like virtual-only sessions with industry leaders or small virtual breakout rooms with hand-picked attendees based on their industry and clients. Also make sure to indicate whether sessions are designed for in-person, virtual or all attendees so that no one registers for meetings where they don’t belong.

Designate staff for the virtual event.

If guests at in-person corporate events have questions or concerns, they can go to the registration table or find a staff person. Certain sessions might also have emcees or hosts to lead Q&As and discussions. Guests at virtual meetings should have these resources as well. A team of virtual-focused event organizers can answer key questions, help both speakers and attendees troubleshoot tech issues and coordinate networking opportunities. The staff should be able to address virtual issues as quickly as in-person challenges to ensure virtual guests feel accommodated.

Make participation easy.

Attending an event remotely automatically adds a level of disconnect for virtual attendees, which is why adding opportunities for them to interact and connect is vital. Live polls during sessions, chat functions, intimate breakout rooms and other similar tactics help people engage.

Just like for in-person attendees, don’t forget to provide some fun for virtual audiences.

Remember that statistic we shared about virtual audiences reporting boredom? While it’s an unfortunately common phenomenon, it’s also avoidable.

Some of the most enjoyable—and impactful—parts of an in-person event are the more relaxed and lighthearted moments. Prizes, happy hours and making new connections in the industry are all crowd pleasers, but too many hybrid and virtual events fail to incorporate those as part of the experience. Including these “surprise and delight” moments provides a great opportunity to leave a memorable impact on attendees.

But what do those “surprise and delight” moments look like for virtual meetings? They could come in the form of a branded swag delivery to guests’ doorsteps during the conference, a gift card for a happy hour at the restaurant of their choosing or even just a personalized email from one of the event organizers. Small details like these will help virtual guests feel included, appreciated and engaged—and reflect well on the host company’s brand.

Curious how you can make your next hybrid event a smash hit? Our hybrid event production team helps companies wow their clients and customers with a top-notch hybrid experience. Reach out to learn more.