Even when we return to in-person gatherings, hybrid events are here to stay.
Did you transition your IRL event online in 2020? If so, your digital events probably picked up new attendees that wouldn’t have been able to attend the IRL equivalent. Now that you’ve scored a whole new online audience, you need to keep them coming back… even when your events shift back to IRL gatherings that they can’t travel to.
Through hybrid events, you can do just that.
Since you’ve already onboarded to a virtual event software, the startup costs of a hybrid event strategy are almost zero, while the potential upside of retaining and growing an engaged international user base is enormous.
Marketers agree. In a recent survey of 20,000+ brand marketers, 78 percent agree that in-person events will pivot to hybrid models following the pandemic. COVID aside, hybrid events are a low-cost, high-reward way to expand your event’s reach without sacrificing the IRL experience, making them a no-brainer in any marketing strategy.
Learn why and how to host next-level hybrid events below:
Why Hybrid Events Work
Multiply Your Event's Reach: 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.
Broaden Your Audience: Due to financial constraints, family commitments, physical or medical concerns or scheduling limitations, many would-be guests may not be able to commit to your IRL events. By providing a hybrid option, you can serve those guests and broaden your appeal and lower the path-to-purchase barriers for new attendees.
Provides Valuable Insurance: If the COVID crisis taught event planners anything, it was the absolute necessity of a digital option, in case your live event is disrupted by, say, a worldwide pandemic, social unrest or a natural disaster. Since they pull brand new attendees, hybrid events are still beneficial even your IRL event goes off without a hitch—and event-saving if it doesn’t.
Offer Flexibility for a Remote Workforce: Hybrid events also mesh with the modern worker’s desire for flexibility and permanent remote work. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, 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. And especially as more Millennials and Gen Z professionals hit the workforce, hybrid events will attract increasingly larger shares of your potential audience.
Host a More Sustainable Event: 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. Environmental concerns aside, your business will benefit from tapping into accelerating consumer preferences for sustainability and ethical business.
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.
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. Sponsors should also consider resourcing for hybrid events and having dedicated staffers “work the booth” and others ready to run the virtual booth to maximize reach and effectiveness.
What Do Hybrid Events Look Like?
Usually, hybrid events consist of an in-person gathering that is simultaneously streamed to an online audience via a virtual event software. Agenda sessions and breakout sessions are hosted in webinar rooms, 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 social element for the online guests, all in a fully branded event microsite.
Selecting BigMarker to host your online component is step one. From there, you need to produce and promote your event in a way that fully engages your online audience.
How Can I Produce Engaging Hybrid Events?
Imagine logging into an “online hybrid event,” only to watch a bunch of sessions streamed at you. You’re left to watch the IRL audience ask questions and contribute to the discussion—and you don’t get to shape the conversation at all.
You’re not participating in an event. You’re watching a series of Ted Talks that, while interesting, don’t provide the immersive event experience as advertised.
So the interactive component is super important. It’s the secret ingredient that helps your online audience connect with you—and every element of your event’s architecture and programming needs to support that goal.
That includes the following:
Optimize the Attendee Flow: Since online/hybrid events are still relatively new, prospective virtual guests could let their unfamiliarity keep them from signing up. So using a screen recording app like Loom, walk through the key actions guests need to take on BigMarker in order to participate in the virtual event. This includes logging in, testing their mics, watching sessions, etc. Include this video in your pre-event promotion. Once they’re confident they can navigate the interface, people will be more likely to register for the virtual experience.
Provide a Seamless Streaming Experience: You’ll be streaming your live experience simultaneously to your online guests, so the quality of your feed will have a huge impact on your virtual guests’ experience. So right away, connect with a video production team to get the proper technical equipment and make a plan to stream content from onsite to virtual. At BigMarker, we love Vision One Agency and E2K.
Plan Your Schedule Strategically: Since they traveled to the event location, in-person attendees are likely to want a packed schedule with longer sessions. But surrounded by real-life distractions and sitting in front of a screen, your virtual attendees will have shorter attention spans. Strike a balance with 45-minute sessions with 15-minute breaks, knowing that many of your sessions will run overtime. Similarly, the more sessions you place in the daily schedule, the more breaks you should include. This gives your virtual attendees (and their eyes) a break.
Leverage Interactive Modules: Whenever possible, provide virtual equivalents to the IRL experience so that you’re fully replicating the live event’s value for the online audience. If your in-person guests are in breakout rooms, create breakout sessions or public chat rooms within your Networking Center on BigMarker for the online crowd.
Facilitate Online-specific Networking Opportunities: Networking is one of the biggest value adds of any professional event, so online event hosts should continue offering networking opportunities for the online crowd. You can create a full virtual Networking Center within your virtual event software for these people, or enable live chat in each session, provide access to the speakers/presenters and encourage group discussion.
Engage Virtual Participation through Gamification: Since they’re not a captive audience, your virtual guests are more likely to pick and choose sessions to attend throughout the day, usually prioritizing the keynote and final session, then skipping mid-day sessions.
Boost their mid-day participation through gamification, a series of challenges in which online attendees earn points for desired engagement behaviors: attending and interacting with agenda sessions, the Networking Center, expo booths and more. They can then use these points to win prize packs, bundles of products and services donated by event sponsors. These challenges are easy to configure on the BigMarker platform and keep your online attendees moving all day while encouraging a bit of friendly competition through gamification and leaderboards.
Include Online-Specific Transitions: At in-person events, MCs usually conclude a session by telling attendees what’s next on the agenda, where it takes place and how to get there. Ensure your online audience stays on the same page by giving them virtual-specific instructions at the same time (how to navigate to the next session, any entry links, etc.) Tell them where on the event microsite the next session will take place and where to hang out in the meantime. On BigMarker, you can guide the attendee journey by immediately pushing attendees to specific areas of your virtual event depending on your goals and event schedule.
How Can I Bring the Magic to My Hybrid Event?
Keep your online guests engaged on event day with these best practices from Accel Events.
Enable interactive features: If your online guests can’t be in the crowd, at least treat them as if they are. Assign someone to produce the online portion of your event to answer guest questions, distribute offers and handouts and moderate in place of the live presenter throughout each session. This person should be in lock step with your in-person event producer to ensure your run of show is consistent experientially.
Proactively engage the virtual audience: The easiest way to make your online guests feel seen? Acknowledge that they’re actually there. Encourage each of your presenters to address the virtual attendees at the beginning of sessions, and have your co-host filter questions from virtual attendees to the presenter to answer for the whole crowd. Your online guests are more likely to stick around if they know they can shape the discussion—and that they’re as visible as the live attendees.
Minimize dead time: From running in the previous session to technical glitches, many event sessions end up a few minutes behind. In an IRL event, guests see what’s happening in real-time and know when the next session will begin, so minor delays have minimal impact on their experience. Not so for your virtual audience.
Since they’re watching from home, your online guests are more likely than the IRL attendees to log in specifically to watch certain sessions at a certain time. If the session hasn’t begun at the scheduled time, and there’s no clear explanation, your virtual audience could get confused and log off.We recommend using social media or push notifications to notify guests about delays and session start times to keep them updated.
Within sessions, you can also have holding slides and videos ready for pre- and post- session engagement while you may need to work through any technical issues. As Gucci Mane says, “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.”
Usually, presenters at hybrid events speak live on stage as usual, with their session playing simultaneously on the virtual event software. But even if they’re not using the virtual event platform, they should proactively engage with the hybrid audience. Some pointers are below:
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, 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.
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:
Offer 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.
Want to learn more about how the world's most innovative companies are using virtual events to drive business results? BigMarker's Account Executives are here to help. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
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