Hybrid events can expose your brand to global audiences and unlock whole new markets for your business. However, hosting a live and remote experiences at the same requires time, coordination and creativity from your team.
But with the right plan, you can host a hybrid event — and have fun doing it. Here’s your toolkit for organizing your first hybrid event:
How do I plan my first hybrid event?
1. Decide on your event format
A hybrid event is any gathering with a live component and an online component. But there’s a lot of variability within that definition. For example, you might host VIPs and C-suite executives for a more intimate experience with the majority of attendees streaming in virtually. Or you might have the majority of attendees in-person, with some speakers and a small percentage of attendees joining virtually.
The distribution of live to virtual attendees will dictate your event’s budget and positioning, so it’s important to have an idea of this number before you begin planning.
2. Assemble your team
Next, assemble all of the people you’ll need to plan your event. The earlier you start assigning responsibilities, the earlier you’ll be able to identify blind spots and start securing speakers, sponsors, etc.,
Start by assessing your previous event staffing needs, then evaluate whether it’s necessary for your hybrid event.
“Think through the external talent you need to actually put on this event,” says Rita Bloomquist, BigMarker’s Head of Marketing. “Have you done this event previously in person? Think about all the resourcing you had and, as you change your event based on what your goals are, consider: Do you need all of the agency partners you previously had? Maybe you need to shift who’s on site and working with you.”
“Then think about your team,” she continues. “What are the resources you need to virtually manage everything if people are joining on the app or on their browser? Do we need specific people to handle Q&A? If you have a virtual help desk, obviously, that’ll be different than having an onsite help desk.”
“Do you have videographers that can easily set up so if you go the route of RTMP, they can easily set it up and stream it to your different session rooms? Or do you need to consider that as an outside resource?”
The size and scope of your team will depend on your event budget, but it should account for the following responsibilities:
- Event manager: Your event manager is the main decision-maker for all high-level matters related to the event. That includes the event strategy, building and managing teams, prioritizing budget, and managing partnerships, venue contracts and deadlines.
- Marketing coordinator: Your marketing coordinator/team is responsible for establishing the visual identity of your event, then promoting across social, digital, search and paid media channels. They’ll also need to coordinate with sales so that the event attracts sales-qualified leads, and that sales is prepared to follow up with personalized messaging for each prospect right away.
- Sponsorship coordinator: Your sponsorship team will need to recruit and sign sponsors, both for the physical venue and virtual experience (or both). From there, your sponsorship team will need to think of creative ways to drive traffic to sponsor booths without looking spammy (that can range from using push notifications to holding sponsored sessions, giveaways, gamification challenges and more). They’ll also want to collect assets and conduct onboarding sessions with any remote sponsors.
- Speaker and talent coordinator: Similarly, a team should be responsible for seeking out and securing speakers. To achieve this, they’ll need to conduct background research and/or network, create pitches and coordinate between the speaker’s PR team and their event staff if needed.
For in-person speakers, they may need to help coordinate travel and lodging, give them a tour of the physical venue, and give them information about their audience and expectations. For remote speakers, the speaker team will need to help them use the hybrid event platform of choice, as well as use engagement and presentation features during the session (like chatting with attendees, answering submitted Q&As, rolling slides, etc.)
- Registration coordinator: Your registration team is responsible for every checkpoint in the registration process from ticket pricing strategy, to registration launch, event check-in, and managing data collected during registration. This person is also responsible for managing event badging and scanning.
- Venue manager: One or more people should be in charge of selecting a physical venue, handling logistics and production within the venue space, catering, load in and load out of assets, etc.
- Technology manager: On the flip side, you should have a group dedicated to securing a hybrid event platform. They’ll also be responsible for loading assets and building booths and sessions with the platform, onboarding remote speakers and sponsors, conducting technical dry runs, managing virtual registration and resolving event day technical issues..
- Social media manager/moderator: Finally, you’ll want one or more people promoting the event on social beforehand, then drumming up hype during and after event day.
3. Create an event budget
Next, set your event budget. Rather than setting one number, you’ll want to define a minimum and maximum spending goal. Then as you begin to generate more revenue from sponsors, your budget can move progressively toward the upper end of that range.
From there, list out all of your anticipated expenses for the event, including the following:
- Venue rental (including additional costs like insurance, etc.)
- Event technology (event registration software, event management solution, virtual event platform, etc. )
- A/V equipment (speakers, mics, live streaming equipment, etc. )
- Staffing, including volunteer accommodations if necessary
- Signage, branding and marketing collateral
- Marketing and promotion
- Equipment and furniture rental
- Labor costs for your internal team as well as freelancers and contractors
4. Pick your venue
With a budget in mind, you can start shopping for venues to host your hybrid event. The acoustics, lighting, connectivity and location of your physical space will have an outsize impact on your attendee experience — and it can also have a ripple effect on the rest of your planning. So it’s crucial to choose a venue that best supports your event goals, even if it takes time.
Consider the following as you shop for a hybrid event venue:
- Wifi availability and speed: Check the venue’s connection speed and bandwidth to ensure it can accommodate streaming. Test the venue’s power supply to ensure it can accommodate streaming to hundreds or thousands of guests, even during the busiest parts of the day.
- Location: The price of your venue will hinge heavily on its proximity to urban centers and other amenities.
However, a cheaper sticker price isn’t always the cheaper choice overall, as you can recoup some of the cost of a more expensive venue with the convenience of nearby amenities. For instance, you may be more able to secure a cheap group rate if your venue is attached to a downtown hotel. Or you may be closer to public transportation, enabling more people to commute to your event and netting you more paid registrations.
Larger venues also tend to have more tech support and security available onsite, which can save you additional time and expense.
- Contract flexibility: As we learned in 2020, events can be unexpectedly cancelled for a variety of reasons, from pandemics to civil unrest, extreme weather and other “acts of God.” So it’s important to select venues with forgiving cancellation or postponement terms. For instance, you might look for venues that refund a progressively larger percentage of the total cost the further in advance you cancel (refunding 50% if you cancel 6 months out, 25% if you cancel three months out, etc.)
- Quality and quantity of internal tech support: Pick a venue with a dedicated in-house support team, so they can help IRL guests navigate the mobile app or resolve any tech issues. That’ll be especially helpful if you’re hosting your first hybrid experience.
- Audio and video recording capabilities: To put your speakers in the best light, choose a venue with built-in equipment with audio and video recording capabilities. Also, the venue should possess good lighting facilities to create a live experience for your remote audience. (To make this easier, consider hiring a venue with an in-house AV team.)
- Availability of practice time and space: Prioritize venues that allow you and your speakers to rehearse sessions ahead of time.
- Safety measures: Also confirm that the space conforms to local, state and federal safety and evacuation requirements, as well as any relevant masking and vaccine mandates.
5. Select a date and time
Once you’ve selected your venue, you can secure your event date and time among the options available. We recommend setting a date no less than 4 months in advance, so your audience can secure travel if needed and your team has enough time to book talent.
"There are two key questions here," says Bloomquist. "First, when do you want people to register? Because you want to make sure you have enough time not just to make sure that the site is ready, but to make sure that any registration questions are all set. For example, on BigMarker, if you’re thinking of doing AI-powered networking, there’s specific questions you need to ask so we can pair people up on the backend."
"So think through: When do you want people to register? What specific questions do you want to ask during registration, whether it’s for marketing needs or to inform your panel discussions? You can get a lot of good information there, but you want to plan far enough out that people can plan to attend in person or if they need to join remotely, they have enough time to move around their schedule and plan around your event."
6. Book speakers and sponsors
You’ve got a time, a date and a place. Now it's time to invite your friends to the party.
Start reaching out to potential speakers and sponsors in your network with relevant, well-researched pitches. Within this list, designate safeties, matches and reaches, so you’re not scrambling to fill your agenda with two weeks left.
Want more information on securing speakers and sponsors? Consult our step-by-step guides on booking speakers and monetizing your event with sponsors.
PS: As you start finalizing speakers, think about how you can repurpose the content generated from their sessions. Can you adapt parts of their presentation into a series of shorter videos for social media, podcast episodes, research-backed infographics, etc.?
If you know what exactly you want to repurpose beforehand, your content team will be able to generate those new resources much more quickly after the event.
7. Pick your hybrid event platform
Just as you’d select a venue, you’ll also need to select a hybrid event platform. Not to exaggerate, but its quality will make the difference between people sticking around or signing off after 10 minutes. So shop for the best hybrid event platform with these questions in mind:
- Does it come with a mobile event app? Above all else, select a hybrid event platform with an associated mobile event app. Not only will it allow your remote attendees to tune in while they’re on the go (and increase viewership), but it can also help your live attendees optimize their experience.
From the app, they can see which sessions are upcoming, which rooms are about to hit capacity, sign into sessions, search for and chat with networking connections and more. They can also use it to navigate the venue and interact with sponsors.
- What customization and custom development features are available? You don’t host hybrid events for the sake of it, but to build your brand. So consider the following as you evaluate your hybrid event platform options:
Can you customize your hybrid event platform and event mobile app with your branding and colors? Can you host your event at your own custom URL, or do you need to use your hybrid event provider’s domain? (Note: BigMarker’s white-labeled event mobile app allows you to host events on your own app all year round. Attendees can find you in the Apple store and see you, not us, on their home screen year round.)
But customization isn’t just about putting your logo everywhere. Can you also create modules that go above and beyond the generic virtual event experience? For instance, hosts on BigMarker can create 2D and 3D custom lobbies, 500+ booth exhibitor halls, 3D product demos, and more! Get inspired with these examples below.
- Does it have QR code badge scanning? Is it available for all sessions and sponsor booths, or only for check-in? (If it’s the former, you’ll get a full list of everyone who attended each session and sponsor booth in person. Imagine trying to get that info at a live conference in 2019.)
- What networking opportunities are available? How can virtual and live attendees find the best-fit connections efficiently through the app? Does the app have AI-powered matchmaking, speed networking sessions, connection search filters and 1:1 video calling? All of these tools provide your virtual audience with more personalized networking opportunities, while complementing in-person networking as well.
- What kinds of communication and engagement features do they include? Some features to look for include session-level public chats, networking rooms, chat rooms organized around agenda topics, feedback surveying and polls in real time.
- Can you personalize content to individual needs? Event goers expect more individualized experiences than ever. So as you search for hybrid event platforms, look for opportunities to tailor the experience to your attendees. For example, on BigMarker you can:
Create a customizable agenda, where each attendee can easily create their own personalized schedule while checking into the event, then click into each session to learn more—or tune in live.
If your registration form includes custom fields, you can even provide people with customized agendas that are tailored to the interests and job functions provided during registration.
AI-powered matchmaking and Speed Networking recommends networking connections to one another based on information submitted at registration, like their job title, interests, and more. (Note: You can also configure the matchmaking algorithm to better suit your attendee’s needs.)
- Does it provide you with attendance and engagement stats of individual sessions? Is engagement data broken down into 5-minute or 10-minute segments? Can you see which questions each attendee asked? Which offers they clicked? Which videos they watched — and for how long? Is this information available for virtual attendees only, or can you track in-person engagement as well?
These insights can help you prove ROI to your CMO and your sponsors, making it more likely you’ll get buy-in more budget for your future events, so choose a provider with a robust analytics platform,.
Note: We recommend selecting a platform with unified analytics, so the data from your in-person and virtual experiences are stored in the same place.
- What opportunities are available for sponsors? Event mobile apps collect data about each attendee that visits a sponsor booth, like which offers they clicked, which questions they asked, etc. And if your sponsor can send that information to their sales team right away, rather than waiting until the event ends, they can capitalize on that interest — and make more sales.
So select a hybrid event platform where sponsors can export the profiles of their most interested leads to their sales team through the event mobile app.
- Does the platform integrate seamlessly with the MAS, CRM, registration and email tools you’re already using? Those integrations should use open, standards-based APIs to connect with your chosen softwares, which makes the process much more simple and cost-effective.
Get the full checklist here or talk to one of our hybrid event experts today!
8. Set up secondary tech tools
Once you’ve selected your hybrid event platform, look for any other tools you’ll need to round out your event experience. That includes:
- Registration and ticketing
- Event mobile app
- Live streaming
- Email communications
Too much tech to keep track of? Pick a hybrid event platform that combines all these tools in one full-service solution — or integrates with the tool you’re already using.
9. Create a run-of-show
Now that you have a full selection of sessions and speakers, you can organize them into a cohesive run-of-show. This is essentially a step-by-step plan that your live and virtual production crews will use to learn about what the flow of the show is, and what audio, video and lights, and technical assets will be needed at each step along the way.
Your run-of-show tells your technicians and event producers exactly what to do at each moment in the show. This prevents confusion and costly mistakes, like rolling lights at the wrong time, or playing the wrong video during the virtual session, etc.
So it’s especially important in the hybrid format, where you’ll be overseeing both the live production and virtual experience at once.
What does a complete run-of-show plan look like? Here’s a great example from Webinerd:
- Include attendee registration and join links.
- Line item or timeline your preparations to keep you on track to start time.
- Add a timestamp for each agenda block AND the duration of each block. Time stamps may shift but having the blocks timed will help you get back on time if needed.
On each agenda item include the following details:
- Section name or title
- Who should be on camera
- Who is sharing screen
- Activities and exercises performed
- Breakout rooms to be used (and access links)
- Call out activities such as “Launch Poll” or “Enable Raise Hand”.
- Contact information for your technical support resource, in case of any disruptions
10. Practice, practice, practice
So you’ve got your plan. Now test it. Starting two weeks before the big day, conduct practice sessions with any presenters and sponsors that will use your hybrid event platform. Have them run through their presentation, use engagement features like the polls and offers, and answer questions, so they’ll be comfortable performing all these tasks on the big day.
And if your physical venue allows for practice time, rehearse your run-of-show there as well. Obviously, not every speaker will be able to attend your live practice session, nor should you expect them to. But you can check the following, using this checklist from Billetto):
- Turn on the lights and make sure they fall in the right place.
- Try out the microphones and watch out for feedback.
- Arrange the tables and seating.
- Make sure everyone can see what’s going on no matter where they sit.
- Put up the venue decor.
- Proof-read all documents, slides, and files.
- Check the WiFi speed.
- Have the MC and moderator practice their introductions, transitions, closing statements, etc.
- Rehearse sessions with any available speakers
As you go, also test your mobile event app. Here’s what to look out for:
- Make sure that guests can download and log into the app easily
- Confirm all of the links on the app are working, including buttons leading to your Networking Center, Expo Hall, Agenda and individual sessions.
- If you’re using QR code badge scanning and printing, ensure that scanning is functional and compatible with your printers.
- Do you want attendees to navigate your venue using the app? If so, make sure that the blueprint of your event space was loaded onto the app and that you can use wayfinding to find key parts of the venue.
- Confirm that all of your virtual session rooms, sponsor booths, and presenter biographies are complete with the necessary copy and logos (and obtain any missing information).
- Double check that sponsors can easily export leads to their sales team.
10. Create a promotional plan
“The first thing you have to ask is, ‘Are we separating the live and virtual audiences?,” says Hannah Scherer, Senior Director of Marketing and Partnerships at BigMarker. “We’d do that if we’re planning to have two very different user profiles for each audience, which does make sense in a lot of cases.”
“For example, if you only want VIP or C-suite executives coming to the in-person element, and you want to give them a more handheld white glove experience, and then opening up the event to everyone of all backgrounds to your event, that’s a great reason to have two different buckets of messaging.”
But if you're hosting an event that provides a consistent experience across both mediums, Scheher recommends a different approach. Use consistent messaging for the event, but emphasize the distinct advantages of each format. Then let people make their own choice.
"Some people find so much value in the premium nature of having those in-person elements, but some people feel so much better about the accessibility of the remote elements," she says. "Maybe I can’t get off work or maybe I can’t get childcare. Maybe there are just external factors I have to consider and I just want to attend virtually. When we talk about hybrid and the accessibility of hybrid, those pieces are what come into play and it’s important to factor in."
They also recommend centering your event’s marketing around its key highlights. “Maybe you have amazing speakers that are going to be there or amazing sponsorship activities or really cool networking opportunities,” says Bloomquist. “Those are going to be important for attendees to see that there will be value in one or both of the experiences.”
That in mind, you can begin to execute your event marketing plan.
Want to learn more about creating and executing your event's promotional strategy? Check out our series on all things event marketing here.
11. Create a crash plan
But as any seasoned event host knows, things tend to go sideways on event day.
You may not be able to control every problem, but you can minimize their impact on your event. Besides avoiding worst-case outcomes — an Internet outage won’t end your event — the mere presence of a backup plan relieves anxiety.
So while you’re creating your run-of-show, start to anticipate places in which the process could fail and plan an emergency response for each of those scenarios. (You might also consider securing backup venues and virtual streaming options, just in case one of your venues fails you at the last minute.)
Your crash plans need to be as thoroughly detailed as your run-of-show. But you do need to document step-by-step processes that account for:
Internal communication: During a crisis, every second counts. So if you can’t get in touch with your team, minor mishaps can turn into major obstacles. So tell your team where and how to present issues to one another, in a way that minimizes lag time and maximizes efficiency. You could post issues in a separate internal Slack channel, call team members directly, or set up a day-long video call specially for talking through these issues.
Speakers, sponsors and exhibitor relations/ROI: When unforeseen issues prevent your partners from presenting in front of your guests, they’re losing face time with possible leads, which lowers their event ROI. So you’ll need to give them alternative ways to interact with your guests and, in turn, benefit from investing in your event.
Some examples: set up a separate informal Q&A for speakers whose sessions were cut short, alerting guests to disrupted exhibitor booths later in the day via push notifications, or even hosting interrupted speakers on a webinar on a different day.
Guest experience: Updating guests on technical issues in a timely, transparent manner can make or break your event’s success — and your company’s reputation. So keep their needs top of mind throughout your crash planning.
If your hybrid event software is still operational, you can send push notifications and/or an email with news to guests through the platform. If not, post any changes on social media. Besides providing updates, proactively offer your guests with alternative programming (if possible) through those channels.
Ready to host your first hybrid event? Our team of experts are here to help. Contact us to schedule a demo and get started today!