Brittany Palmer is Founder and CEO of Boston-based Beeyonder, a platform that enables people everywhere to travel the world virtually with interactive groups and private, live and pre-recorded experiences.
Hybrid events are not a fad, they’re a trend that has emerged out of the toughest crisis the MICE industry has ever seen. According to a recent eventsforce report, nearly 60% of association meeting planners are organizing hybrid events in Q4 2021 or for Q1 2022.
As the macro environment around COVID-19 and international travel restrictions remain fluid, it’s clear that the pendulum might have swung too heavily towards live, in-person events in Q4 2021. A more likely outcome will see the events industry settle into a happy medium, where the hybrid model maintains popularity.
There has never been a better time to be planning hybrid events. Event tech platforms have proliferated over the past 18 months and investment into companies like Hopin have enabled teams to double-down on product development while quickly achieving unicorn status.
Regarding the adoption of event tech platforms by conference organizers, MeetingPlay CEO Joe Schwinger recently said during IMEX, “You went from being Blockbuster to being Netflix in 18 months. Don’t go back to being Blockbuster again.”
The drawbacks to hybrid events for virtual attendees and event organizers are, by now, well understood. No chance for serendipitous run-ins at the bar. Demanding the same dollars for sponsorship packages can be challenging.
But in the end, it comes down to maintaining engagement in an ever-increasingly noisy digital landscape. Keeping virtual attendees engaged in a hybrid format equates to positive attendance and revenue growth.
Here are 5 ways for conference and event planners to drive engagement for their next hybrid event:
It’s not about having equal experiences for live and virtual audiences. It’s about providing relevant experiences to virtual and in-person audiences, respectfully. Designing a custom conference track for virtual attendees can take a lot of effort. However, being mindful of your virtual audience from the start can be as simple as providing access to a virtual-only chat room. Or holding an exclusive virtual roundtable with a notable industry figure. Relatively low-effort gestures such as these can make the difference between keeping your virtual audience engaged or losing it to a Twitter feed.
World Travel Market (WTM), one of the largest travel industry trade shows in the world, recently held their virtual conference sessions one week and their live trade show portion of the event the following week. This format works well for events where there is a live content element plus a b2b trade show portion. Scheduling event programming sequentially, versus concurrently, should be considered by organizations who are light on resources, as it works to cut down on “day of” logistics. While not exactly a pure hybrid model, it deserves attention and consideration for some organizations and associations.
Programming breaks for networking come naturally for in-person events but require extra thoughtfulness to ensure virtual attendees return. In a typical hybrid conference setting, once the content breaks for a networking session, the virtual attendee’s screen might as well go dark. For many, instead of staying engaged, a massive sense of FOMO sets in. But what if instead, virtual attendees were treated to a virtual concert, tour, or exclusive programming only available in the digital realm? Super Forum, an annual event from Higher Logic, a human-focused engagement platform, did just that by incorporating a virtual tour of Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.
Maybe you’ve held hybrid events in the past, or perhaps you’re planning one for the very first time. Either way, you likely have some history of the types of professionals who attend your events overall. These personas are even more important in a hybrid world. For example, if a company typically sends only their executive team to in-person conferences, perhaps hybrid events create an opportunity to open up attendance to a wider swath of employees. Ensuring that the content is engaging for both the C-suite and middle management is paramount to ensuring a successful event.
Post event follow up is as important as the actual upfront planning. Consider a separate survey or other feedback-gathering process to glean unique insights from live and virtual attendees, respectively. If you’re able to track attendee behavior on your event planning app, reach out individually to those virtual attendees who were particularly engaged, or not, to understand how to improve future events.
No one truly knows what lies ahead for the meetings and events industry. However, all the trends point to a hybrid future, where vastly improved technology provides event managers with new tools to design valuable experiences that keep live, as well as virtual, attendees motivated and engaged.
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