A virtual-physical event, also known as a hybrid event, offers event organizers the chance of getting the best of both worlds between virtual and physical (or in-person) events.
This new style of event is becoming increasingly popular after the global COVID-19 pandemic forcing the cancellation of many large-scale physical events throughout 2020 and 2021 due to social distancing and quarantine policies.
As we know, many event organizers initially hosted virtual events as replacements for these cancelled physical events, but soon enough they started to realize the unique benefits of these virtual events over their live counterparts.
For instance, virtual events have an undisputed advantage in their ability to attract attendees from all over the world without having to worry about travel and accommodation costs. However, it’s also no secret that at least at the moment, virtual events can’t yet compete with physical events when it comes to real-time interactions and in-person networking.
A virtual-physical event tackles this issue, allowing event organizers to cater to both live and virtual attendees. This way, attendees who value the physical interaction and in-person engagement can attend the live aspect of the event, while those who are still concerned about attending a crowded venue can simply join the virtual event.
In this post, we will discuss all you need to know about planning your first virtual-physical event in this post-COVID world, and by the end of this guide you’d have learned about:
- What is a hybrid event or virtual-physical event?
- The benefits of a virtual-physical event
- Tips and best practices for planning a hybrid event
- A step-by-step guide to planning your first virtual-physical event post-COVID
Without further ado, let us begin right away.
What Is a Virtual-Physical Event?
A virtual-physical event, or a hybrid event, in a nutshell, is an event that is hosted both live (physical) and online (virtual), and so both physical and virtual audiences are combined on the same event (so it’s not two separate events but one).
A very basic approach to virtual-physical events is to host a live portion of the event on a physical venue, just like a traditional event. Then, A/V and live streaming equipment are set up in the physical venue to broadcast the event in real-time to a virtual audience.
However, to be successful, a virtual-physical event must go beyond simply live-streaming a live event, but it should also:
- Make sure the event’s content is delivered simultaneously to both the virtual and physical attendees
- Allowing real-time interactions between physical and virtual attendees as much as possible
- Ensuring a similar level of experience and engagement for both virtual and physical attendees
Benefits of a Hybrid Virtual-Physical Event
To really understand the benefits of hosting a hybrid event, we have to first understand the pros and cons of physical and virtual events.
Physical Event: Pros and Cons
A physical, live event has a major advantage when it comes to immediate and in-person interactions. In-person interactions, in turn, will translate into more effective content delivery and better networking.
- Much superior to virtual events when it comes to physical real-time interaction
- Less reliance on technology, not prone to issues like connectivity and power outage
- Attendees at a live physical event are less likely to be distracted since they are already on the venue
- Since it’s easier to maintain engagement, a physical format is typically better for longer events
- Typically more expensive to organize due to the substantial venue rental and related costs (catering, insurance, etc.)
- Need more time to plan compared to a virtual-only event
- Prone to issues like crime, demonstrations, traffic jams, bad weather, and so on
- Limited by geographical limitations like accommodation and travel costs
Virtual Event: Pros and Cons
When compared to physical events, a virtual event has three key benefits: lower setup cost, faster setup time, and the fact that you are not limited by geographic locations.
This is why many event organizers opt to host virtual events when they are short on budget and time.
- Not limited by geographical limitations. You can invite speakers, talents, and attendees from all around the world without having to worry about travel and accommodation costs.
- Typically easier and faster to plan and organize. You don’t need to worry about booking an ideal venue, as well as other logistical challenges
- You can use various analytics tools and virtual event platforms to easily collect post-event feedback and to monitor various metrics
- Fairly limited when it comes to human in-person interactions. Even with today’s technologies, virtual networking is still not perfect.
- You have little control over various distractions attendees may experience as they attend your event virtually.
- Prone to technological hiccups, including power and connectivity outages.
Physical-Virtual Event: Pros and Cons
So, what about hybrid virtual-physical events?
A key benefit of a virtual-physical event is the fact that you can attract both virtual and physical attendees, which will translate to higher potential attendance. Also, by reducing the physical aspects of the event and focusing on the virtual aspects, you can potentially reduce costs.
- Higher potential exposure and reach by having both virtual and physical attendees
- If it’s a virtual-first hybrid event, hosting a virtual-physical event can reduce the cost
- More flexibility for attendees. For example, you can accommodate those who are planning to attend your event but have any last-minute plan changes.
- Easier documentation and evaluation of the physical aspect of the event
- For virtual attendees, a hybrid virtual-physical event may offer more interactivity than a virtual-only event
- More prone to technological issues (even when compared to a virtual event) since both the physical and virtual aspects of the event now rely on technology
- Keeping both attendees equally engaged can be challenging. Organizers will need to find a way to ensure virtual attendees aren’t distracted throughout the event
- Not very ideal for longer events since keeping virtual attendees can be very challenging to do.
Planning Your First Virtual-Physical Event: Key Challenges
While a hybrid virtual-physical event does have so many benefits, there are also some unique challenges you may face when planning and hosting one, especially if this is your first time.
The main goal of hosting a successful hybrid event is to ensure a similar experience and value for both virtual and physical attendees, and as we know, it’s easier said than done.
Here are some key challenges to consider when aiming to achieve this goal:
- Different time zones and geographical locations
One of the key benefits of hosting a virtual-physical event is the fact that you can invite attendees from other countries and even from halfway across the world. However, that doesn’t mean doing so will be easy.
In hosting a virtual-physical event, you’ll need to pay attention to the potential time zone differences, especially for your virtual attendees. For example, if you have attendees from Southeast Asia while you are hosting the live portion of your event in the US, then you’ll need to take the time zone differences into account.
The better you understand your target audiences’ locations and different time zones, the better you’ll be able to host a successful virtual-physical event.
- Double the logistic issues
Anyone experienced with hosting any event should know how challenging the logistics of hosting an event is.
However, the logistical challenges of hosting a virtual-physical event will essentially be doubled.
In planning a hybrid event, it’s crucial to always plan for redundancies for things like internet connectivity, live streaming equipment/solutions, virtual event platform, and so on. It’s also important to thoroughly test all technology solutions before the event.
- Facilitating real-time interactions and networking
Facilitating real-time interactions in a virtual event is always a challenge even with all the newer technologies we have at the moment.
In planning and hosting a virtual-physical event, it’s always important to pay enough attention to how you can effectively facilitate attendee-to-attendee interactions through technology, and make sure both the virtual and physical aspects of the event have a similar level of engagement.
- Venue limitations
Hosting a virtual-physical event will require a specific type of venue that is large enough to hold your physical attendees, but also able to accommodate the necessary equipment needed to facilitate the virtual aspect of the event, including fast enough internet connectivity.
The venue must be able to ensure an optimal experience for both the virtual and physical attendees, but in practice, this may translate into the need to invest in additional technology solutions and/or a more expensive venue.
Planning Your First Virtual-Physical Event: Step-By-Step Guide
While considering the challenges we’ve discussed above, here are the steps you can follow in planning your very first virtual-physical event to ensure success:
Step 1: Identifying purpose and objectives
What is the purpose of hosting this virtual-physical event in the first place? What are your goals?
Use the S.M.A.R.T goals principle when defining your event’s purpose and goals. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, and here are some examples of appropriate goals of a virtual-physical event:
- Generate 1,000 more leads in one month after the event
- Increase social media engagements by 20% during and a week before/after the event
- 1,000 preorders for the product launched at the event
- Generate 1,000 social media engagements during and after the event
Step 2: Identify and understand your target audience
Now that you’ve defined the purpose and objective(s) of hosting the hybrid event, the next step is to identify the target audience that is most ideal for achieving these objectives.
Perform market research and develop a buyer persona for your ideal audience. The better you understand your target attendees (both virtual and physical attendees), the higher the chance you can host a successful virtual-physical event.
Identify your target attendees’ behaviours, needs, pain points, media consumption, online activities, accessibility needs, and so on. Based on this data, you can create a virtual-physical event that caters to both your target audiences’ (virtual and physical) preferences.
Step 3: Planning your virtual-physical event
Based on the information you’ve gathered about your target audiences, you can start planning the hybrid virtual-physical event.
It doesn’t have to be very detailed at first, and you can focus on the high-level details:
- Date/time of the event: a time frame for the event (i.e. in 6 months)
- Target audience: how many attendees are you targeting? Compile as much information as you can about your target audience.
- Type of event: will this be a conference? Keynote session? Music festival? Will this be a single-day or multi-day event?
- Venue: at least you should create a shortlist of potential venues. Keep in mind that the venue should cater to both the physical and virtual aspects of the event.
Step 4: Budget estimation
Based on the basic plan for the virtual-physical event in the previous step, you can start estimating the event budget.
The earlier you can establish your budget, the more time you’ll have to secure various elements of the event like venue options, technology solutions, etc.
You can start by estimating your budget for the following events:
- Venue rental
- Catering (F&B)
- Insurance costs
- A/V equipment including live-streaming equipment
- Stage and decoration
- Event technology (event registration software, event management platform, hybrid event platform, etc. )
- Marketing collaterals
Step 5: Securing venue and date
It’s crucial to secure a venue that can accommodate both the physical and virtual aspects of the event, and you should consider:
- Venue location: make sure the physical attendees can easily access the venue
- Size: make sure the venue can comfortably cater to your physical attendees
- A/V equipment: the existing A/V equipment in the venue
- Facilities: the venue will also need to provide:
- Reliable internet connectivity option. The venue should allow for backup connectivity for redundancies
- Networking space for attendees, and space for attendees to meet sponsors
- Adequate storage spaces
- Kitchen, food preparation areas, space for food/beverage services
Step 6: Establishing the right technology solutions
You should first and foremost invest in an adequate virtual event solution, but you may also need to invest in additional technology solutions depending on your needs.
- Registration/ticketing platform
- Live streaming solution
- Mobile app
- Productivity/team collaboration tools
- Attendee engagement tools
The key to planning and hosting your first successful virtual-physical event is to understand both target audiences: your physical attendees and virtual attendees. The better you understand their needs, the better you can design a successful virtual-physical event.