February 21, 2022
How to host hybrid events that excite both your IRL and remote audiences.
Progress can’t wait for everyone to get in the same physical space at the same time.
So instead of just setting a date and time and expecting people to show up, meet them where they are—with hybrid events.
Sure, they’re good for protecting your event from pandemic restrictions. But if you see hybrid events as temporary “half in-person” alternatives to the “real thing,” you’re missing out.
Because hybrid events give you access to a broader community than you could reach in person. Think of international attendees that can’t swing a trans-continental flight. That over-scheduled CEO who’s checking out a few sessions in between meetings. The working mom watching during her kid’s gymnastics class.
Through hybrid events, you can reach an entirely new audience that wouldn’t have attended in person (96% of remote attendees at hybrid events would not have attended the in-person version).
It’s not just about boosting your numbers and safeguarding against acts of God, though. You also give your attendees a wider community with whom to share knowledge and network.
More attendees and opportunities for you, more value for your audience. All by creating an online alternative to the event you’re already hosting. Talk about a win-win.
Now let’s learn how to host them right:
Effective hybrid events provide everyone involved—attendees, event partners and hosts—with six important things: Content, connectivity, community, convenience, customization and commercial value.
Those words mean different things to different people, so here’s what we mean by each:
1. Content: Your event tells people something they won’t find on Google. But beyond just sharing information, your sessions tell stories that resonate long after they log off.
2. Connectivity: Remote attendees can log into the platform and view sessions without technical delay or disruptions. In-person attendees can use a mobile event app to navigate the event venue and answer event-related questions on their own.
3. Community: Attendees can spark lasting conversations and connections with other attendees, whether they’re in the physical venue or thousands of miles away. They feel included in a larger network of people with similar interests and goals, and thus feel more connected to the host’s brand as well.
4. Convenience: Hosts can plan the event in an easy-to-use interface that is accessible and transparent to all event stakeholders. Hosts can send event-related emails, host sessions and store analytics and registration data in one place (because who’s got time to switch tabs?).
5. Customization: Hosts can design their hybrid event in a way that showcases brand identity, through both its visuals and content. Hosts aren’t limited by the constraints of their hybrid event platform and can create something truly unforgettable for their audience.
6. Commercial value: Hosts and event partners all get a positive ROI from their participation in the event. They can evaluate their success, compare it against past initiatives, and apply any learnings to future marketing efforts.
Each of these factors work together to build a hybrid event experience that works for everyone—your company, your event partners and most importantly, your attendees.
Looking to level up your hybrid events? Here’s your blueprint:
Tell better stories: Say I want to tell you about the importance of preparing to speak at a virtual event. I could just tell you to prepare, but you’ll most likely say, ”OK, sure, that makes sense, which is why I’ve heard this 500 times before,” before checking Twitter again.
Or I could tell you about that time I tried to dial in from Yellowstone, my guests couldn’t hear anything over the sound of Old Faithful bubbling in the background, and I lost a major client.
Which of those stories will stick out to you? Next time you’re tempted to skimp on your pre-event prep, which of those warnings would make you practice anyway?
Stories work because they tap into emotions and experiences that are universal.
Because people can’t relate to lists of features. But everyone’s felt stressed at work. Everyone wants to make an impact in the world, find ~true love~, etc. So when you tell a story that taps into those relatable feelings, you’ll capture the imaginations of way more people than you could with a list of features.
And once you’ve got their emotional buy-in, you’ll probably get their business, too.
So don’t give your guests a boilerplate or sales pitch. Give them something they can’t find anywhere else: yourself, your story and how that story has prepared you to help them.
Harness the power of storytelling to host better events with our best practices.
Secure and prep A+ speakers: But even the best stories can’t overcome a bad narrator. So if your speakers aren’t prepared, or they don’t match your audience’s needs, they could bring down your programming. Hosts can avoid both of these pitfalls with a little forward planning, though.
To identify who your audience wants to hear from… ask your audience who they want to hear from. You can do this through social media polls, email, or just casual conversation with your current customers. Look to industry-related LinkedIn groups, events, and Reddit and Quota threads for additional insight you might not have learned otherwise. The more you understand your audience’s interests, questions and pain points, the more useful speakers you’ll be able to provide.
One of our clients, Circle of Sisters, even created a Facebook group for their event’s top fans to crowdsource panel discussion ideas, speakers, and even feedback on their rebrand.
Once you’ve secured your speakers, make sure they’re prepared to address two audiences at once. Even for seasoned presenters, this can be tricky.
So enlist one of your team members to act as a “producer” for the session, and have that person monitor the online event platform for questions and messages. (Make sure that you conduct onboarding sessions with anyone using the hybrid event platform on event day). Then remind your presenter to acknowledge the remote crowd throughout the presentation, so they actually ask those questions.
Plan to reuse your content: Every time you host a session, you’re getting 45-60 minutes of (hopefully) killer content. Multiply that over a 3-day-long event and you’ve got a full quarter’s worth of raw material.
So make the most of the content your creates (you deserve it!). Repurpose all that into social media posts, blog posts, email content, podcast episodes, product ideas, etc. For way too much information on repurposing content, check out Gary Vaynerchuk’s How to Create 64 Pieces of Content in a Day.
For the overworked content marketers on your team, it’s basically Christmas come early. So consider creating a media hub or on-demand video library where guests can rewatch your content after the event ends (or refer it to their friends!). Hosts can use media hubs to continue conversations among attendees and/or charge a subscription free to further monetize their event content.
But all that great content will go to waste if nobody can access it. So keep connectivity and access top of mind as you plan your hybrid event.
Choose your hybrid event platform with the following in mind:
Empower attendees to onboard quickly: Minutes before going live, the last thing you need is 200 messages of the “Why can’t I get onto the platform?” variety. Before your event, send remote presenters and attendees an FAQ document listing any software or connections requirements they’ll need to enter the platform. Also provide contact info to your support team for any advanced troubleshooting needs.
Use a browser-based hybrid event platform: Come on, people. It’s 2021. If we can’t have flying cars like Marty McFly promised, can we be able to access hybrid events without spending 10 minutes downloading new software? Consider using a browser-based software to minimize time spent downloading and signing up for a new service on event day. One login and they’re in. It’s that easy.
Provide quality assurance with pre-recorded content: Pre-recorded presentations tend to have higher production values than livestreams. So if your presenters are speaking remotely, ask them to record their presentations ahead of time if possible.
If they’re presenting live, have them submit any supplementary materials (videos, PDFs) at least a week ahead of time. This gives your team time to upload it to the hybrid event platform, optimize it, and fix any formatting issues in time for the big day.
Provide onsite tech support: Staff your event with a support team to resolve any tech problems and resume programming as quickly as possible.
Choose a scalable solution: Sure, you’d love to have 100% of the crowd in attendance 100% of the time. We want that for you too (really).
But numbers ebb and flow throughout the day, depending on event programming and the time of day. So ensure your hybrid event platform has the ability to accommodate surges of new attendees as needed.
Create a crash plan: None of us choose a hybrid event platform expecting it to fail. But considering the high stakes, you need to hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Start by finding an alternative event software to use in case you suddenly can’t use your #1 option. This can be a live streaming service or another event platform.
Once you’ve settled on a backup option, decide how you’ll communicate updates to attendees. Consider using push notifications if your original hybrid event platform is still operational, and a combination of email and social media if your event platform is shut down.
Things to Consider:
Am I using a reliable cloud-based event platform with a long history of reliability?
How can remote users maximize their connection speed and strength?
Does my event require an onsite tech support team? Can my team handle minor snags that may arise?
How can event organizers escalate issues to tech support as quickly as possible?
We don’t have to sell you on why social interaction is a Good Thing™, do we?
For remote attendees, audience interaction is what separates hybrid events from livestreams. So it’s important to prioritize that as you begin to build your hybrid event experience.
Here’s how you can create a highly connected and engaging experience for both IRL and remote attendees.
Use AI-powered matchmaking to facilitate smarter networking: Networking is one of the biggest draws of any event, virtual, in-person or hybrid. But we all know networking can be hit or miss.
Either you meet your new co-founder over the coffee table, or you get stuck talking to someone totally outside your industry for 45 minutes. Until now, networking’s been subject to chance—and limited by your pre-existing circle.
But with the power of AI, you can use each individual’s preferences to provide networking recommendations specifically for their needs. For example, on BigMarker, guests submit their industry, experience, function and other relevant data on registration. That information is filtered into an algorithm that provides the highest-value recommendations for them to connect with.
From there, matches can chat or conduct a video call right on the hybrid event app. So your guests spend less time sifting through connections—and more time talking to the ones that matter.
Give attendees downtime: Remember your first few days of high school or college? You probably didn’t meet your best friends during the planned icebreaker activities. You probably got to talking during a bathroom break or lunch. A few minutes of loose relaxed conversation and 10 years later, you’re standing in each others’ weddings.
The same goes for events, regardless of the format. Powerful as engagement features have become, there’s no substitute for casual, natural conversation. Schedule virtual downtime (in the form of happy hours or coffee breaks) so remote guests can avoid screen fatigue and can connect more informally. Host them in the mid-morning or early afternoon, when guests are likely to need a break.
Take advantage of engagement features: Guests won’t get much out of your event if they’re just staring at a screen for 8+ hours per day. May as well save their money and binge Bridgerton all day.
Keep remote attendees engaged with your content through private and public chats, Q&As, polls, offers and handouts. This gives remote participants a ton of different ways to interact both with the content and with one another. But people are shy and/or lazy, especially early in the morning and watching from their couch. So plant one of your team members in the “crowd” to ask an icebreaker question. Examples include “Where are you logging in from?”, etc.
From there, let the conversation flow. (Bonus: Repeat questions or observations can also give hosts new content ideas and customer insights.)
Use social media integrations to generate buzz: Use hashtags, Twitter walls and live streams to bridge the online and offline audiences while also broadening your event’s reach. With BigMarker, you can also stream your live program to Facebook or YouTube.
Create post-event communities: Who hasn’t promised to connect with someone, then completely forget about that person until they see their name pop up two years? Help attendees cement the connections they make by creating a post-event community, either on social media or a post-event content hub.
As a host, you can keep the conversation going by posting on-demand videos, live streams and new content for months after the event or till the next event.
Things to consider:
Does my hybrid event platform have the engagement features my attendees need to connect with the content and other attendees?
What kind of networking opportunities are available? How can attendees meet participants with similar backgrounds and interests as quickly as possible?
What sort of information do you want to capture via polls, Q&As, public and private chat, handouts, etc.?
How can attendees easily translate online connections to long-lasting offline relationships?
Let’s be real. Planning an event is hard. It requires substantial coordination across multiple departments—and that’s before you get presenters, event partners and any weird event day voodoo involved.
Some of that stress is unavoidable (let’s just say it builds character?). But with smart technology, forward planning and transparency, you can minimize the stress of planning and regain the magic of event hosting:
Empower stakeholders to collaborate in real time: Event planning is a fast-paced high-stress game. So there’s no time for misunderstandings or “I didn’t see that update.”
Consider using a hybrid event platform where event stakeholders—organizers, talent, external agencies, etc.—can collaborate and upload assets to the same place and see changes in real-time.
Full-service event planning: Event planning, really, is just closing and reopening the same 15 browser tabs. Spreading your event information across multiple softwares isn’t just annoying. It increases the chances for miscommunication among teams and lost data, which can snowball into a huge problem if undetected.
And nobody’s got time for that.
That’s why we recommend using a full-service hybrid event platform that hosts registration, event emails, sessions and analytics all in the same interface. Your event software can be a one-stop-shop for all your event hosting needs, saving your team valuable time in the crazy weeks before event day.
Use a mobile-first hybrid event app: Guests need convenience, too. With a mobile-first event app, remote attendees can log into sessions wherever, whenever—and you won’t lose them to their commute. In-person attendees can also use the app to navigate the venue, check out the agenda and access networking opportunities. No need to flag down an event rep or circle the venue 15 times.
Things to consider:
How can event stakeholders collaborate with one another during the planning process?
How can hosts identify their strengths and weaknesses mid-event—and apply their findings to future events?
How can presenters upload and edit their content in the event platform? Can they make last-minute changes on their own?
How can in-person and remote attendees prioritize their time at the event? Can they build their own event schedules?
How can attendees consume your event’s content? Can they refer back to your content weeks or months after the event ends?
One-size-fits-all doesn’t work for fashion. And it doesn’t work for events either. Some organizers might go all-in on content creation. But others might want to emphasize highly exclusive networking opportunities or spotlight their new products.
Similarly, some guests might shell out for exclusive in-person networking opportunities, whereas others might want to watch sessions from the comfort of their couch. Through customization, empower your guests to participate however and wherever they want.
White-label customization: Your event’s showcasing the best of your brand. So pick an event software that does the same.
Consider using a white-labeled event software where you can incorporate your color, logo, and brand identity into your event—not your event’s provider’s. This isn’t about us; it’s about YOU and your event's visual identity should reflect that.
Custom dev functionality: Thinking about a new way to host product demos or networking appointments? Go for it! Pick a hybrid event provider that builds out your boldest vision from scratch—and helps you create truly unforgettable experiences for your attendees.
Use a mobile-first hybrid event app: Guests need convenience, too. Let guests stay connected no matter where they’re coming or going.
With a mobile-first event app, remote attendees can log into sessions wherever, whenever—and you won’t lose them to their commute. Likewise, in-person attendees can also use the app to navigate the venue, check out the agenda and access networking opportunities. No need to flag down an event rep or circle the venue 15 times.
Things to consider:
How can I integrate my company’s branding into my event’s physical space, as well as the hybrid event platform?
Do I want to incorporate any custom dev features into my event program? Can my team build these elements ourselves or do we require additional resources?
How important are virtual networking and vendor booths to my remote participants?
How can I create an event experience that flexes to my attendees’ interests in real-time?
We’ll save the best (and hardest) part for last: making money. Not only do you need to turn enough profit to keep your CMO happy, but you need to provide good ROI for your event partners as well. It’s easier than it seems, though. Really.
Effective event monetization boils down to three things: sponsor and exhibitor engagement, efficient marketing follow-up and demonstration of ROI.
We’ll break down all of these pieces here:
Help event partners engage—not hard sell—your attendees: As the sales-oriented alternative to the main sessions, sponsor booths are essentially the “commercial break” of your virtual event. And nobody goes out of their way to watch the commercials—unless there’s something in it for them.
So to pull attendees (and convert them!), sponsor booth programming needs to provide upfront value to attendees. Instead of pitching and selling, they need to engage with attendees in a more conversational, organic way. Think interactional, not transactional.
As you pitch each sponsor, brainstorm opportunities for them to speak one-on-one with attendees, both within their booths and in more informal settings (e.g., networking spaces).
Some of the best strategies we’ve seen include:
1. Giving the attendees the chance to earn points by completing specific actions in the sponsor booths (asking questions, sending chat messages, viewing demos, etc.) for the chance to win a prize.
2. Sponsoring coffee breaks, networking sessions or happy hours, where attendees can talk to vendors about the product or service more informally
3. Scheduling 1:1 consultations and providing free trials to anyone who visits the booth
4. Using your booth to play informational videos/content and set up meeting spaces for 1:1 meetings or small focused discussion groups.
5. Providing exclusive offers for attendees ranging from discounts to a sneak peek preview on a new line of products
6. Hosting 3D product demonstrations and educational workshops
Help sponsors follow up with integrations: Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. That’s true for creatives, and it’s also true for the vendors paying for the privilege of talking to your guests at your event. So do them a solid and pick a hybrid event platform with lots of useful integrations.
This way, if your vendors are tracking their leads with a CRM or MAS, they can integrate their lead-tracking software with your hybrid event platform. Once it’s set up, all the attendee and engagement data they generate in their booth flows into the CRMs they’re already using as soon as the event ends.
They’ll know exactly which attendees visited at which time, what questions they were asking, what their needs and interests are, and more. From there, their sales teams can follow up with individual attendees–and use the data to personalize their pitches.
Provide reporting and analytics: Similarly, equip vendors with the attendee data and booth performance stats they need. With that info, they can learn exactly which of their marketing tactics resonate with audiences.
Because the data goes way past attendee name and data. It also tells sponsors which attendees clicked on which offer, what questions and chat messages each person sent and the amount of time each attendee spent in the booth.
Things to think about:
How many in-person and virtual touch points can you provide vendors of each tier?
How can you incorporate your vendors into your pre- and post-event marketing, as well as your on-site and virtual branding?
How can vendors identify hot and cold leads in real-time?
How will vendors receive attendee engagement data and contact information?
Can vendors book and conduct 1:1 meetings via the hybrid event mobile app?
Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies are using online events to advance their business? BigMarker's team is here to help. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a demo and get started.