Both a virtual event and an in-person event have their own advantages.
An in-person event is obviously superior when it comes to face-to-face interaction and networking opportunities. However, virtual events offer the ability for organizers to invite speakers, talents, and attendees from halfway across the world without having to worry about travel and accommodation costs.
Hosting a hybrid event, on the other hand, can provide event planners with the best of both worlds, and you can technically increase the number of attendees to your event by inviting both in-person and virtual attendees.
However, planning and hosting a hybrid event does pose its own unique challenges. For instance, not every venue is ideal in accomodating hybrid events, and while choosing the right venue is already quite challenging for a standard event, it’s going to be even more challenging with hybrid events.
In this guide, we will discuss how to choose the right venue for a hybrid event, as well as a step-by-step guide you can use to plan a successful hybrid event.
Without further ado, let us begin from the basics:
What is a Hybrid Event?
A hybrid event is an event that is hosted for both in-person and virtual (online) attendees at the same time by leveraging technologies.
The very basic form of a hybrid event is to host an in-person event at a traditional (physical) venue, then live streaming the event to virtual attendees over the internet.
However, a true hybrid event must go beyond simply live streaming an event, but the goal is to deliver the same (at least, similar) level of experiences to both types of attendees. In practice, this can be easier said than done.
Why Host a Hybrid Event?
Why do we host a hybrid event in the first place?
The short answer is to get all the benefits of both virtual and in-person event models while also avoiding the disadvantages of both models.
So, to really understand the benefit of a hybrid event model, we should first understand the pros and cons of an in-person event and a virtual event.
In-Person Event: Pros and Cons
- Face-to-face interaction: without a doubt, the biggest advantage of the in-person event model is the real-time interactivity and in-person networking opportunities.
- Easier to capture audience attention: in an in-person event, the attendees are typically more committed to enjoying the event, so distractions are less of an issue. Maintaining engagement in an in-person event is typically easier.
- Non-reliance on technology: once the event is set up, an in-person event is less prone to technical issues and other issues caused by technological limitations.
- More expensive to host: venue rental alone can be a very high cost, so hosting an in-person event is typically more expensive than a virtual-only event.
- Less flexible: an in-person event is limited by geographical limitations, venue size, and other factors.
- Evaluating performance: due to its more “analog” nature, evaluating the performance of a live event is typically more difficult since it may require manual observations and collection of feedback.
Virtual Event: Pros and Cons
- Lower costs: hosting a virtual event is much cheaper than a comparable in-person event, so it’s typically favored when you are on a limited budget. You don’t need to invest in venue rental and other substantial costs related to an in-person event (i.e., catering.)
- No geographical limitations: in a virtual event, you can technically invite speakers, talents, presenters, and attendees from anywhere without having to worry about travel and accommodation arrangements, among other logistic issues.
- Easier evaluation of performance: it’s much easier to monitor the performance of a virtual event since you can use various analytics tools and even embedded tools in the virtual event platform to monitor performance.
- Limited interaction and networking opportunities: a key disadvantage of the virtual event model is its lack of real-time, physical interaction. Facilitating engaging networking opportunities can be a major challenge in hosting a virtual event.
- Reliance on technology: a virtual event simply won’t happen without a fast and reliable internet connection, and it’s often prone to various technological limitations and technical issues.
- Difficulty in maintaining engagement: it’s often for virtual attendees to ‘attend’ the event from the comfort of their homes, where there are more prone to distractions. It’s more difficult to keep your audience engaged since you don’t have control over these distractions.
With a hybrid event, you’ll get all the advantages of both event models, as well as other unique benefits:
- More audience: in a hybrid event, you can accommodate both in-person and virtual attendees, and you will also provide options to potential attendees who can’t attend your event physically for various reasons (budget, travel restrictions, health/safety concerns, and more). You will amplify the event’s reach and can potentially attract more audiences to attend the event.
- Flexibility: a hybrid event will provide more versatility to both the event organizers and the attendees. For example, if an attendee planned to attend your event physically but has last-minute plan changes, they can switch their ticket and can still attend your event virtually. More flexibility will ultimately translate into a better attendee experience.
- Engagement: especially for virtual attendees, a hybrid event can offer more engagement opportunities and interactivity than a virtual-only event.
- Cost: by hosting a hybrid event, you can potentially reduce your costs, for example, by targeting fewer in-person attendees so you can rent a cheaper venue with fewer capacity.
- Documentation and evaluation: by converting an in-person event into a hybrid one, you can more easily evaluate the performance of your event, and you can more easily complete documentation of your event, for example, by recording the virtual aspect of the event into videos.
Key Challenges of Planning and Hosting a Hybrid Event
While, as you can see, hosting a hybrid event does offer various unique benefits, there are also some unique challenges you’ll face when hosting a hybrid event.
Here are some of the most important ones to consider:
1. Bridging the gap between the two attendees
In hosting a hybrid event, you should aim to make a similar level of experience between your in-person and virtual attendees, and this can be very difficult to do.
It’s especially difficult to offer the same level of engagement for the virtual attendees. Event organizers must first ensure optimal user experience for the virtual attendees and must also facilitate engaging interactive sessions and networking opportunities.
It’s very important for event organizers to understand the unique needs and behaviors of both types of attendees and try to meet their expectations with a unified, cohesive event.
2. Different time zones and cultural barriers
While a core advantage of hosting a hybrid event (and virtual event) is the ability to invite attendees from halfway across the world, it can also be a double-edged sword.
In hosting a hybrid event, you’ll need to take different time zones and cultural barriers into account. For example, if your event is physically hosted in LA while some of your virtual attendees will attend the event from Singapore, we’ll need to try to accommodate the 15 hours difference as best as you can.
While it’s practically impossible to please everyone, you should try to understand the locations and different time zones of your prospective attendees. As a last resort, you can ensure the event is available as on-demand content to accommodate those who can’t attend due to time zone differences.
3. Technology and logistics concerns
A hybrid event will typically involve more logistical nightmares than an in-person or virtual event. You’ll need to take various technology equipment and solutions into account when planning a hybrid event.
For example, what if your internet connection suddenly slowed down or went out during the event? Or if there’s a power outage? You’ll need to plan for redundancies for basically all technology elements used in the hybrid event to ensure an optimal experience for both your virtual and in-person audiences.
When choosing a venue for a hybrid event, you’ll need to take into account the accessibility requirements for both types of audiences.
Here are some key accessibility considerations for virtual attendees:
- Multi-language live stream options
- On-screen interpreter
- Closed captioning
- Dark/high-contrast mode
- Magnification accessibility tools
- Adjustable font sizes
And for in-person attendees, you’ll need to consider:
- Wheelchair accessibility
- Accessible parking availability
- Public transportation availability
- Ramp access
- Priority seating arrangements
5. Venue Selection
The last, but arguably the most important challenge to consider when planning a hybrid event is in choosing your venue.
While choosing a venue can already be a major challenge in planning a standard in-person event, there are additional concerns you should make when choosing a venue for a hybrid event, which we will discuss in the next section.
Choosing The Right Venue for a Hybrid Event: Key Considerations
As discussed, choosing the right venue can be a major challenge when planning and hosting a hybrid event.
While choosing a venue is always a prominent challenge when hosting a traditional, in-person event, there are some unique considerations and challenges you’ll face when choosing a venue for a hybrid event.
With that being said, here are some of the most important factors to consider when selecting a hybrid event venue:
When evaluating a venue size for a hybrid event, there are two different factors you should consider:
- Capacity refers to how many people the venue can comfortably hold after considering equipment/furniture placement and traffic flow. Most venues will provide you with a set capacity limit, and if not, ask the venue manager for this information.
- Space for live streaming equipment: hosting a hybrid event means you’ll use more equipment and potentially more crew than usual. You may need a venue that offers an additional storage room or a control room, and consider the placement of this additional equipment.
However, when assessing venue size, keep in mind that there is the option of reducing the number of your in-person attendees and converting them into virtual attendees instead. This can allow you to rent a smaller venue instead or use more spaces for your equipment when needed.
2. Internet connectivity
This one is pretty self-explanatory: without a fast and reliable internet connection, it’s virtually impossible to host a successful hybrid event.
Most venues nowadays will offer at least WiFi connectivity, yet, wired internet connectivity is preferred for more reliable live broadcasts over the internet. Make sure the venue is offering fast and stable internet connectivity, ideally 10GBps fiber optic with low latency.
Also, ask the venue whether you are allowed to bring in backup internet connectivity for redundancy purposes. You’d want a plan B in cases when the venue’s internet connection went down on the D-day of the event.
If you stream the event with an unstable/slow connection, you will disappoint your speakers/talents, sponsors, and especially your attendees, so avoid it at all costs.
Again, hosting a hybrid event means you’ll need more electronic equipment before and during the event, so it’s crucial to make sure your venue has enough power outlets for all your equipment. Don’t forget those appliances and devices that might seem unimportant at first, like smartphone chargers.
Also, ask the venue whether there’s a backup power source for redundancies. Remember that the most important rule of event planning is to always prepare your plan Bs and plan Cs for everything.
4.A/V and Live Streaming Equipment
While, in most cases, you’ll end up renting or purchasing additional equipment on top of what’s provided by the venue, hosting your event in a venue that can stream the event for you will make things easier. Remember that bringing in additional equipment will also translate to additional considerations for transport, logistics, and installation.
At the very least, check whether the venue offers pretty decent A/V and lighting equipment and, if possible, also offers multiple cameras (with tripods) and photography lights. Make sure there’s adequate space for storing and setting up your equipment.
5. Loading Access and Storage Space
This is a very important consideration if you have a relatively large/complex installation. Check whether there’s enough space to store your equipment and/or installation and identify how you are going to bring in the installation. For example, make sure the doors are large enough and there aren’t any significant obstacles.
6. In-House Technical Support
Due to the increased demands for virtual and hybrid events, many venues now offer in-house support for virtual/hybrid event production and live streams. While this is not a must, having an in-house production team can significantly help and can give you more time to focus on other things besides production and technical issues.
Can you bring in outside catering (and if there’s an extra charge for doing so)? Or must you stick with the in-house catering?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the big buffet is no longer the preferred style of catering at the moment, and boxed meals are typically preferred due to health and safety concerns.
Also, consider the logistics of hybrid event catering, including planning activities for your virtual attendees while the in-person attendees break for lunch.
8. Health and Safety Measures
Make sure the venue of your choice has conformed to the applicable health and safety regulations in your area (local, state, and federal). The venue may also have its own health and safety regulations.
Assess whether the venue can satisfy your prospective attendees’ expectations regarding safety conduct.
Choose a venue that can support your hybrid event’s concept, aesthetics-wise. Obviously, this will depend on many different factors and ultimately will depend on your preferences.
10. Communication and relationship
How easy is it to communicate with the venue manager and suppliers tied to the venue? Event planning can take weeks and even months, and throughout this period, you’ll need to be able to maintain good communications with all your vendors and suppliers, including those related to the venue.
Planning and Hosting a Hybrid Event: Step-By-Step Guide
While considering all the challenges discussed above, as well as the key considerations you should have when choosing a venue for your hybrid event, in this section, we will share how you should plan your hybrid event from start to finish in a step-by-step guide:
Step 1:Define your goals
What is the purpose of hosting a hybrid event in the first place? What are your goals? What do you want to accomplish?
One of the most common mistakes made by many event organizers is to host an event just for the sake of it. Instead, it’s crucial to identify your event’s goals and objectives as early as possible in the event planning cycle.
Make sure your goals are clear and measurable (i.e., you can measure your event’s performance against these goals,) and here are some examples of hybrid event goals:
- Generate 30% more leads than the previous event you’ve organized
- Generate 2,000 social media impressions during and one week after the event for our sponsors
- Increase social media engagement (shares, likes, comments) by 10%
- Increase the number of visits attendees make at sponsor booths by 100 during the event
Step 2:Identify (both) your target audience
Once you’ve identified your target audience, the next step is to identify the ideal audience you should target to help you achieve this objective.
The better you understand your target audience (both virtual and in-person prospective attendees), the better you can conceptualise your hybrid event to meet their expectations, and the more effective your marketing efforts for the event will be.
We’d recommend developing a buyer persona, a semi-fictional model of your ideal target audience based on your market research and/or data from your past events.
Step 3:Creating an event plan
Once you’ve identified your ideal audience and the event’s goals, you can now start developing a master plan for your event.
At the very least, you should create an outline listing the high-level details of the event, including but not limited to:
- Date/time: at least, start with a rough time frame for the event (i.e., January next year)
- Type of event: will this be a keynote speaker? Single-day conference? Multi-day trade show? Etc.
- Prospective attendees: how many in-person and virtual attendees are you targeting? Will the in-person attendees mostly be local ones, or will there be attendees coming from outside the city or country?
- Venue: create a list of potential venues while considering the factors we’ve discussed in the previous section.
The more details you can plan early, the better, but you don’t have to rush things. Focus on accuracy rather than speed.
Step 4: Creating an event budget
Once you’ve got a high-level concept of what your event will be, you should now be able to start estimating a budget.
Again, it doesn’t have to be a detailed budget, and you can start with the high-level items, including:
- Venue rental (including additional costs like insurance required, etc.)
- Equipment and furniture rental (if any)
- Event technology (event registration software, event management solution, hybrid event platform, etc. )
- Additional A/V equipment (speakers, mics, live streaming equipment, etc. )
- Signage, branding, marketing collaterals
- Stage, decoration
Step 5:Securing your venue and event date
Based on the key considerations we’ve shared above, you should now be able to choose an ideal venue for your hybrid event. Secure the venue as early as possible in the event planning cycle, so you can establish the time and date of the event.
Also, it’s best to plan for redundancies. Find a plan-B venue near the venue of your choice that’s available on short notice, so you can pivot when needed.
Step 6: Choosing technology solutions
Having the right virtual event platform capable of facilitating your hybrid event is crucial to ensure the success of your hybrid event, and you may also want to consider investing in other technology solutions:
- Registration/ticketing platform. You can either invest in a standalone registration solution, or use virtual event platforms like Eventtia which also offer built-in registration features.
- Mobile event app: Many event organizers are opting on creating and using a customized event mobile app to enhance the attendee experience and to provide a bridge between your virtual and in-person attendees.
- Live streaming: choose the right live streaming solution based on your budget and your event’s needs. There are virtual event platforms that also offer decent live streaming features.
- Management tools: You can invest in project management software and various productivity tools to improve your team’s productivity.
- Attendee engagement tools: live polls, social media wall, digital swag bags, and other tools that can improve the guest experience.
While hosting a hybrid event can be challenging, especially when it comes to choosing the right venue suitable for both the virtual and in-person aspects of your hybrid event, by following this guide, you are now ready to tackle those challenges and start planning a successful hybrid event.