It’s no secret that due to the global COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020 and 2021, the popularity of virtual events and hybrid events has soared.
Due to the global outbreak, social distancing and travel restriction policies were implemented all around the world, effectively canceling numerous live events so they are being replaced with virtual events.
Soon enough, however, various event organizers started to realize the unique benefits of hosting a virtual event, especially in terms of cost-effectiveness and versatility in breaking down geographical barriers. Yet, it’s also no secret that due to the limitations in technology (at least, until today), virtual events still can’t replace in-person events when it comes to interactivity and networking.
This is where hosting a hybrid event can be a great way for event organizers to get the best of both worlds, pushing hybrid events to be the forefront trend in 2021.
So, how about 2022? Will large-scale, in-person events be making a comeback? Will hybrid events continue to take the center stage? Below, we will discuss the upcoming trends surrounding virtual, hybrid, and in-person events in 2022, and without further ado, let us begin.
- Hybrid events will continue to reign
For 2022, most event planning professionals agree that hybrid events will not only stay but will continue to grow even bigger. According to the Event Manager Blog’s 2021 report, 71% of surveyed event planners admitted that they would continue to organize virtual and hybrid events even after the “new normal” post-pandemic reality.
As we know, hybrid events bring the best of both worlds of live and virtual events: the global audience reach and versatility of a virtual event, and in-person interaction of a live event. Hosting a hybrid event will allow you to accommodate both in-person and virtual attendees, which is crucial in the post-pandemic period when many potential attendees would only attend virtual events.
- More virtual-first approach to hybrid events
In just a single year, the trend surrounding hybrid events has shifted dramatically.
Throughout 2020 and even 2021, many event organizers still turned a blind eye to virtual events, treating them as an afterthought to live events, many of them were canceled due to physical distancing and quarantine policies. So, early forms of hybrid events are mostly planned with the in-person aspect as their emphasis.
However, soon enough these event organizers and attendees began to understand the benefits of virtual events and the importance of virtual attendees in the post-pandemic world, encouraging many event organizers to use a virtual-first approach in planning their hybrid events.
In 2022, expect more hybrid events to take place online with the virtual-first focus, combined with a slightly different experience of upgrades that is more appropriate to the live attendees.
Nevertheless, it’s crucial for event organizers to craft shared but unique experiences for both live and virtual attendees in their hybrid events, or else your event won’t bring adequate value.
- Increase of cross-audience engagement participation
Expect more and more hybrid events in 2022 to adopt state-of-the-art technology solutions that can allow cross-engagement and participation between in-person audiences and virtual audiences.
For example, event organizers may leverage technology allowing virtual attendees to join the Q&A session in real-time to bridge the gap between virtual and in-person audiences.
- Emphasis on health and safety (both physical and virtual)
According to the 2021 survey by PCMA, 39% of the surveyed event planners admitted that they will require proof of vaccination (for COVID-19) before attendees can attend their events.
Health, safety, and security (including virtual security) should be the main focus of event organizers planning to host their hybrid event in 2022. This may include precautions and concerns like socially-distanced seating arrangements, specialized hygiene crews, air filtration systems, and so on.
For the virtual aspect of the event, event organizers must also pay enough attention to potential cybersecurity threats and risks. It’s no secret that cybercrime attempts have significantly increased since the start of the pandemic, so it’s now crucial for event planners to pay enough attention to cybersecurity.
If you as an event planner don’t currently have adequate infrastructure regarding cybersecurity, it’s important to use a secure virtual event platform that offers adequate security features like end-to-end encryption and protection from malicious bots. If necessary, partner up with the right cybersecurity experts to ensure your event is always 100% safe and secure.
- More focus on data collection and analysis
One of the key benefits of a virtual event over the live counterpart is data collection.
It’s much easier to collect various forms of data in a virtual event, and this valuable data can provide event organizers with a better understanding of their audience, which can be extremely important in planning future events.
With a hybrid event, however, event organizers can have the same advantage on a live event, so we can expect more event organizers to leverage this benefit throughout 2022 and onwards.
The types of data that can be collected in a hybrid event include:
- Audience engagement throughout the event (i.e. live polls)
- Attendee demographics data
- Social media engagement and shares
- Content downloads
- Click-through rate to the event website, sponsorship websites, etc.
Also, data collection will be vital for all event organizers in the future. Audiences, especially virtual attendees, will always need engaging content to stay interested in the event, and real-time data will be extremely important in bridging the content and interaction gaps between the live and virtual aspects of the hybrid events.
- Increase in micro-events
As we know, agility is key to success in today’s very fast-paced world, and the same thing will also apply to event planning and to be more specific, hybrid events.
In 2022 and onwards, expect more event organizers to launch smaller events more frequently instead of focusing on just a few large-scale events throughout a single year (a common practice before the pandemic).
These micro-events will also be more targeted and personalized to just a specific group of audiences.
In short, the frequency of the events would matter more than size in 2022 and onwards. Event planners will focus on engaging their audience throughout the year, and the virtual aspect of hybrid events will give them the opportunity to do so.
- Focus on cost and resource efficiency
It’s no secret that hosting an event, especially a live, in-person event is expensive. Converting a live event into a virtual-focused hybrid event is actually an effective way to reduce cost: by getting more virtual attendees instead of physical attendees, you can rent a smaller venue and hire less staff without sacrificing value and experience.
In 2022, expect more event organizers to focus even more on saving resources in one way or another: offering micro-events, inviting more virtual attendees over live attendees, and so on.
- More focus on education
With the increasing popularity of virtual and hybrid events throughout the global pandemic period, there’s now a clear distinction between live events and virtual/hybrid events when it comes to purpose.
Live events are now mostly geared towards selling products and services to the audience, while virtual, as well as hybrid events, are now more focused on educating attendees. We can expect this trend to continue in 2022, and attending virtual/hybrid events in the pursuit of information or knowledge will become the norm in the near future.
- Higher production value
More and more people are now doing virtual and hybrid events, which simply translates into more competition for event organizers.
With tighter competition, event organizers can no longer get away with low production quality in their virtual and hybrid events. If your event is not produced well, your audience will simply leave.
It’s now normal for virtual attendees to expect a higher sense of experience and engagement, and preferably the same sense of engagement as the live aspect of the event.
Meaning, not only do you need to invest in the right equipment, you’ll need someone capable of professional broadcasting in your team if you really want to ensure success.
- Increased use of AR and VR
One of the key challenges in hosting a hybrid event is to ensure a similar (or even better, higher) level of interactivity and engagement for the virtual attendees.
A viable solution for this challenge is by using AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) technologies, offering a wider range of engagement options for virtual attendees attending the event from home like interactive AR sessions, virtual booths, and even allowing attendees to “try” the products via AR.
We can expect this trend to continue throughout 2022 and onwards with the advancements in AR and VR technologies, especially with the recent rise of the Metaverse concept.
- More Frequent Breaks
A key aspect to a successful hybrid event is to ensure a similar level of experience to both live and virtual attendees, and we all know it’s not easy to do.
To ensure an equal level of experience and engagement, adjustments are necessary to be made to both the virtual and live aspects of the event, and allowing more frequent breaks is one of these.
With more frequent breaks between sessions, virtual attendees attending from home have the option to move around and readjust their focus, while live attendees can also use the opportunity to get their snacks or visit the bathroom.
- More innovative hybrid event concepts
With the increased competition, event organizers are getting more creative in planning and designing their hybrid events. The more innovative, different, and unique a hybrid event is, the better chance it’ll have in attracting its target audience.
Event organizers are now incorporating more unique ideas, creativity, and art in planning their hybrid events, and we can expect future hybrid events in 2022 and onwards to be even more unique and innovative than ever.
- Contactless event check-ins
With health and safety becoming more of a concern, contactless check-ins for example with the advancing facial recognition technology solutions will become the norm in the live aspect of hybrid events. This will allow event organizers to reduce or even eliminate the need for manual ID checking, which can translate into potential health and safety risks.
- Better virtual interactivity and experiences
As discussed, one of the key challenges in hosting a hybrid event is facilitating virtual interaction.
Event organizers must continue finding creative ways to facilitate virtual networking and maintain a high level of virtual engagement at all times. This can be easier said than done, with the fact that virtual attendees attending from home will naturally face more distractions compared to live attendees attending the physical venue.
More immersive virtual components must be utilized to maintain a high level of virtual interactivity, for example by including:
- Live chat
- Real-time live polls and Q&A sessions
- Virtual networking sessions
- Virtual booths
- Virtual sponsorship promotional areas
- More personalization
Personalization will be the key to success for hybrid events in 2022. Naturally, a hybrid event itself facilitates more personalization for attendees, for example by allowing attendees to attend in any location and from any device. However, we can expect even more personalization in various different areas in future hybrid events.
Event organizers can use various technology solutions and techniques to facilitate personalization, for example by offering different ‘sessions’ to different virtual attendees so that different attendees can be served with personalized content according to this specific attendee’s interest. This can provide more value for each attendee.
To ensure effective personalization, event organizers can gather more information regarding different attendees’ preferences, for example by encouraging attendees to suggest event speakers and topics before the event. This will provide a higher level of interactivity and may increase attendance.
- Hybrid events in PR strategies
Gone are the days of closed, exclusive events that are only targeting the few attendees who are part of the most ‘qualified’ leads for organizations.
In 2022, we can expect hybrid events to become more increasingly open, targeting many more potential attendees who are actually part of different audience segments. It is expected that hybrid events will be considered a key aspect of PR strategy among organizations.
We can expect more events to become hybrids in 2022, with more event organizers realizing the importance of catering both live and virtual attendees with their events.
Above, we have shared some of the many rising event trends for 2022 surrounding virtual, hybrid, and in-person events, but obviously, this is not an exhaustive list.
Nevertheless, 2022 will be the year of innovations in event planning, and event organizers will be demanded to always adapt and grow, or else they’ll be left behind.