Today in 2021, events are no longer solely about in-person, live events like trade shows, conferences, and music concerts. Instead, technology has allowed us to host and attend virtual events quite easily in recent years, and it’s also no secret that the COVID-19 global pandemic has significantly boosted the popularity of virtual events throughout 2020 and 2021.
Both in-person and virtual events each have their own benefits and disadvantages. With a virtual event, you can invite attendees and speakers/talents from all around the world without having to worry about geographical limitations. However, a live event is much better at facilitating immediate interactions between attendees.
So, sometimes it’s a dilemma for event organizers whether to host a virtual or live event, but a potential solution is to host a hybrid event instead.
A hybrid event, technically, can offer the best of both worlds by inviting both live attendees and virtual attendees. Yet, hosting a hybrid event also has its unique challenges.
In this post, we will mainly explore the differences between hosting live, virtual, and hybrid events so you can understand which approach is best for your current needs and purposes.
Without further ado, let us begin right away.
Live VS Virtual VS Hybrid: The Concepts
Traditionally, live in-person events have always been the most ideal type of event to bring people together for a shared purpose. However, thanks to technological advancements and especially the worldwide adoption of high-speed internet, now we can host three different types of events:
- Live: we call it a live event or ‘in-person’ event when all attendees are physically present in the event’s venue
- Virtual: In a virtual event, the attendees attend the event virtually via an online connection
- Hybrid: in a hybrid event, there are both live attendees and virtual attendees. Some attendees attend the event in person, and some others attend the event online.
So, how do you know which approach is the most ideal for your event? To answer this, first, you’ll have to identify your event’s purpose and objectives.
Identifying Your Event’s Goals
What’s the purpose of hosting this event in the first place?
To really identify whether you should host your event as a live event, virtual event, or hybrid event, it’s very important to first identify the purpose and objectives of hosting the event, and you can start by asking yourself these key questions:
- What do you want to accomplish by hosting this event? (educate attendees, build brand awareness, support a product launch, etc. )
- What is the ideal audience that can help you achieve these goals?
- What unique value can you provide your audience?
- What value(s) can you provide for your sponsors?
Make sure to use the S.M.A.R.T goals principle when defining goals and objectives for your event. Your objectives should be:
- Specific: as specific and focused as possible, this objective should be easily understood by everyone
- Measurable: you can measure the event’s performance against this goal by assigning metrics and KPIs
- Attainable: realistic so that it won’t negatively affect your team’s morale
- Relevant: relevant to your event’s purpose and your organization’s overall objective
- Time-bound: you can assign a timeline to each objective
Here are some examples of S.M.A.R.T goals for your event:
- Generate 20% more leads during and a week after the event
- Generate 10,000 social media engagement (shares, likes, comments) and/or increase engagement rate by X%
- Generate X social media impressions during and one week after the event
- Generate X number of attendee visits at sponsor booths
The earlier you define your objectives and the better you understand these goals, the easier you can identify which type of event approach is best for you.
Live VS Virtual VS Hybrid Events: Key Factors To Consider
Now that you’ve identified the purpose and objectives of your event, you can consider the following factors when deciding between which type of event you should host:
- Target Audience
Above anything else, your target audience should be the biggest factor to consider when choosing between a live, virtual, or hybrid event.
If you are ‘only’ targeting local attendees in your town, then probably hosting a live event in a relatively modest venue is enough and you don’t really need to host a virtual or hybrid event. However, if you are planning to invite mainly attendees from abroad, then a virtual event may be a better bet.
Consider the number of attendees you are targeting, where they are located, and other factors. Ultimately you should identify how many of your attendees are willing to attend an in-person event and how many would attend a virtual event.
If the majority of your attendees would attend live events, then it might not be worth it to host a virtual aspect of the event (and make it a hybrid event). On the other hand, if most of your attendees would prefer live events, then you might want to focus on the live aspect of the event or create a hybrid event instead.
- Importance of Physical Elements and In-Person Interaction
How important are in-person interactions for your event? If the event’s main objective is to facilitate networking, then it’s no secret that at the moment, we can’t yet replace the in-person interactivity of live events with technology.
Yes, we can offer chat rooms, live polls, Q&A, and other interactions with technology in a virtual event, but they aren’t yet at the same level of face-to-face interactions.
Another important consideration is how important physical elements like a stage, decoration, big signage/branding for sponsors, and others for your event.
If physical elements and/or in-person interaction are important, then it’s pretty obvious that you should host a live event or a hybrid event with a live-first approach.
This one is pretty straightforward.
It’s obviously (much) more expensive to host a live event than a virtual event, mainly due to venue rental costs and other related costs like catering and insurance, which can be significant. Hosting a virtual event, on the other hand, is typically more affordable, and most of your investments will go to technology.
What about hybrid events?
Since in a hybrid event, we should pay attention to both the live aspect and virtual aspect of the event, technically it will be more costly than both. However, hosting a hybrid event will also mean you can attract both types of attendees (meaning, more attendees), which can translate into more revenue and potential profits.
Obviously managing and hosting a live event will take more time with the number of physical elements that should be prepared: venue, decor, stage design, event space/traffic flow design, printing marketing/branding collaterals, and so on.
So, assess how much preparation and planning time you’ll have to plan the event. If you are in a rush (although you should generally avoid having too little preparation time for any event), then you might want to opt for a virtual-only event.
Create a shortlist of main talents/speakers you’d like to book for your event. If, for example, you want to book a high-profile speaker from overseas and don’t have the budget for accommodation/travel, then you can consider hosting a virtual-only event if the speaker is willing.
On the other hand, some talents/speakers might only want to perform in a live or at least, a hybrid event, and there are also cases when doing a virtual-only event may not be able to justify the cost.
- Technology Availability
Virtual and hybrid events rely on technology, although nowadays, even live events rely on various technology solutions like an event management software solution, online registration tool, attendance check-in/monitoring, analytics, and other technology tools. The availability of digital tools (and the available budget to invest in these technologies) should be a major consideration when choosing between different types of events to plan.
Also, when planning a hybrid event, keep in mind that different live venues have different capabilities in supporting the technologies for your virtual events. For example, some venues may not be able to accommodate live-streaming equipment like additional cameras.
Live VS Virtual VS Hybrid: Quick Overview
While considering the six different factors discussed above, here is a quick guide to help you determine which approach is right for your event:
- Live Event
A live event (in-person event) is the best when it comes to physical, immediate, and face-to-face interactions. A music concert, for example, is still best delivered live at the moment with things like eye contact/movements, body language, gestures, and facial expressions enhancing the overall attendee experience.
Besides content delivery, in-person interactions are also important for networking. Attendees will look for the opportunity to physically meet and interact with speakers and other attendees throughout the event.
- Best when it comes to in-person interaction and human factor experience
- Easier to manage distractions. When attendees are at a live event, they are 100% focused on what’s happening in the venue
- Less reliance on technology, so not very prone to tech hiccups
- Better for longer events (i.e. more than one hour), since it’s easier to maintain engagement
- More costly to organize. Venue rental costs are typically substantial, as well as other related costs like catering and insurance
- More time-consuming to plan with all the physical elements involved
- Limited by geographical limitations, accommodation/travel costs, etc.
- Prone to unwanted accidents like bad weather, crime, demonstrations, etc.
- Virtual Event
As opposed to a live event, a virtual event has three key benefits: broader exposure since you are not limited by geographical locations, lower setup cost, and faster turnaround.
This is why many event organizers opt to host virtual events when they are short on time and money. You can deploy a virtual event relatively quickly with a significantly lower cost than a live event.
However, keep in mind that not all content can work well in a virtual-only format. For events where long-form content is preferred and where in-person interactions are crucial, a virtual-only event may not be the best approach.
- You can invite talents/speakers and attendees from all around the world without having to worry about accommodations, travel costs, and other geographical limitations
- Typically easier and quicker to organize. You don’t need to worry about booking an ideal venue, as well as other logistical challenges
- Easier to evaluate the event’s performance. You can use various analytics tools and virtual event platforms to monitor various metrics and collect post-event feedback.
- Fairly limited when it comes to interactivity and especially human in-person interactions. Virtual networking is still clunky at the moment.
- Prone to technological hiccups, for example when the internet suddenly goes down during the event.
- You have little control over various distractions attendees may experience when they are ‘attending’ your event from their homes.
- Hybrid events
A hybrid event is about flexibility, giving you the best of both worlds.
By hosting a hybrid event, you can attract both live person attendees that are able to attend the live event and the virtual attendees.
Another key benefit of a hybrid event is that it can potentially reduce the overall cost of the event since you can reduce or even eliminate travel and accommodation costs for talents/speakers and attendees.
- Broader exposure and impact since you can reach both in-person and virtual attendees
- Better versatility for attendees. For example, you can accommodate those who are planning to attend your event but have any last-minute plan changes.
- Not always the case, but hosting a hybrid event instead of a live event can reduce some if not all of the costs.
- Encouraging engagements from both virtual and live attendees. For virtual attendees, a hybrid event can offer more interactivity than a virtual-only event
- Easier documentation and evaluation. You can get more long-tail value from each event, for example via recording and documentation
- More distractions when compared to an in-person event. You’ll need to find a way for virtual attendees not to be distracted throughout the event
- Even more prone to technological hiccups when compared to virtual-only events
- Keeping both attendees equally engaged can be very challenging
- Not very ideal for longer events. Keeping your virtual attendees engaged for more than 1 hour can be extremely difficult to do
End Words: Which Event Approach is Right for You?
The answer to this question can be challenging, but you should start by identifying your purpose of hosting an event in the first place and also who your target audience is.
Each event approach comes with its own benefits and disadvantages. While live events offer the most effective human communication, they are typically the most expensive and time-consuming to host. A virtual event, on the other hand, is relatively affordable but has a significant flaw in facilitating in-person interactions and engagements, and this is where hybrid events come in.