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Hybrid Event Best Practices: A Virtual-First Approach

Hybrid Event Best Practices: A Virtual-First Approach

Event Planning
December 11, 2021

Written by:

Thomas Davey

Advancements in technology and the global pandemic situations throughout 2020 and 2021 have pushed the popularity of virtual events all around the world. 

Initially, throughout the pandemic, virtual events were hosted to replace numerous live/in-person events that were canceled due to the social distancing policies and/or travel restrictions. However, soon enough event organizers have realized the unique advantages of virtual events over their live counterparts, especially their cost-effectiveness and how they can transcend geographical limitations. 

Yet, even with all the benefits of virtual events, it’s no secret that virtual events—at least at the moment— can’t yet replace the real-time and immediate interactivity of a live event, as well as other advantages. 

This is where a hybrid event comes in so both event organizers and attendees can get the best of both worlds. 

A hybrid event is essentially delivering an event both as a live event and a virtual event. However, a hybrid event is not simply about live streaming an in-person event, but instead should be meticulously planned with a virtual-first approach. 

In today’s reality, the virtual audience is just as, or even more important than live attendees, and in this guide, we will discuss how you should use a virtual-first approach in planning your next hybrid event. 

Hybrid Event: Live-First VS Virtual-First

According to the Cambridge dictionary, the term “hybrid” (/ˈhaɪ.brɪd/) is defined as “something that is a mixture of two very different things”. 

In the case of a hybrid event, it is a mixture of two very different types of events: a live event and a virtual event. 

A live event, as we know, is an event that is hosted in a physical venue (i.e. a meeting room, concert hall, exhibition hall, etc.), while a virtual event is an event that is delivered solely online, for example, via a video conference platform. 

Since a hybrid event is essentially a mixture, we can choose between two different approaches when hosting it: emphasizing the live aspect (live-first), or the virtual aspect of the event (virtual-first). 

Traditionally, and especially before the global pandemic, most hybrid events are planned with the live audience as their emphasis. The live aspect of the event is meticulously planned: the perfect venue, stage design, decoration, catering, and so on, and then the event is live-streamed to the virtual attendees, and the virtual aspect is often treated as an afterthought.

However, throughout 2021 and most likely the way forward, we can no longer deny the importance of virtual attendees. In fact, many events are now hosted with just a very small scale of in-person experience due to the social distancing policies, with virtual attendees making up the majority of the audience. 

How To Decide Between Live-First and Virtual First? 

To really answer this question, we have to first understand the key advantages and disadvantages of a live and virtual event, which we can see in the chart below:

Live Event VS Virtual Event: Key Differences

Live EventVirtual Event
Emphasizing the live aspect of the event is typically more costly. The bigger the live audience, the bigger the venue you’ll need to rent, which typically will make up the lion’s share of the budget.CostIn most cases, it is more cost-effective to host and attend. 
Limited by geographical location, venue size/type, and other factors. VersatilityNaturally, you’ll have more versatility not only in terms of design, but also monetization options, level of interactivity, and more. 
Limited by geographical location, venue size, logistic issues, and other issues. Target AttendeesYou can potentially invite attendees from all around the world without any limitations. 
Typically more challenging to collect post-event feedback. Evaluating the event’s performance may be a challenge.Post-Event EvaluationMuch easier to collect post-event feedback. You can also monitor and analyze metrics in real-time
Minimal distraction for live attendees, easier to capture the audience’s attentionFocus Little control over the distractions the attendees may experience at their homes or other places they chose to attend the event. 
Better immediate and real-time interaction.Networking and InteractionsLack of face-to-face interaction and real-time networking opportunities.
Relatively safe from technological challenges.Technology IssuesCan be prone to technological hiccups that may restrict audience participation during the event. 

Now that we’ve understood the key differences between the two, how should we decide whether to put more attention to the live aspect or virtual aspect of the event (or, make it an equal emphasis between both)? It all boils down to three main considerations, which we will discuss below. 

Live-First VS Virtual-First: Key Considerations

  1. Your Target Audience

Above anything else, you should design and plan your event with your target audience in mind. 

With that being said, consider whether a live or virtual attendance will add more value for your ideal audience, depending on the purpose and type of your event. 

Here are some key questions to ask: 

  • Will attending the event physically improve the attendee’s experience?

Is live/in-person engagement important for the event’s format as a whole? For example, if it’s a music concert with site-specific performances, then physical attendance can be extremely valuable and you may want to put more emphasis on the live aspect of the event. 

  • Is real-time and in-person networking important?

While nowadays there are various technologies that can facilitate virtual B2B networking, it’s no secret that they aren’t (yet) adequate replacements for in-person interactions. For example, we can’t yet adequately replicate informal mingling at cocktail parties with virtual technologies. 

However, we may also want to consider the fact that more and more people are getting more comfortable with virtual interactions (i.e. chat rooms, video conferences). A good approach is to run a pre-event survey or poll and ask your attendees whether in-person interactions will be important for them. If a good majority answers yes, then you might want to consider hosting your hybrid event with a live-first approach, and vice versa. 

  • How well can the event’s main content be delivered in an online format?

Some attractions may be better delivered live, but some others can be equally (if not even more) effectively delivered online. If the event’s main attraction involves large-scale entertainment (i.e. concerts with dance), then it’s probably better delivered offline. On the other hand, if the event’s main purpose is to educate and convey ideas, then the virtual-first approach or even pre-recorded videos may actually be more effective. 

  • Will physical display/stage/other in-person marketing materials be important for the event?

There are content and products that may require in-person interaction, for example, product demos, and events that depend on physical networking. Assess whether your events will require immersive branded experiences or educational installations. 

  • Budget availability

Live  or in-person events generally involve much higher costs than a virtual-only event, since venue rental and accompanying costs like insurance and catering costs can often be substantial.

For a hybrid event, on the other hand, we’ll need to take both virtual and live aspects of the event into account, which will translate into even higher costs. If you are on a tight budget, it’s typically better to focus on virtual-only events instead. 

Virtual-First Hybrid Event: Optimal Pricing Model

In the not-so-distant past, hybrid events were typically priced with the in-person tickets being the main source of revenue, with virtual tickets sold at heavily discounted rates (and sometimes, for free). 

In a virtual-first approach, however, with the emphasis on the virtual aspect of the event and the enhanced virtual components, organizers can charge a higher premium for their virtual tickets. 

To ensure accessibility for all attendees while maximizing profitability, hybrid event organizers can offer dynamic, tiered pricing to their attendees. Organizers can send general admission tickets at a relatively affordable price to ensure accessibility,  while at the same time providing upgraded ticket options for a higher rate of return.

Sponsorship Plan for Hybrid Events

To support a virtual-first hybrid event, we can rely on sponsorship, and in this post-COVID day and age, the virtual audience can be crucial in securing high-profile sponsors. With a virtual-first approach, the event can reach more attendees from all over the world, which can help in attracting sponsors who are willing to reach as many leads as possible. 

Another key benefit of a hybrid event in this purpose (especially the virtual aspect of the hybrid event), is that virtual content can be easily recorded and documented, which can be used to develop evergreen content that will continue to generate value for sponsors long after the event. 

Also, virtual event platforms like Eventtia offer advanced analytics, while naturally, it’s easier to monitor the performance of a virtual event or hybrid event over a live-only event. 

In a virtual-first hybrid event, you can offer the following benefits to sponsors: 

  • Overlay branding elements and logo banners within your virtual event layout
  • Integrate sponsor reels and content into the event’s programming
  • Broadcast advertisements and other promo material of sponsors to both live and virtual attendees 

Optimizing Both Live and Virtual Experience

The main objective of hosting a hybrid event is to attract both virtual and live attendees. 

However, doing so can be easier said than done because event organizers must also provide different values for two different sets of audiences with their different preferences. It’s crucial for a hybrid event organizer to be able to plan two separate, distinct, but fully synchronized experiences, and this means every step in the process needs to be carefully designed.

A key factor to consider is the fact that virtual audiences will typically deal with more distractions and so they have a much shorter attention span. So, if you want to keep your virtual attendees engaged, you need to make your content short and sweet. However, live attendees typically want longer, more detailed content. 

So, what’s the solution to this dilemma? Basically, we have two options: 

  1. Breaking the content into smaller chunks: Breaking down the presentations/sessions into smaller units while also including frequent breaks. Frequent breaks will also provide benefits for the live attendees, such as shorter queues forming on food stalls and outside washrooms.
  2. Customize the virtual version of the content and integrate engagement into the content: record a pre-recorded version of the event’s content and edit it into a condensed form, while timing it so that virtual attendees can also join interactive moments like live polls, Q&A sessions, and others in real-time. 

Another important thing to consider to maximize experience is to optimize engagement. Virtual event platforms like Eventtia can offer useful features to help you improve the hybrid event’s real-time engagement, including:

  • Live polls
  • Live Q&A (with speakers)
  • Group discussions
  • Games, trivia, etc. 
  • Interactive group sessiuons

A key challenge when it comes to engagement in a hybrid event is to encourage virtual attendees to engage and participate in real-time due to the number of distractions available when attending a virtual event. An effective strategy here is to offer exclusive real-time engagement and experiences, for example, real-time access to exclusive content that the live audience cannot watch in real-time. 

Optimizing Networking for Both Types of Audiences

Facilitating networking in a hybrid event can often be the most challenging thing throughout the whole event planning process. 

In most cases, the best approach is to create two separate experiences: one for live attendees, and another for virtual attendees. However, a comprehensive virtual event platform like Eventtia can help you create a more integrated networking experience. 

For live attendees, facilitating networking is typically fairly straightforward, but the same thing cannot be said with virtual networking. The key here is to be creative and attempt to create an optimal networking experience according to the event’s format and types. 

Choosing The Right Venue

In choosing a venue for the hybrid event, it’s important to choose a venue that can also accommodate the virtual aspect of the event besides being a visually-appealing venue. 

You’ll ideally need a big enough venue that can accommodate the A/V and live streaming equipment needed for the virtual aspect of the event. 

Also, the venue’s layout and available A/V equipment should also allow you to capture both the stage (speaker) and the attendees for live streaming purposes.

Wrapping Up

Hosting a hybrid event with a virtual-first approach will require both versatility and structure, and the key to success will be to offer optimal value for both live and virtual attendees, which can be easier said than done. 

Above, we have discussed the best practices you can follow to successfully plan a virtual-first hybrid event, and to keep everything in place, you’ll need a comprehensive virtual event platform like Eventtia to ensure a seamless experience for both live and virtual attendees.

Talk with one of our event planning experts to learn how Eventtia can simplify your events.

Thomas Davey
Content and Marketing Specialist

Copywriter and marketing specialist who enjoys showing the world what can be done with the power of events and some good technology.

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