The nature of events and conferences has changed over time, with the digitalisation of various multimedia tools and other innovative technologies taking a hold in the fabric of society. These rapid technological changes have played an important role in event planning and organisation; as such occurrences are not what they used to be 10 or 15 years ago.
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As live events ground to a halt in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, the focus has shifted to hybrid events as a means for organisations to hold an event while still adhering to the social distancing rules around the pandemic. Hybrid events are, as the name might suggest, a mix between a live event and a virtual event. Essentially, hybrid events bring together traditional events and innovative elements; where organisations meld their live audience, exclusive content, and event set pieces together to provide an immersive online experience.
The Rising Popularity of Hybrid Events
Hybrid events have slowly gained traction as an increasingly important and successful method of hosting events even before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Before the pandemic, hybrid events were most commonly used by large corporations who were looking to bring their employees or their key audiences together for an event, but were faced with situations where everyone is present in several different locations, often internationally. It could also be for the case where there simply isn’t a space big enough to accommodate every participant.
For one, hybrid events are essentially a physical event which involves both online and onsite participants enjoying the same content and interactivity in real time, even from different locations. By expanding your conference or event with an interactive live broadcast, you will be able to reach a much wider audience and generate more involvement and engagement with your target audience.
That being said, most people today associate hybrid events with live streaming. With plenty of accessible live streaming platforms more and more companies and brands are jumping on the bandwagon. However, hybrid events are so much more than simply watching a speaker in a tiny frame presenting PowerPoint slides on the side. In a hybrid event, you introduce an interactive online component in conjunction with the physical element of the program. This enables you to reach a larger audience, often internationally, who can actively participate in your event.
Reaching Out To A Wider Audience
Hybrid events allow you to increase your reach and capture more attendees. Hybrid events present an excellent opportunity to capture new and engaged audiences as it gives you the chance to reach the kinds of people that ordinarily wouldn’t have been interested in the event, simply because they had no intention of attending in person. This is usually for two reasons, firstly because they’re unsure what benefits there are to attending the event in person, and secondly, geographical restrictions don’t allow them to travel. An added advantage is that virtual attendees can even join in from anywhere in the world!
One of the most important things to remember about a hybrid event is that the virtual audience is just as important as those present in the event. The key is to determine how the virtual audience is going to interact with the physical audience at the event. Interactions between all attendees; both virtual and physical are one of the most important defining characteristics of a hybrid event. Engagement is the single most crucial ingredient to the success of a hybrid event. It’s essentially what distinguishes your event from watching a video on YouTube.
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The virtual audience isn’t there just to simply watch the event from afar; they’ll be taking part on their mobile devices or computer, which means they can react to the content and offer feedback all in real-time. Here are a few ideas that you can utilize to make sure that both sets of attendees are well included in the event.
i. Scheduling a virtual/live discussion
With the help of a moderator, remote attendees will get to ask their questions in the virtual conference room. It will be the moderator’s job to make sure that both audiences are on the same page as far as participation is concerned.
ii. Have multiple interaction channels available
While a conference room is a great idea, it will be even better if multiple interaction channels are available for remote attendees to use. A few of the possible alternatives include having a dedicated hashtag where attendees can tweet out their questions, have an email address to accept question submissions or even have a live chat function enabled.
iii. Incorporate live polls and Q&As into your sessions
Connect your virtual and onsite audiences with tools such as live polling and live Q&A as this is a great opportunity to gain double the knowledge and double the feedback. During a session, encourage both audiences to submit questions and answer poll topics so they are engaged and can interact with one another. Remote attendee may ask a question that never crossed the mind of your physical attendee or vice versa.
iv. Create collaborative virtual sessions
If the physical attendees have any collaborative sessions or break out into smaller groups for discussions, your virtual attendees should also be given the same opportunity. Utilizing the virtual breakout rooms, the virtual attendees can also connect with each other in smaller groups to further build a sense of community.
It is also always good to note that a hybrid event will be seen by two types of audiences. Unfortunately, some gimmicks or event options, like a presentation that takes place in a dark room, for example, could seem very impressive to those at the event, but may not be as impressive when streamed online. Light effects or loud noises could also ruin the experience for the virtual attendees.
This is why rehearsals are very important for hybrid events; something that appears to be great in theory may not necessarily translate well in a real-life experience. If a certain component is essential to the live event, you may want to plan for additional multimedia or materials for those watching online. This way, everyone will get to experience the full range of the event without feeling left out.
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By combining virtual elements to live events, the opportunity to increase engagement, both during and after the event itself is significantly expanded. This is down to the fact that your audience participating using a mobile device or computer, can consume content, talk, watch, like, share, comment, and so much more all at the literal click of a button.
Creating a successful hybrid event takes a lot of work, and the agenda is of utmost importance. The hybrid event agenda should be able to cater to both physical and virtual attendees, and be well designed to be a program that is both engaging and effective in bringing these two groups together.
Knowing the number of sessions planned is especially important for multi-day events. Typically, onsite attendees will want to be able to attend more sessions, as some may have travelled a long distance to be there in person. However, it is good to know that virtual attendees will likely have a shorter attention span being in front of a computer screen. You don’t want to overwhelm people with information and content.
A few key points to take note here:
i. Know the length of your sessions so that virtual attendees remain focused and engaged.
ii. Offer on-demand content so that virtual attendees can view at their own pace.
Planning Ahead With Hybrids
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These past few months have been nothing short of unpredictable, but it has been a great learning experience. One of the most important lessons to take away from this pandemic is that we need to be prepared. By incorporating hybrid events into your event program, you will essentially be prepared with a key piece of your event strategy. While live events will never really go out of style, perhaps it’s time to make the hybrid event a staple part of your plan moving forward.
Having an event management company that understands the know-hows of turning your next hybrid conference or event into a success is important. At Milestone Production, we’re well-versed with plenty of experience in hybrid event planning, from the platform we use down to the different ways to improve interaction between onsite and virtual attendees. Our solid team will ensure that all your hybrid event needs are met, with customisable solutions for events of any size.
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