While the hybrid event as a concept isn’t something brand new, it’s no secret that the global COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020 and 2021 has significantly increased the adoption of hybrid events all over the world.
The social distancing and quarantine policies, especially in 2020, have forced many in-person events to be delayed and canceled, and many event planners have then pivoted to virtual events instead.
Soon enough, both event planners and attendees understood the unique benefits of virtual events over their in-person counterparts: it’s cheaper to host (and typically the registration fees are also cheaper for participants), faster to organize, and you don’t have to worry about travel arrangements and accommodations.
The hybrid event uses elements from traditional, in-person, and virtual events and strategically combines these elements to give you the best of both worlds.
In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about planning and hosting a hybrid event, and by the end of this guide, you’d have learned about:
- What is a hybrid event?
- The benefits of hybrid events
- The challenges in hosting a hybrid event
- Best practices of planning and managing a hybrid event to ensure success.
Without further ado, let us begin by discussing the concept of hybrid events.
What Is a Hybrid Event?
A hybrid event, simply put, is an event that is hosted both as an in-person (physical) event and a virtual event in a strategic manner.
The basic approach of organizing a hybrid event is to live stream a virtual event via a virtual event platform (i.e., video conferencing platform like Zoom); however, there are also other approaches available, like emphasizing the virtual aspect of the event rather than the in-person aspect.
So, in a virtual event, there are two types of attendees available: the in-person attendees who physically attend the event on the venue, and the virtual audience, who will ‘only’ attend the event online, typically via a live stream.
The main benefit of hosting a hybrid event instead of an in-person or virtual-only event is obvious: your event can potentially attract more attendees, including those outside your geographical location. However, to really understand the benefit of a hybrid event, we have to understand the pros and cons of an in-person and virtual-only event, respectively.
In-Person Event: Still The Best Experience
Even with all the technologies and online tools to facilitate interactivity in online/virtual events, at the moment, we don’t have adequate substitutes for the face-to-face interactivity offered by the in-person event.
Also, the top two reasons for people to attend online events are good foods and networking opportunities, and both are the perks unique to in-person events (at least, at the moment).
However, that’s not saying the in-person event is the perfect approach: it is more expensive and challenging to plan and host, especially due to the rental cost of the physical venue. Also, you are constrained by geographical limitations both in terms of the potential attendees to target and speakers/talents you can invite.
Virtual Event: Lower Cost and Broader Reach
A virtual event is much cheaper (to an in-person event of comparable size) and much easier to organize than an in-person event. You can, for example, set up a webinar quite easily in just a matter of hours, as long as you have access to the right technology solutions.
Another key benefit of the virtual event format is the fact that you can invite attendees and talents from all around the globe without having to worry about travel and accommodation costs.
So, a virtual event is a great option if you’d like to host an event with limited resources and time since you can plan a virtual event fairly quickly.
The downside? As discussed, we still can’t recreate the effect of in-person interaction, and at least at the moment, finding sponsors for virtual events is still relatively more challenging.
Hybrid Event: Best of Both Worlds
Hosting a hybrid event essentially provides you with the best of both worlds: you can expand your event’s reach by attracting attendees from outside your city or country, and you can potentially lower the overall cost for hosting the event since you can rent a smaller venue and reduce the travel expenses of some of your staff members.
Below, we will discuss seven incredible benefits of hosting a hybrid event you should consider.
7 Benefits of Hosting a Hybrid Event
1. Amplify your event’s reach
Fairly obvious by converting your in-person event or virtual-only event into a hybrid event, you can potentially attract more attendees. In an in-person event, you are limited by the venue size and geographical location, but you won’t experience such limitations for your virtual attendees.
Also, a hybrid event can offer more versatility for your attendees. For example, those who aren’t yet comfortable attending events in person due to pandemic concerns can opt to attend virtually instead.
2. Improved engagement and interactivity
Virtual-only events tend to struggle with engagement. However, in a hybrid setting, you’ll have more opportunities to offer interactivity, especially to the virtual attendees. For example, you can conduct joint Q&A sessions where virtual attendees can participate and be seen by the in-person attendees.
In a hybrid event, literally, your creativity is your only limit.
3. Cost reduction
At first, hosting a hybrid event might seem like more cost for the event organizer. After all, you’ll need to plan and host both the virtual and in-person aspects of the event.
However, if planned right, you can potentially reduce the overall cost of your event by converting an in-person event into a hybrid one. For instance, you can rent a smaller venue instead and encourage more attendees to attend the event online.
Also, a hybrid event can help your attendees cut their travel and accommodation costs, as well as allow them to save more time and have more flexibility. By lowering the entry barrier and eliminating obstacles, you can potentially attract more attendees.
4. More environmentally friendly
Large, in-person events naturally create more carbon footprints: you’ll use more plastic for catering and more paper for printed signage and promotional materials. Not to mention there’ll be more waste as a result of the event.
You can reduce all these wastes by limiting the number of in-person attendees and making the in-person aspect of your hybrid event smaller. If you aim to contribute more to sustainability, hosting a hybrid event can be a solution.
5. More versatility and adaptability
Hosting a hybrid event will provide you, as the event organizer, more versatility and peace of mind.
For example, if suddenly there’s another restriction due to the pandemic the day before the event, you can quite simply convert the event into a virtual-only event without much issue.
6. Reuse the event as on-demand content
With hybrid events, you can record your live-streaming sessions and give the ability to participants to view the recording as on-demand content after the event has ended. This provides your audience with more opportunities to share your event with others, which will help boost your event’s brand awareness and visibility.
You can also make the event available to other viewers beyond the event’s actual attendees, which will help if the purpose of your event is to build brand awareness or to spread the word about a cause.
7. Attracting more sponsors
Hybrid events are naturally easier to sell to sponsors.
Why? The answer is simple. In a hybrid event, you have two different audiences that the sponsors can engage in different ways. More attendees will translate into more potential customers for your sponsors, and you’ll also be able to offer more promotional mediums (both offline and online) that your sponsors can participate in.
However, that’s not saying there isn’t any downside with the hybrid event model, as hosting a hybrid event will also introduce unique challenges that we will discuss below.
Challenges in Hosting a Hybrid Event
1. Creating a synergy between the virtual and in-person aspects
A very common mistake made by event planners when planning a hybrid event is not understanding which aspects of the event to focus on. While you can put more emphasis on either the in-person or virtual aspect of the event, it’s crucial to ensure you are creating a synergized, unified event in the end rather than two disconnected and separated events.
Keeping the right balance between the two aspects of the event is crucial, and we’ll also need to consider the fact that you’ll need to carefully manage the logistics and budget of the two different aspects.
The solution to this issue is technology. Having the right all-in-one virtual event platform instead of using too many disconnected solutions can help you seamlessly connect the virtual and in-person aspects of the event.
2. Offering similar levels of experience to both audiences
In a hybrid event, you are running an event with two separate audiences: your virtual attendees and your in-person attendees. The thing is, while the event content remains mostly the same for both audiences, the delivery or presentation should be custom-tailored accordingly.
Again, the secret here is in creating a combined and unified experience by seamlessly combining the virtual and in-person aspects of the event, and here are some actionable tips on how:
- It’s very important to have a capable presenter/host, as well as speakers that have prior experience in virtual events. It’s crucial to have presenters and speakers that know how to keep the virtual attendees engaged without alienating the in-person audience.
- Use a virtual event platform that facilitates engagement with features like real-time Q&A, live polls, interactive chats, and so on. You simply can’t rely on basic platforms like Zoom if you really want to deliver the best experience for your virtual audience.
- Test every technology solution (both hardware and software solutions) you are using. Make sure there are no problems whatsoever to ensure a smooth attendance experience for your audience, both virtual and in-person attendees alike.
- Make sure to have a dedicated support team (at least one dedicated staff) for your virtual attendees. You’d want to ensure it’s as easy as possible for your virtual attendees to ask any questions, give their feedback, and get help in the event of technical hiccups.
3. Different time zones and cultural barriers
While a key advantage of hosting a hybrid event is the ability to attract attendees from all around the world, this can be a double-edged sword.
You’ll need to consider that your virtual attendees could be in any time zone, and you’d want to accommodate everyone as much as possible, so no one feels left out.
Do your research, check the different locations your attendees have registered from, and plan the best possible time for your event, depending on your audience profile. Possible solutions here include making the event available as on-demand content after the live session is finished to accommodate those who can’t attend live, or you could probably host multiple sessions for the event (over multiple days if necessary).
4. Having the right pricing strategy
While the aim is to deliver a similar experience to both in-person and virtual attendees, it’s no secret that in-person event tends to be valued higher, and so most event organizers charge a higher ticket price for the in-person aspect of the hybrid event.
Defining a ticket pricing strategy for a hybrid event can be quite challenging, and you should consider several different factors:
- The in-person aspect of the hybrid event will typically involve more costs: venue rental, catering, insurance, and more. This is why typically, the tickets for in-person attendees should be priced higher.
- If you are presenting a well-known speaker or talent, you may consider charging more to both virtual and in-person attendees, as they may be able to justify the cost.
- A common practice nowadays is to send event kits and swag bags to virtual attendees to help them participate in the event. If you are planning to do so, consider shipping costs when pricing your virtual ticket.
- Consider allowing virtual attendees to choose parts of your event and build their own agenda. This will make it easier for you to price the virtual registration fees as you see fit.
To satisfy both virtual and in-person attendees, most likely, you’ll be required to offer different pricing tiers (and even custom packages for your virtual attendees). However, keep in mind that the more pricing options you are offering, the harder it will be to manage.
5. Venue selection
Selecting a venue for an in-person event is already challenging enough with all the different nuances: location and its proximity to a target audience, parking availability, accessibility concerns, and so on.
However, in hosting a hybrid event, there are additional factors that we’ll need to consider, including but not limited to:
- Internet connection: you’ll need a venue that offers a strong and stable internet connection, and if possible, choose a venue that allows you to bring backup internet connectivity for redundancies.
- A/V equipment: some venues offer their own A/V equipment, which may reduce your overall costs that would otherwise be needed to rent additional A/V and live streaming equipment. If you are planning to rent additional equipment, you’ll also need to consider transport, logistics, and installation.
- Power/electricity: check whether the venue offers enough power and has enough power outlets for all your equipment, including smaller equipment like smartphone chargers, hairdryers, and so on. If the venue offers backup power sources, then it’s an additional plus point.
- Size: pretty self-explanatory; you’d want to choose a venue large enough to fit your in-person attendees, staff, and equipment comfortably.
- Health and safety: it’s no secret that the global pandemic has significantly increased the awareness of health and safety concerns. You’d want to choose a venue that has conformed to the relevant safety regulations in your area.
- Storage and loading access: you’ll need a large enough space to store your live streaming equipment to accommodate the virtual aspect of the event. Also, if you have large installations, check whether they can fit the venue’s doors during loading.
Planning a Hybrid Event: Best Practices
Now that we’ve learned about the common challenges of planning a hybrid event (and its benefits), here are some best practices you can maintain to tackle these challenges and host a successful hybrid event:
1. Understand both target audiences
Ultimately, your event’s attendees are the most important stakeholders of your event. The better you understand both your in-person and virtual attendees: their needs, pain points, behaviors, what they are looking for in your event, and so on, the better you can design the best possible experience for both of them.
In some cases, the virtual and in-person attendees may have similar demographic profiles, but in other cases, they may be (very) different). Do your homework, and gather as much information as you can about both types of audiences when planning your hybrid event.
2. Start early
The earlier you begin planning and preparing the hybrid event, the better.
You’ll have more vendor options to choose from and more time to compare different vendors to ensure you are getting the best possible deals. Also, don’t underestimate the time required to promote your hybrid event: the earlier you begin promotions, the more attendees you can reach with your campaigns, and hopefully, the more of them will register.
Last, but not least, you’ll also need time to bring in the right sponsors and partners to support the event.
You should begin preparing your hybrid event at least four months prior to the D-day and ideally six months in advance. The bigger and the more complex your event is, the more time you’ll need.
3. Put extra effort to maintain engagement
As discussed above, one of the key challenges in a hybrid event is keeping attendees (especially virtual attendees) from being distracted. Virtual attendees are more prone to distractions since most of them will “attend” your event from home, so they may need to attend to house chores, answer emails, and do other activities.
You’ll need to ensure a strategically-planned virtual event space and carefully design your content to maintain engagement: make your event’s content dense with interactivity (Q&A, polls, contests), but it’s also important to find the right balance all these activities don’t start to become annoying.
4. Test your content to ensure perfect delivery
No matter the event’s content, make sure it’s well-planned and test the delivery to avoid technical hiccups and other issues. Re-visit the content before the D-day of the event, and conduct several rehearsals if necessary while also testing the technological aspects of things (A/V equipment, power backup, internet connectivity, live streaming technicalities, etc.)
Also, to ensure an optimal experience, you may want to communicate guidelines for your virtual attendee on how to arrange a comfortable setting while attending the event (i.e., lighting, computer/device configuration, internet configuration, etc.
5. Have Plan Bs and Plan Cs for everything
A very common challenge in any event (not just a hybrid event) is the fact that you’ll always need to deal with the unexpected: keynote speaker being stuck in traffic, the venue suddenly becomes unavailable a week before the event, and so on. However, in a hybrid event, we’ll need to consider both the virtual and in-person elements of the event.
More than 32% of event organizers faced internet connectivity issues when hosting virtual or hybrid events. What’s worse? Only 12% of them are planning backup connectivity.
Prepare for redundancies for all crucial aspects of the event: venue, rental, talents/speakers/presenters, A/V equipment, electricity, and internet, among others. Also, allocate at least 10% of your total budget (with 20% being ideal) for redundancies.
Hybrid events are here to stay even after the pandemic, thanks to the benefits we have discussed above. Hosting a hybrid event can offer various combined benefits from both in-person and virtual events, giving you the best of both worlds, as well as some unique additional benefits.
Yet, hosting a hybrid event can be challenging, and it’s likely you’ll also meet some unique challenges, especially in logistics, but the key to planning and hosting a successful hybrid event is to identify and really understand your event’s target audience; demographics, their needs, behaviors, and especially, how you can convince them to attend your event.
By following the actionable tips and best practices we’ve shared above, you are now ready to tackle those challenges and start planning your first hybrid event right away.