Thanks to COVID-19, virtual events have become the dominant player in the world of conferences, meetings and seminars. However, as we start to see the impact of vaccination initiatives increase and lockdown restrictions slowly start to be relaxed, we can anticipate that in-person events will return – albeit perhaps in a modest size and in a modified format, such as the hybrid event. It’s realistic to expect the popularity of hybrid events to grow as they provide a way to increase participation in traditional events at a relatively low cost, especially for those unable to attend in person due to travel or time zone constraints or restrictions.
The ‘Hybrid Event’: What IS it?
In its simplest terms, a hybrid event is a conference, tradeshow, seminar or other meeting that combines a live, in-person event with a virtual, online component, enabling both in-person and virtual attendees to participate and connect. Planned effectively, hybrid events combine the best elements of live, face-to-face events with virtual components and provide your audience with the opportunity to participate, learn, and engage even if they can’t attend in person.
The Benefits of the Hybrid Event
Expanded Opportunities for Attendees and Organizers. Some people may not have the time, budget or other support necessary to allow them to go to a conference event as an in-person attendee. However, with the virtual component of a hybrid event, there is no reason for potential attendees to miss out. They’re able to take advantage of presentations in real time or via recording, and they’re also able to connect with other participants and the event organizers.
From the perspective of the event organizer, they’re no longer restricted by the capacity of the physical venue space and have the opportunity to reach an even wider audience, especially those who don’t traditionally attend in-person events. Some organizations are even developing a ‘hybrid hub’ approach that links virtual delegates with hubs of people attending the event in-person.
Greater Audience Diversity and Inclusion. Greater inclusion of attendees is one of the best things about the hybrid event model. It allows participants who might otherwise not be able to attend to take part. Greater attendance also brings in a greater diversity of experience, education and opinion among the participants. This diversity leads to deeper and richer discussion, debate, and communication – all things that lead to a rewarding and enriching experience for the audience and organizers alike.
Opportunities for Sustainable Connection. Hybrid events offer great benefit in terms of their environmental sustainability. The reduction in travel and hotel nights can provide a reduction in climate pollution and use of resources.
However, sustainability isn’t just about the impact on the planet. The extended reach of the hybrid event is also good for sponsors, exhibitors and advertisers, and can also prove to be sustainable when it comes to generating income and profitability for the organizing group.
Drawbacks of the Hybrid Event
While the hybrid event offers numerous benefits, there are many reasons why organizers may struggle with their hybrid event strategy. The following are some of the more common challenges and issues that must be addressed in building a hybrid event.
Hybrid Event are More Complex. No matter how well-integrated your efforts, delivering a hybrid event essentially means you’re producing two events at the same time. The in-person and virtual aspects of the attendee experience must be taken into consideration, and a balance achieved between the two. Are your in-person attendees concerned about the experience of the virtual attendees? Probably not. Will access and connectivity be of critical importance to your virtual attendees? Absolutely. Long gone are the days of streaming to a virtual audience by placing a camera in the back of a plenary or workshop session. Today’s attendees are more sophisticated, and the virtual component has to be a production in its own right, distinct from the in-person experience.
Hybrid Events are More Costly. With the added complexity of a hybrid event comes added cost. Apart from the financial resources required for a physical event, the organizer also must factor in extra expenses to select a suitable online platform, adopt live-streaming equipment, and facilitate effective engagement for both offline-and-online participants. In addition to the technology required, the manpower required is also increased when you factor in dedicated staff to manage and monitor both the offline and online environments.
Event organizers must also think strategically about pricing decisions. What will you charge for an in-person attendee? How much should you charge for a virtual attendee? What will the COVID-19-affected budgets of your audience be able to manage? Pricing also needs to be adjusted for sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities, which will impact your event budget.
Audience Satisfaction is a Challenge. Any conference event needs to leave participants feeling their money and time have been well-spent, and this is where hybrid events need to not only deliver but exceed expectations. Perception is tricky; the last thing you want is for one audience to believe that they are being adversely impacted by you providing your other attendees with a better experience. Even if your virtual participants are watching from their office half-way around the world, they want to feel like they’re right there in the thick of things and feel connected to the event.
Whether or not hybrid events are the future and the ‘new normal’ for any organization is up to that organization, their objectives – and their budgets! Beware of any ‘unconscious bias’s that may exist within your organization and be willing to recognize that while hybrid events can offer an exciting new alternative to the traditional conference event, they are also complex to plan and come with their own set of risks. Take a proactive approach to establish how and when the hybrid event can most effectively be used for your organization and your attendees. While they can be hard to prepare for and navigate, they also offer endless possibilities.
Written by Karen Fouts
Have you had experience attending or planning a hybrid conference? What worked? What would you prefer to see done differently? Please share your experiences with SIETAR USA! You can email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or submit them to The Interculturalist at ‘Our Readers Write Us’ at email@example.com.