What Organizations are already Getting Wrong about Hybrid Events
As organizations enter the world of hybrid events, they need to fit into the hybrid lives we’re all already living.
As we begin our journey toward herd immunity, organizations and event professionals are scrambling to adapt to a new, hybrid standard. However, many are still conceptualizing what a successful hybrid event might look like. And from what I can tell, a lot of them are getting it wrong.
How are they getting it wrong?
A recent survey by Markletic outlined some of the top challenges organizations face when hosting hybrid events. I intend to do a blog dedicated to solving these challenges, but here are a few of the top challenges listed in the report:
- 71.1% of event organizers say that connecting the in-person and virtual audience is their biggest challenge.
- 67% of event organizers state that technology to ensure a smooth experience is a challenge or concern.
- 46% of event organizers say that speakers had difficulties engaging a virtual and in-person audience simultaneously.
Plus, when it comes to costs:
38% of enterprise organizations say that costs related to the venue, audio & video, and branding are the biggest hybrid event expense.
Something stuck out to me when reading this report. They often used the phrases “in-person version” or “online version.” Many organizations are trying to make the same session work for in-person and virtual attendees simultaneously. They’re trying to find venues with cutting edge tech in hopes of intertwining their in-person and virtual attendees seamlessly. They’re trying to integrate virtual and in-person sponsor demos…
This is not the right way of thinking nor going about successful, profitable, seamless hybrid events.
These attempts, while valiant efforts, are expensive, scarce, and have no proof of concept (yet). Rather than dwell on all the room for error in such strategies, I want to lay out for you a hybrid event strategy for today that’s intuitive, affordable, more environmentally friendly, and matches the way we live our daily lives in nearly every other aspect.
What Matters Most at Your Event?
Let’s center ourselves for a moment and remember exactly what matters at any event. It’s the same whether your event is in-person, virtual, or hybrid. At Social27, we believe there are three pillars that make any event great (and we’ve built our platform around this belief):
- Content – This is what you use to educate and inspire attendees. It’s your speakers, your workshops, and the building blocks of your event.
- Networking – This is why people come to events rather than watch a YouTube video. Whether in-person or online, people want to connect with likeminded people who share their interests, lifestyles, and goals.
- Sponsors/Exhibitors/Partners – Your sponsors give your event pizazz and authority. They create more excitement. Let’s be real, they’re also likely the ones who make it financially possible to put on your event in the first place.
These are the three elements that, if you get them right, make your event memorable and keep your attendees engaged and coming back for more.
We Are All Living Hybrid Lives
Now, before we dive head-first into how to put on an enterprise or SMB hybrid event. Let’s think about the ways we’re already living our daily hybrid lives…
It Starts Online
Today, whether we’re shopping, eating, traveling, or even dating, most of us are starting our journeys 100% online.
In the case of shopping, we might check out which stores are having the best sales or events. If we’re eating out, we’re probably starting on Yelp or maybe we’re surfing GrubHub to see what’s available for delivery. If we’re traveling, we’re looking at various destinations, restaurants, hotels, and activities to map out what we want to see, where we want to stay, and to get insider knowledge on how to tackle the new terrain with success. And, if we’re dating, we’re looking at profiles, swiping right and left, and starting some 1:1 chats.
Curating the Perfect Experience
Let’s stick with traveling as a parallel to hybrid events. Once we’ve chosen our destination and gotten our feet wet, we have some direction. Now, the smart travelers are watching YouTube videos, joining Facebook groups, and networking with the locals to get insider knowledge about the location.
Smart travelers don’t show up to a destination with 101 level knowledge. They show up ready to soak in the experiential knowledge that’s going to take them from a 201 – 301 tourist to an expert. They know where they’re going to go, who they’re going to see, what they’re going to do and they make all the best use of their time and resources enjoying a full, authentic experience.
You know what else they do?
They continue to use their phones, tablets, and laptops to meet up with the locals they met online, find directions to that amazing restaurant they need to try, and document their experience to share with friends as well as continue conversations with the locals and likeminded travelers they’ve already connected with. They might even meet new people, but they’re not exchanging business cards, they’re connecting online in the places and platforms that best fit the shared interests bringing them together.
Staying Connected After Coming Home
When the smart traveler comes home from their trip, they don’t cling to paper maps from the hotel and physical trinkets alone. They continue to have a rich, deep connection with the people and places they met through online platforms and the digital content they’ve gathered in their device.
These digital content pieces of memories, information, contacts, and more serve as a virtual space for them to return to whenever they would like to keep the trip alive in their heart and mind. To share with friends and family and always go back to reference when needed.
This is the hybrid experience we as event professionals need to be providing our attendees.
Let’s apply this to our business events…
“A hybrid event should give every attendee the VIP experience that is reserved for a select few at a traditional in-person conference or event. At a traditional event, top executives have teams around them to research speakers, sponsors, and attendees in advance and schedule strategic meetings, so they aren’t wasting their time sifting through the noise. Hybrid events should provide every attendee the ability to carefully curate their event before ever stepping foot off the plane and to stay connected to the content and people they meet long after.”
- Ike Kehal, Co-Founder and CEO of Social27
Rethinking What it Means to Put On Hybrid Events
Disclaimer: I’m going to do my best to keep this blog product agnostic, but as I am the marketing director at Social27 and we built our platform with this hybrid model in mind, I may use some Social27 features and functionality as examples.
Okay, now – of course every event will be unique and have a distinct approach to hybrid events, so this hybrid philosophy is in no way monolithic. What’s important is that we think about hybrid in a way that will be intuitive and exciting for attendees as well as profitable and meaningful to speakers and sponsors. The foundation for this is expanding your online offerings well before and after the in-person segment of the event.
Let’s return back to those three pillars of a successful event and see how we can map hybrid onto them in a way that feels natural and can produce great ROI.
Hybrid Event Content
Sessions: Instead of trying to stretch one session across both an in-person and virtual audience simultaneously, ask speakers to prerecord their 101 sessions to upload online well before in-person sessions begin. This lets both virtual and in-person attendees get to know this speaker before deciding to attend their person session and it enables the speaker to get more out of their session and start conversations with attendees in advance that can continue and deepen in-person.
Sponsor Content: Just like with any big purchase (especially B2B), sponsors should leverage online pre-exposure to attendees before they every set foot on the in-person exhibitor hall. In the past, attendees would often hit the expo hall and collect business cards to bring back to their organization and further research with their team.
Hybrid events accelerate the buyer’s journey by enabling attendees to do all that additional research in advance of ever meeting booth representatives in-person. By having a look at sponsor content first, then reaching out digitally, sponsors can have schedules fully booked with demos for their in-person event and in-person attendees will be ready to buy!
User-Generated Content: No one likes cold walking up to someone, holding out their hand and saying, “Hi, I’m X, I work at Y organization as a Z.” Well, if attendees can utilize social media-like features that allow them to upload short introductory videos that are categorized by interests, they’ll already be acquainted with many of the in-person event guests before even stepping foot off the plane!
After the event, in-person session content can be uploaded for virtual-only attendees to take advantage of and hybrid attendees to return to again and again. Sponsors can change up their content to include some nurture content so their new customers can get the most out of their purchase and continue to feel supported. Plus, attendees can continue to share their opinions about the content they consume long after the in-person portion of the event ends.
Hybrid Event Networking
Just like the pandemic has changed dating (increasing intentionality, accelerating deep conversations, and inspiring more singles to continue using video chat screenings before meeting in-person going forward– at least according to my single friends), event networking is never going to be the same as it was pre-pandemic.
Going forward, attendees will be able to find the people they want to meet and have continuous conversations digitally before ever meeting in-person. Goodbye to the cold introduction and handshake – forever. Give attendees access to various ways of interacting so they can engage in virtual networking in whatever way is most comfortable for them. This could mean:
- One-to-one messaging
- Group chats
- One-to-one video calls
- Small-group video calls
- Session chats
- Social media-style micro videos…
This will enable attendees to interact comfortably with other attendees, plus start meaningful working relationships with attendees who share their communication style for even more harmonious collaborations.
Hybrid attendees (those who plan to attend both virtually and in-person) will start making meetings with each other long before the physical event takes place. This means more strategic networking than ever before. Attendees will know who they want to meet with, when they’re going to meet, and even what they want to discuss before checking in!
Speakers will also be able to be more strategic with their content and time by collecting poll data on their sessions and having conversations before the in-person event with attendees to help drive the in-person content they deliver and the conversations they will continue.
Hybrid Sponsor Showcasing and Exhibiting
I’ve already touched on this with the previous pillars, so let’s just sort of recap what we’ve already discussed in a more succinct manner here.
Like most large purchases, having the virtual doors open in advance of the in-person portion of the event enables sponsors and exhibitors to:
- Share compelling and informational content with potential buyers
- Collect lead information to initiate nurture sequences leading up to the in-person event
- Have conversations in a virtual booth chat and answer initial questions
- Hold virtual demos with interested attendees
- Fill up their in-person schedule with demos and sales meetings before ever stepping foot on the expo hall floor
At the event, sponsors are talking almost exclusively to hot leads.
No more chasing people down on the expo hall floor. No more scalping potential leads from other booths. Catching the eye of wandering attendees and getting their contact information in the guest book is now a nice perk rather than the main objective.
Finally, after the in-person event portion is over, sponsors and exhibitors can add nurture content to the virtual side of the event. This content could show customers how to get the most out of their product/service or how to level up their packages and/or products with them and they can upload footage of demos, workshops, or presentations they delivered at the live event. Plus, they can connect with those aimless wanderers they picked up along the way at the in-person expo hall.
Are Hybrid Events Truly the Way of the Future
Yes! Of course they are. However, they don’t need to be these sci-fi-like, cutting edge tech, augmented experience that many virtual events experts seem to be pushing. These types of events would be totally inaccessible to most attendees and most organizations.
If these last twelve-plus-months have shown us anything, it’s that technology gives us the ability to provide more accessibility, more flexibility, and helps us level the playing field (for those who have access to technology such as high-speed internet and functioning devices). Hybrid events should extend these revelations toward in-person components, not diminish them in favor of shiny new objects.
Social27 Virtual Event Platform is poised to do exactly that.
We use AI and Machine Learning to surface relevant content and people to attendees so they can start learning, getting inspired, and making connections that get deeper and richer the more they interact with the platform and only get stronger when in-person components are added.