Virtual Events

Are Hybrid Events Our Future?

Carmel McDonagh

Event producers have a predicament on their hands. Those who were able to pivot successfully to virtual events during the pandemic expanded their reach to audiences and speakers globally, providing exceptional value to their sponsoring organizations backed by real-time data on attendee participation.
Accessibility to content was at an all-time high. Recorded sessions gave further engagement post-event and automatically created additional content for brand and event websites. But many people are ready and want to return to in-person events.

Event producers need to meet that need without giving up any of the benefits they discovered on virtual platforms. But how do you cater to both audiences and still provide the magic of an in-person event AND an exceptional online experience at the same time? It’s technically ONE event with two rich experiences.

Enter hybrid events.

One could argue that hybrid events have been around for a long time. Take sporting events for example. Professional football, hockey and basketball games have always given in-person attendees and virtual attendees two different experiences while providing a highly integrated level of entertainment. And they’ve provided their sponsors with commensurate value. But how many of us have the resources or budget of the NHL or NFL? How can we bring a similar magical experience to our attendees and sponsors?

Well, let’s start by distilling down what a hybrid event actually is. Forbes describes hybrid events as ‘…an event model that strategically incorporates in-person and virtual elements for attendees.’ So, with this in mind here are a few considerations worth reviewing if you are forging ahead with an event strategy that integrates the best of an in-person experience with a virtual one:


  1. BUDGET: The B word. Gone are the days of sticking a camera at the back of a room and pretending it’s a great experience for those watching online. Streaming an event does not make it hybrid. All attendees deserve a rich, personalized event experience that allows the audience to feel connected, thereby making the whole event ‘bigger’. But that comes at an additional cost and requires more resources. Think for a moment about all the onsite event coordination needed from staff, then consider how you would accomplish a virtual experience in the same expert manner. Virtual attendees do not want to feel like they are getting the short end of the event stick. Hybrid events will simply cost more when created to be ONE event, but with two unique experiences for in-person and virtual attendees. Event organizers who have become accustomed to low costs for unadorned virtual-only events will need new business models to pay for the live-virtual spectrum events attendees will demand.

  2.  CONTENT: What opportunities exist to create tailored programming for in-person vs. virtual attendees? What will your online attendees be doing during a lunch break or late afternoon cocktail networking reception? Carefully crafting similar experiences for those virtual attendees will be important so they don’t feel they are missing out on important segments of the event. How can you consistently create content and experiences so that virtual attendees feel like their participation is just as important as those attending in-person? Also, paying close attention to how long sessions run is important because those tuning in from home may have other distractions. Making content available on-demand will also be an important tactic to allow virtual attendees to select how and when they want to watch sessions, while not feeling left behind. It will also give your global attendees an opportunity to catch up on content at a time that works for them.

  3. TECHNOLOGY: Digital transformation came at us hard, yet we all adapted attendees, sponsors, and event producers alike. And there is no doubt that technology will continue to bring better experiences through hybrid environments. Eran Ben-Shushan, CEO of Bizzabo put it best at the Bizzabo ‘Almost Hybrid’ conference – “This past year demonstrated the responsibility of technology to drive the evolution of virtual events. The hybrid technology of tomorrow will need to be built from the ground up with the virtual and in-person attendee holistically in mind.” Perhaps new technologies will overcome the tedium of watching a live event online; one can imagine a “self-driving” video and audio system designed to capture a breakout session with a variety of camera angles and good sound.

  4. SPONSORSHIPS: Creating truly hybrid events should allow more opportunities for sponsors to interact with attendees. And event producers would do well to create unique sponsorships that take advantage of the event environment. If you can create more value for your sponsors and increase their ROI with lead generation and additional attendee insights, while at the same time increasing your sponsorship revenue potential, you should be able to offset the increased cost of technical support and platform. A win-win. The platform Swoogo, which we use here at Yes& reminds us all that you can also have fun with hybrid sponsorships.

  5. PROGRAM FORMAT: Event producers should also consider which events in their program year should be hybrid, virtual or in-person. Perhaps only a selection of events throughout the year should be created as true hybrid events, especially given the budget and resource implications. There may also be some smaller team meetings, trainings, or customer meet and greets that may be less conducive to an online experience. Therefore, taking the necessary steps to ensure everyone feels safe and comfortable onsite so that they receive the value and benefits of being in person is very important.
We are just at the beginning of possibility when it comes to delivering compelling hybrid events. And 2021, much like 2020, will be another year of discovery for all event producers. Tracking those insights and meeting the demands of our audiences has never been more important from a brand experience perspective. It’s what attendees and sponsors expect, and we should be prepared to deliver….thoughtfully.

Yes& is the Washington, DC-based marketing agency that brings commercial, association, and government clients the unlimited power of “&” – using a full suite of branding, digital, event, marketing, public relations, and creative capabilities to deliver meaningful and measurable results.

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Carmel McDonagh
Carmel McDonagh
VP, B2G Account Management