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11 Questions to Ask Before Hosting a Hybrid Event

Updated

Your biggest hybrid event questions, answered.

Hybrid events are here to stay, even after in-person events make a comeback. In a survey of 20,000+ brand marketers, 78 percent agree that in-person events will pivot to hybrid models following the pandemic.

But holding a hybrid event isn't as simple as just streaming your in-person experience online. To really resonate with both your in-person and online audiences, you'll need to create two engaging, immersive experiences within your one hybrid event.

So if you're planning a hybrid event this year, get started with these FAQs from our team: 

1. What are hybrid events? What do they look like? 

Hybrid events consist of an in-person gathering that is simultaneously streamed to an online audience via a virtual event software. While speakers present to the live audience onstage, the session is streamed to remote attendees via a hybrid event software. 

Agenda sessions and breakout sessions are hosted in individual rooms on the hybrid event software, each with chat boxes, Q&A panels and other interactive features to keep virtual attendees involved. 

Virtual networking centers and sponsor booths provide the same engagement elements for the online guests, all in a fully branded event environment. 

2. What are some of the advantages of hosting hybrid events?

  • Reach More People: A common concern is that your hybrid event will cannibalize guests and revenue from your IRL option. But hybrid events don’t cannibalize your audience—they create a brand new one. 96 percent of online attendees at hybrid events were not planning to attend live, according to Matthew Ley, President of The Streaming Network. “They’re the ones who just aren’t that into you yet,” Ley says.

    On-the-fence customers are more likely to give you a few hours of their time spent at home, on their own schedule, than a full day of travel and in-person activity. So through hybrid events, you can get time with a whole new source of prospects, then sell them throughout the event. If you really nail your online experience, you can build a whole new lead generation pipeline in no time. 
  • Promote Accessibility and Flexibility: Whether they have children at home or work commitments keeping from traveling, many would-be guests may not be able to travel to and attend your whole weekend-long event in person. Hybrid events provide flexibility that enables parents and other professionals to attend events they’d have previously skipped, which broadens your audience pool.

    Hybrid events also mesh with the modern worker’s desire for flexibility and permanent remote work. According to the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of workers are working remotely all or most of the time—and more than half want to continue doing so even after the pandemic, making hybrid events increasingly feasible and appealing. 
  • Provide Valuable Insurance: We don’t need to tell you when this might be handy, do we? Since they attract brand new attendees, hybrid events are still beneficial even if your IRL event goes off without a hitch—and event-saving if it doesn’t. 
  • Support Sustainability: As climate concerns continue to grow, companies and would-be travelers can cut down on their carbon emissions through hybrid events. These “carbon savings” come not just in travel, but in reduced packaging, catering and physical signage.

    According to Barron’s, North American consumers increasingly prefer sustainable brands and more than half of buyers are ready to change their shopping habits to reduce their negative impact on the environment. And globally, 40 percent of respondents select brands based on how well they align with their personal beliefs. So taking a stand can also boost your bottom line. 
Source: The Streaming Network

3. What are the challenges of hosting hybrid events? 

Offering both live and online programming, hybrid events are versatile enough to meet audiences wherever they are. But this requires hybrid event organizers to execute two different experiences within the same event: the live program and the online program. It’s not as simple as live streaming your in-person program to your online audience, either.  

Below are some of the challenges of executing a hybrid event, all of which we’ll cover in this FAQ: 

  • Producing a high-quality, technical experience for remote attendees 
  • Planning an event flow that is interactive and exciting for live audiences without exhausting the remote audience. 
  • Keeping online attendees as engaged as the in-person audience. 
  • Creating networking experiences that deliver value for online audiences. 
  • Ensuring that sponsors know how to engage with IRL guests while also interacting with online attendees, at a deep enough level so that they can achieve a good ROI from that group as well. 

4. How can I minimize technical issues at a hybrid event? 

Help attendees prepare to access your event by creating a FAQ-style document outlining your hybrid event platform’s technical requirements. Include: 

  • Will online attendees need to download your virtual event software to their desktops or phones before the event? In your event's marketing communications and FAQ, tell attendees how they can log into your hybrid event and access sessions.  
  • What browsers are compatible with your hybrid event platform? Will attendees need to update their browsers before entering the event? 
  • Do attendees need to quit other video or screen recording apps before logging into your platform? When services like Skype or Zoom are running on your attendees’ desktops, they “leech” audio and video capabilities from the hybrid event platform and prevent attendees from using their mic and camera during the event. 
  • Will attendees be able to access your event via a corporate internet connection? Strict firewalls can often prevent attendees from logging into BigMarker and other hybrid event platforms. 

If a live presenter isn’t able to connect to the hybrid event platform on time, or at all, virtual attendees may not be able to access sessions and feel shortchanged. The month before the event, perform onboarding sessions with presenters and sponsors. Ensure that each speaker can log into the platform, use their microphones and cameras and answer incoming questions from the online audience. 

Technical issues are inevitable. Losing attendees over technical issues is avoidable. To minimize the impact of any snags, recruit live event monitors to troubleshoot and resolve problems in real time. This ensures that when problems do arise, your staff is ready to resolve them as soon as possible and communicate any relevant information through social media or email if necessary. 

5. How should I adapt my content for online participation? 

When planning your event flow, remember that your remote attendees’ attention spans will be shorter than that of your in-person audience and tweak your content strategy accordingly.

  • Fight screen fatigue: Encourage presenters to break up their monologues with more videos, graphics and direct audience participation.
  • Crowdsource your content: Before the event, encourage online registrants to pre-submit questions to increase participation and attendance. You can solicit questions via email or social media. Or to add a personal touch, have attendees submit videos of themselves asking the questions—in their own voices—via a video Q&A platform like Capsule. Hearing different voices and inflections will vary up the stimulus for both your online and IRL audience—and make the online crowd feel like partners in co-creating the session. 
  • Complement any skills training with an online model: With industries evolving more and more quickly every year, upskilling isn’t just something to do to get a raise. It’s essential for keeping up with trends and staying competitive in the labor market. (Not convinced yet? Upskilling's even been called the new 401(k) by Fast Company.) So if your event can provide hands-on, skills-based training and/or certifications, it will be much more attractive to attendees. 

    But if your in-person audience gets a live instructor while your online audience gets a drivers-ed quality video, you’ll miss out on some of that competitive advantage. So use an LMS to host intuitive, customized courses and evaluations for your online crowd. (We integrate with Thinkific and other LMS platforms to make this process simple.)  
Using our integration with Capsule, encourage remote attendees to submit questions ahead of time to incorporate them into your event.


6. How should I prep presenters to engage two crowds at once? 

Even for experienced speakers, it takes practice to talk to two audiences at once. Here are our best practices for preparing presenters to serve both your in-person and online audiences. 

  • Create online-specific handouts and offers:  BigMarker allows presenters to share handouts—downloadable documents summarizing the session—and call-to-action offers with online attendees. Both materials can significantly improve audience recall and follow-up, so encourage presenters to create them in advance. During the session, these features can be distributed automatically (using automation) or be manually triggered by your producer monitoring the online room.  
  • Prepare presenters for a broader audience: Hybrid presenters are speaking to a global audience of varying experience level, so ensure that presenters aren’t speaking solely to local or national issues or overusing industry slang. To keep everyone aligned, give speakers a Presenter Guide with this information upfront or have them submit an agenda with their talking points two weeks before the event. 
  • Network with virtual and IRL attendees: Ensure that presenters divide time between live networking sessions and chats within the virtual Networking Center. This doesn’t need to be a strictly even split. But when presenters participate in virtual networking, the online guests feel more included and presenters get exposure to even more valuable connections. 
  • Follow up with a global audience: Online events connect guests to a multinational range of attendees, who are able to post about it in real-time. Encourage presenters to check the event hashtag right after they’re done speaking so they can interact with these attendees and capitalize on their interest. Also, ask each presenter to share their social media links, as well as relevant product websites and offers, so that online attendees can give them a follow or visit right after the session ends. 

7. How do I keep online attendees engaged? 

Your remote audience may be out of sight. But if you want to host a successful hybrid event, they better not be out of mind. Throughout the event, you need to proactively incorporate your virtual attendees into the program. Otherwise, they'll left out and log off: 39 percent of people who attended a hybrid event virtually said they did not feel included in the event program.

Here are some easy ways to engage your online crowd: 

  • Have a team member monitor the hybrid event platform during each session. In addition to responding to technical complaints, this person should distribute polls, answer Q&A questions submitted by the audience and trigger pop-up offers regularly so online guests feel involved in the proceedings.
  • Encourage presenters to shout out online attendees at the beginning of the session and throughout the session. Just acknowledging your online attendee will reassure them they’re equally as important to the event as the in-person guests—and make them more likely to stick around. 
  • If your in-person attendees will receive pieces of swag, send a surprise swag box to your remote guests as well. Time the delivery so that attendees receive it the day or week before the event begins. This way, they can build anticipation as the big day approaches, and they enter the event with a more personal connection . 
  • Holding breakout sessions at your IRL event? Create exclusive “behind the scenes” breakouts where remote guests can hear from and ask questions directly to presenters. This more intimate setting can help combat the impersonal nature of consuming content behind a screen. 
  • Hybrid event platforms offer rich engagement features to get attendees talking. But the tools are only useful if your participants…. actually use them. So use gamification to reward those who participate in Q&A, polls, networking and sponsor booths. 

Remember to survey your online audience about their experience, so you can apply any successes and shortcomings to your next hybrid event! 

8. Can online attendees network at a hybrid event? 

Yes! With AI-powered matchmaking, speed networking sessions and seamless video conferencing tools, BigMarker’s virtual networking empowers remote attendees to meet valuable connections as effectively as in-person guests. 

Guests can usually enter the event website a few days before the big day, where they can begin identifying valuable connections and breaking the ice. This prepares online attendees to make the most of their networking during the event itself. 

AI-powered matchmaking, a new feature on BigMarker, makes this task even easier: During registration, attendees can submit their industry, job function and interests. Using that information, our algorithm recommends other attendees with similar backgrounds and professional goals. Guests can “swipe” yes or no on each person, then conduct a video call or chat with each approved contact. 

This allows attendees to spend less time sifting through online profiles and more time talking to the people who matter most. 

Speed networking is a separate agenda session during which attendees are matched with other guests for short networking conversations. Like AI-powered matchmaking, speed networking recommendations are based on shared professional interests and goals submitted during registration, so guests can connect only with the most valuable contacts. Learn more about facilitating virtual networking here.  

Source: AIM Group International


9. How can I attract sponsors to my hybrid event? 

First off, sponsors are super down for hybrid events. 72 percent of corporate sponsors are interested in participating in a hybrid event, so going hybrid can really boost your event budget and, in turn, your guest experience.

Sponsors like hybrid events for several reasons: access to a wider audience, opportunities to connect 1:1 with virtual attendees, richer attendee and engagement data to justify their investments, and more opportunities for sponsorships. Instead of just setting up a physical booth and chatting with IRL attendees, they can sponsor live streams, add their branding to multiple online sessions, conduct product demos, schedule virtual meetings, and more. 

Keep those factors in mind as you craft each sponsorship pitch. Create a proposal that answers the following questions for your potential sponsors and you’ll be sure to score some big names: 

  • What kind of videos and multimedia can sponsors use in your exhibitor booths? Sponsors can share their screens and play pre-loaded presentations for attendees in their booths. They can also use 3D product demos or a whiteboard to describe products in greater detail.  
  • Where can sponsors place their logo, branding and ads within their booth and your overall event site? On BigMarker, sponsors can add their logo and branding to the corners of the expo booth and the video player, and play a rotating display of ads below the video player. Higher-profile sponsors can gain even more exposure across the event microsite and emails. 
  • What kind of in-person booths can you offer your sponsors? What branding opportunities are available and what kind of placement is available within your in-person sponsorship hall?
  • How can sponsors close deals and book sales in the online sponsor booth? For instance, on BigMarker, sponsors can use pop-up offers to direct attendees to a company or free trial website.And with sophisticated analytics tracking sponsors can measure engagement and conversions among both the in-person and online audiences. 
  • Can partners sponsor sessions, coffee breaks or networking opportunities? Sponsoring an agenda or networking session lets companies connect with attendees in a more casual setting.

For even more about monetizing your online events through sponsorships, check out our comprehensive guide on event sponsorships

10. How can sponsors maximize their ROI in a hybrid environment? 

Typically, a hybrid event sponsor will man a physical booth at the live event, with a virtual sponsor booth running simultaneously on the virtual event site. Sponsors need to be able to serve both audiences as effectively as possible, simultaneously, to maximize their ROI from their participation. 

Set them up for success with these tips: 

  • Branding opportunities: BigMarker offers tons of places for sponsors to place their branding and ads in a digital environment (e.g. the ad banners in webinar/session rooms, the Expo Hall, event emails, etc.). But each of these ad slots has its own required dimensions and sizes. Present these to your sponsors upfront so they can get their visual assets ready and create targeted messaging. 
  • Onboard them to the software: You don’t want your sponsors struggling to navigate your event software on event day, while also working with live attendees. Instead, schedule a 30-60 minute onboarding session in which sponsors practice using their mics and cameras, entering their booth, chatting with attendees, and running their presentations.   
  • Leverage automation in the virtual booth: Sponsors can pre-load videos, polls, Q&As and call-to-action offers to their virtual booth ahead of time, then run it simu-live. This way, the sponsor’s presentation runs on its own, and the sponsor can pop in to answer questions as they come in. On event day, sponsors can spend more time talking to virtual attendees and less time providing constant new and live content throughout the duration of the event.
  • Help them staff both the virtual and IRL experience: Effectively serving live and online attendees at once requires coordination, organization and manpower. If the sponsor’s short-staffed, their attention to one space can affect their responsiveness and service levels in the other.

    So especially for your top sponsors, help them staff appropriately and create a schedule for each of their team members. For instance, have two employees man the live booth, with one of them periodically checking an open laptop to answer messages and interact with virtual visitors. Then a third could supervise a sponsored networking session.  
  • Give Them Data: BigMarker’s virtual event softwares captures ultra-specific insights about audience behavior, including individual Q&A and poll responses, chat transcripts and the amount of time each participant is actively engaged. This granular data helps sponsors pinpoint exactly what works and what doesn’t—and informs their future strategies. Give sponsors this data to help them prove their ROI from working with you.   

11. Will I need to market my event’s in-person and hybrid experiences differently? 

Yes and no. Since your in-person and online audiences will be tuning into the same content and sessions, your event’s broad marketing messages can be the same for both audiences. 

The main difference comes down to your audience’s pre-registration concerns, which you’ll need to tackle with your marketing. Because most people are still unfamiliar with hybrid events, you’ll need to show your online attendees that they won’t just be silently watching videos of sessions for 8 hours per day. 

So include screenshots or screen recordings of your hybrid event platform at work. Demonstrate how they can log in, enter sessions and chat with other attendees in just a few clicks or provide a teaser video that showcases the virtual attendee journey.Once they can visualize how they can connect with people at your event, people will be more likely to register for the remote experience. 

Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies are harnessing hybrid events to drive results in 2021 and beyond? BigMarker's team of Account Executives are here to help! Contact us at sales@bigmarker.com to schedule a demo and get started.

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