While hybrid events have been relatively popular in the past half-decade or so, it’s no secret that the COVID-19 global pandemic has further accelerated its popularity throughout 2020 and 2023.
COVID-19 social distancing policies have forced many event organizers to cancel their in-person events and replace them with virtual ones, but soon enough they realized how virtual events do have their own advantages and are not merely replacements for their in-person counterparts.
Both virtual events and in-person events have their own unique advantages, so how can we get the best of both worlds?
The answer is to host a hybrid event.
Are you currently looking to plan your first hybrid event, but don’t know where to start?
You’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about how to plan your first hybrid event in 2023, including:
- What actually is a hybrid event?
- Why should you host a hybrid event over a traditional in-person event or a virtual event?
- Advantages and challenges of hosting a hybrid event
- How to create a budget for a hybrid event
- How to maximize attendance on your hybrid events
Without further ado, let us begin with this guide right away.
What Is a Hybrid Event?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term “hybrid’ (hy·brid | \ ˈhī-brəd) means “something that is formed by combining two or more things”.
So what are combined in the case of a hybrid event? In essence, they are physical and virtual.
A hybrid event is hosted both in-person and online by leveraging technology. For example, a conference may be hosted in person in a traditional conference hall, but it is also live-streamed so people who can’t or won’t visit the conference hall can also “attend” the event online simultaneously with in-person attendees.
Why Should You Host a Hybrid Event?
Simply put, to get the best of both worlds.
An in-person event has a major advantage in the form of physical, unique, and personalized interactions. We all know how Zoom meetings can’t 100% replace the intimacy and in-person interactions of a traditional meeting, and the same issue also happens with virtual conferences and other types of virtual events.
In a live, in-person event, for example, attendees can enjoy the amenities served throughout the event, as well as on-site decorations and various entertainments. In a virtual event, we can’t get these unique experiences.
However, virtual events also have their unique benefits. One of the most important benefits is the fact that we are no longer limited by geographical locations, and event organizers can have an increased audience reach by inviting attendees from all over the world. If you want, you can also invite speakers and talents to perform at the event virtually.
Also, virtual events can offer more in-depth, real-time insights and data of the event’s performance, and event organizers can also use various technology solutions to improve the virtual event’s overall experience.
With a hybrid event, we can get all these benefits in a single event.
Specific about the post-COVID-19 situations, hybrid events can offer so many benefits to the event organizer, including but not limited to:
- Allowing prospective attendees that can’t travel to your event’s location to virtually attend the event (for example, due to international travel restrictions)
- Many people and organizations have been financially affected by the global pandemic, and may not be able to afford to travel to your event at the moment
- Allowing you to get more attendees beyond your venue’s max capacity limits (and many venues are forced to lower their maximum capacity limits due to social distancing policies).
- There are many people who simply aren’t comfortable attending events in person just yet, and you can still accommodate their needs by hosting a hybrid event.
Challenges of Hosting a Hybrid Event
While a hybrid event can indeed offer so many benefits, hosting a hybrid event can also be challenging.
The most important thing to focus on when planning and hosting a hybrid event is to make sure both in-person attendees and virtual attendees can have a similar experience without sacrificing one or the other, and this can be easier said than done.
With that being said, here are some key challenges you’ll need to consider when planning a hybrid event:
- Different time zones
One of the key benefits of a hybrid event, as we’ve mentioned, is the fact that we can have attendees from different cities and different countries attend the event remotely.
However, although a hybrid event can ‘break’ geographical barriers, we still need to take differences in time zones into account. If your hybrid event is physically hosted in New York and an attendee in Bangkok, Thailand wanted to live stream the event, then we’d have to take into account the fact that Bangkok is 11 hours ahead of New York, so it’s practically impossible to find the “perfect” time between the two.
Understanding the locations and different time zones of all prospective attendees is the key to tackling this issue, and while it might not be a perfect solution, ensuring the event recording is available as on-demand content can be viable.
- Connectivity logistics
As we know, planning and hosting an in-person event can already be a logistical nightmare on its own. By “converting” this in-person event as a hybrid event, however, we’ll need to consider technology solutions (i.e. live streaming platforms) and especially internet bandwidth on top of these logistic issues.
What if your internet bandwidth suddenly drops during the event? It can ruin not only your remote attendees’ experience but may also negatively affect those who attend your event in-person, for example when you need to pause the session to wait for the internet connectivity to go back online.
It’s crucial to plan for redundancy when hosting a hybrid event by arranging a backup connection and thoroughly testing all connection speeds and connectivity-related equipment before the event.
- Virtual attendee-to-attendee interaction
Networking opportunity remains one of the top reasons why people attend events, and ensuring effective attendee-to-attendee interaction and facilitating networking in a virtual setting can be much more difficult.
It’s crucial for event organizers looking to plan their first hybrid event to put enough attention to the virtual attendee user experience, as well as looking for creative ways to facilitate virtual networking depending on the type of the hybrid event. The key is to try to understand how and why your target virtual audience may attend your event and engage with your content, and try to deliver their expectations.
- Venue selection
Another key challenge in hosting a hybrid event is limitations in the physical venue. Not all venues may offer enough space to set up additional pieces of A/V equipment needed to broadcast the event, and some venues may also don’t have the technological means to do so.
In turn, this will translate into a narrower pool of venue options you can choose from.
The key to tackling this issue is to ensure you have a clear vision of the size and type of the event and your technological needs to ensure the best guest experience for both virtual and in-person attendees. This may require you to invest in additional technological solutions and/or equipment, which may bloat the overall cost of the event.
Hosting a hybrid event will also require you to take into account the accessibility needs of both your in-person and virtual attendees, which may translate into double the investments and efforts.
For in-person attendees, some key accessibility considerations include:
- Accessible parking options and public transportation availability
- Priority seating
- Accessibility for wheelchairs
- Assisted listening and/or interpreter
- Ramp access
On the other hand, here are some key accessibility considerations for virtual attendees:
- Multi-language live stream options
- On-screen interpreter
- Dark modes/magnification accessibility tools
- Adjustable font sizes
While ensuring an accessible hybrid event can be challenging, it is possible.
How to Plan Your First Hybrid Event in 2023: Step-By-Step Guide
While considering all the challenges we’ve discussed above, for the rest of this guide we will discuss how to plan your first hybrid event and ensure success in a step-by-step guide.
Let us begin with the first step.
Step 1: Identify your hybrid event objectives
Before anything else, it’s crucial to first identify what’s your purpose for hosting the hybrid event first.
- Why host this event in the first place?
- What do you want to accomplish? (i.e. support a product launch, build brand awareness, educate attendees)
- What unique value(s) can you provide your audience with the event?
- What value can you provide for your sponsors? (if you are planning to get sponsorship?
Based on the identified purpose, you can then define goals or objectives for the event and assign KPIs to these objectives to measure success.
Make sure to use the S.M.A.R.T goals principle when defining objectives and ensure your objectives are:
- Specific: as clear and focused as possible, easily understood by everyone
- Measurable: you can identify the right metrics to measure performance
- Attainable: realistic so that it won’t negatively affect your team’s morale
- Relevant: relevant to your event’s purpose
- Time-bound: you can assign a deadline to each objective
Here are some examples of S.M.A.R.T hybrid event objectives
- Generate 20% more leads than the previous in-person event
- Generate 1,000 social media impressions during and one week after the event for our sponsors
- Increase engagement (shares, likes, comments) by X%
- Increase the number of visits attendees make at sponsor booths by X
- Increase the percentage of audience members that answer a poll by X%
And so on.
Step 2: Identify and understand your audience
While there are various approaches you can use to identify your target audience, the basic approach is to target the most ideal audience that can help you achieve your event’s objectives, which you’ve identified in the previous step.
The biggest factor determining your event’s success is whether you have a clear understanding of your target audience: their behaviors, needs, expectations from your event, and especially how to convince them to attend your event.
Develop a buyer persona, a semi-fictional model of your ideal target audience based on your market research and/or data from your past events. The buyer persona should be as detailed as possible and include the following information:
- Demographic data
- Geographic location
- Industry sector
- Job role
- Online activities and media consumptions
- Pain points
- Technology they use
- Accessibility needs
The better you understand your target audience, the better you can design a hybrid event that suits their needs and preferences, as we’ll discuss in the next step.
Step 3: Design your event
Now that you’ve identified your event’s objective and target audience, you should be able to create at least a preliminary scope of the event that includes the following information:
- Time of the event: doesn’t have to be an exact date and time, but you should have a rough time frame for the event (i.e. within 5 months)
- Target audience: how many attendees are you targeting? Will (the in-person aspect of) this event be a local one or will there be attendees coming from outside the country? Demographics data, etc.
- Type of event: will this be a single-day conference? Multi-day music concert? Etc.
- Venue: create a shortlist of potential venues.
By having at least a preliminary scope of your event, you can plan an event budget (in the next step) and start securing buy-ins from stakeholders.
Step 4: Create an event budget
Now that you’ve created a preliminary plan for the event, you can start creating at least a high-level event budget.
The high-level items can vary depending on the type and size of your hybrid event, but you should include at least the following items:
- Venue rental (including additional costs like insurance required, etc.)
- Event technology (event registration software, event management solution, virtual event platform, etc. )
- A/V equipment (speakers, mics, live streaming equipment, etc. )
- Staffing, including volunteers’ accommodations
- Signage, branding, marketing collaterals
- Stage, decoration
- Marketing and promotions
- Equipment and furniture rental
Having a clear budget as early as possible will provide you with more options and more time to negotiate with different vendors, and also provide you with a clear roadmap to ensure your hybrid event stays cost-effective.
Step 5: Building an event team
With all the challenges you’ll face in planning a hybrid event, having a strong, well-managed team is crucial to ensure adequate execution of the project.
You can structure your team in various different ways depending on the type and size of the event, among other factors, but here a functional hybrid event team should cover at least the following roles:
- Event manager: or event director or any different titles with the similar role of leading the whole hybrid event’s strategy, building and managing the team, allocating budget, and managing partnerships (both internal and external)
- Marketing coordinator: in charge of planning and executing the promotion of the event across various marketing channels before, during, and after the event.
- Registration: managing all aspects of the registration process from deciding ticket pricing strategy, registration launch, participant sign-in, check-in during the event, and managing data collected from the registration process.
- Sponsorship: managing all things related to sponsorships from creating sponsorship proposals to outreach to post-event follow up
- Speaker and talent coordinator: managing speakers, talents, keynotes, and others.
- Venue/stage manager: managing everything that happens in the venue and on stage, ensuring everything happens correctly on the D-Day
- Technology manager: crucial in a hybrid event, actively managing the virtual event platform and other technology tools before, during, and after the event, including managing live stream.
- Social media moderator: moderating real-time social media (including chat) interactions before, during, and after the event.
As we can see, a hybrid event team can be fairly big with various different roles in it, so keeping the team functional and organized can be a challenge on its own. This is where having a comprehensive event management tool like Eventtia can help to streamline the organization and team management process. You can also use tools like Trello and Slack to facilitate more transparent communication and collaboration between team members.
Step 6: Picking your venue and date
You’ll need to choose an ideal venue that can accommodate the additional equipment and technology you’ll need in a hybrid event, and you’ll also need to book the venue while considering the best possible date and time for both in-person and virtual attendees.
Here are a few tips you can use in choosing a venue for your hybrid event:
- A/V equipment. Will the existing A/V equipment integrate well with the virtual event platform you are using? Is there enough space for your live streaming equipment including for preparation and set up? Also, some venues may require you to work with specific A/V companies that may cost more/
- Location. Pretty self-explanatory, make sure attendees can easily access the venue, but it’s also crucial to find the right balance between location and cost (big venues in premium locations will obviously cost more).
Size and available facilities. To facilitate a hybrid event, the venue will need to accommodate more than the attendees, but will also need to include:
- A/V equipment storage spaces
- Reliable internet connection options and allows you to add backup connectivity
- Kitchen, food preparation areas, space for food/beverage services
- Networking space for attendees, and space for attendees to meet sponsors
Last but not least, rental fees. Remember that in a hybrid event, you have the option to make the in-person event smaller and then aim to attract more online attendees. This can be a viable option if you don’t have the budget to afford a big enough venue.
Step 7: Choose the right virtual event platform
To accommodate the virtual side of the hybrid event, you’ll need the right virtual event platform that can provide a great experience for your remote attendees.
There are plenty of platform options to choose from, and ultimately finding the right virtual event platform for your event will depend on numerous factors like your event’s goals, KPIs, target audience preferences, and budget, among others.
So, the ideal approach is to first identify your event’s needs and list the must-have features you’ll need for a virtual event platform.
Then, the general rule is to choose the most affordable platform that offers all the must-have features on your checklist. However, in some cases you’ll need to make compromises, so you can settle with a more affordable platform that will offer some but not all the features on your checklist.
Nevertheless, research your options carefully so you can choose the best possible virtual event platform to power your hybrid event.
Step 8: Choosing and setting up additional technology solutions
Technology is the heart of any hybrid event, so when planning your hybrid event, you’ll want to identify the technology needs as soon as possible.
Again, different types of events will require different technology solutions, but here are some common tools to consider:
- Registration/ticketing platform. You’ll need a technology solution that allows you to sell and manage online registrations easily. There are, however, virtual event platforms like Eventtia that 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. You can, for example, make your event schedules available on the event app, and attendees can also use the app to interact and network with sponsors and other attendees.
- Live streaming: Crucial in any hybrid event. Make sure to choose the right live streaming solution based on your budget and your event’s needs.
- Productivity tools: You can invest in project management software and various productivity tools to help streamline your team’s collaboration.
- Attendee engagement tools: You can incorporate event gamification tools (i.e. live pools), social media wall, digital swag bags, and other tools that can improve the guest experience.
As with anything else, it’s best to first identify the unique needs of your hybrid event first before committing to these technology solutions. Not only using tools you don’t actually need can translate into a waste of resources, but it may also complicate your workflow and hurt your team’s productivity.
Congratulations! You are now ready to plan your first hybrid event in 2023, and also in the years to come.
As we can see, the key to planning and hosting a successful hybrid event is to identify and really understand your event’s target audience: their demographics, their needs, behaviors, and especially, how you can convince them to attend your event.
Hosting a hybrid event can offer various combined benefits from both in-person and virtual events, giving you the best of both worlds, and more. However, it’s likely you’ll also meet some unique challenges, especially in logistics, as you are planning your first hybrid event.
By following the step-by-step guide we’ve shared above, as well as the actionable tips we’ve discussed, you are now ready to tackle those challenges and start planning your first hybrid event right away.