The Future of Events Is Hybrid. Here’s How to Make Them Engaging for All Participants

December 7, 2021

Bob Marsh

Bob Marsh is the chief revenue officer at Bluewater, a design-forward technology company that helps craft moments that connect and inspire.

The pandemic has been an eye-opening experience for people who plan and attend events, but after a year-and-a-half of online conferences, expos, meetings and other experiences, many of us miss the energy and interaction of in-person events. However, we’ve also learned that although virtual events can’t always replace the real thing, they can still be highly effective.

When conditions allow, there is no doubt in-person events will return—but that doesn’t mean virtual experiences will disappear. Hybrid events that incorporate in-person and online components are the future. In fact, 52% of event managers plan to continue hosting hybrid events over the long run. 

For event planners whose biggest cost is staging the event itself, hybrid events help them get more from their investments. They can maximize the reach and revenue potential of events by selling in-person tickets at one price and online tickets at a discounted rate. The extra revenue from a bigger audience can far exceed the cost of adding a virtual component. A virtual option also allows planners to collect valuable data about which sessions people attend and for how long, which can improve future events.

Hybrid events look just as appealing for attendees. More people can take advantage of opportunities to consume all the great content from presentations. They can also link up with colleagues for professional development, sales or networking opportunities without the time and cost of travel or the expense of full-price tickets.

The key to making hybrid events attractive and lucrative parts of your marketing strategy in the long term will be making them engaging for attendees. However, in a survey by Swapcard, one-third of event planners said that “engaging two audiences” is the most challenging part of hosting hybrid events. Too often, attending an event online means simply watching a livestream. Viewers are passive participants who feel excluded from the experience. At the same time, in-person attendees can’t interact with their colleagues attending online. 

So how can you create successful events that engage all participants? Here are three strategies for keeping communication, collaboration and engagement flowing between hybrid event attendees:

1. Careful planning.

Every event planner should ask themselves this: “What do I want the attendee experience to be like?” Then, they need to put themselves in the shoes of someone attending the same event in person versus online. What is the experience like for each of these attendees? What do virtual event-goers miss out on? Recognizing where the actual experience differs from the intended experience is the first step to planning a successful hybrid event. 

The second step is closing the gap between the in-person and online experience. More than 73% of event planners got better at using technology during the pandemic, and those new skills will come in handy with hybrid events. For example, setting up monitors to display the faces of online attendees helps them feel more present in a session and makes it easier for remote attendees to ask questions during Q&A sessions. These thoughtful touches do take time to organize, so it’s important that you start planning early.  

2. Great content.

People who attend your events online might be paying less, but they still need to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. Offering access to a few videos or downloadable materials isn’t enough. In fact, no amount of consumable content is enough, because there needs to be an interactive element—something that makes online attendees feel like they’re active participants in the event. 

Quizzes and polls are two ways to get people involved, but they’re the bare minimum. Go a step further by creating breakout sessions between online and in-person attendees. However, be sure to keep them small enough that everyone can share their thoughts. It’s also important to plan for how content will interact with the technology you use. For instance, Zoom calls are great for conversation among participants, and high-quality video adds an exciting element to events—but you can’t easily play a video in a Zoom call, and online attendees could feel like they’re missing out. These wrinkles should be ironed out in advance to ensure the content comes across in the best way for all attendees, no matter their location. 

3. Active engagement.

Hybrid events should be a valuable experience for all, which requires some extra accommodations when it comes to virtual participants. For them to feel actively engaged (rather than like they’re sitting on the sidelines), it’s important to bring these digital guests into the physical space of the actual event. Q&A sessions are a prime example. Instead of reading someone’s question out loud from a chat box, put their face on a large screen so they can ask it themselves, thereby connecting their face, name and voice with their ideas. In no small part, people go to events to be seen and heard. Make sure that opportunity applies to virtual attendees as well. 

Other ways to make people feel actively engaged are to put virtual attendees’ faces on screens during networking events. People at the event can walk up to these screens and converse directly and organically with the person on the other end so that remote attendees have opportunities to connect with colleagues. Even something as simple as sending a welcome kit or swag bag that ties in with the event to remote participants’ homes can make them feel like a more equal part of the show.

If events factor into your marketing strategy, hybrid events are the best way to reach people effectively. The right mix of planning, technology and outreach makes these events superior to anything that came before. And for the simple fact that more people can get involved, they’re the common goal for event planners and attendees alike.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.