When will things get back to normal? That’s a question we’re all too familiar with these days. When can I see my friends? When can I go on vacation? When can we gather together in large groups? As more and more people get vaccinated, we are in this awkward middle space where there’s a shining light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not quite there yet.
“When can we go back to normal?” has been a huge question looming over the event industry ever since pandemic restrictions went into effect in early 2020. The past year has been full of cancellations, postponements, and mad dashes to convert everything to virtual. While restrictions are lightening, some of this summer’s biggest events like WWDC and E3 have already announced that they will be completely virtual. But the question remains: when are we going back to normal?
We aren’t going back to normal.
The Not-Entirely-New New Way Forward
I’m not saying that events won’t start looking more like they used to. We will be able to once again safely gather by the thousands in big halls, attend exciting presentations sitting next to each other, and then even meet afterwards in a hotel bar (thank goodness). I miss all these things, and I am eager for the next time we have to book a hotel near a convention center. I know I’m not the only one. There is going to be a palpable demand for in-person events once it is safe. But even when the pandemic becomes a thing of the past, planning your event like it’s 2019 and going solely traditional might be a mistake.
This last year has been extremely hard, but it’s opened all of our eyes to the benefits of virtual events. By going virtual, events can reach more people, offer more flexibility, and have the ability to create and leverage content in ways that were not always feasible with traditional events. Due to necessity, there’s now a much larger audience for virtual events than ever before, and the tools to run a virtual event have never been better. Going virtual is a way to increase an event’s ROI both monetarily and in terms of influence, so why would events want to give that up?
You can get the best of both worlds by running a hybrid event that allows both in-person and virtual attendees.
This might sound cutting edge, but hybrid events have existed in some form for a while now. Before going virtual due to the pandemic, tickets for Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) were so in demand that they had to resort to a ticket lottery system. Apple has live-streamed their keynote and made sure that all sessions were available online for several years, which helped developers not lucky enough to score a ticket to stay up to date on the latest with Apple’s hardware and software. For well over a decade, the biggest companies at E3 have streamed their press conferences, which is a pretty stuffy name for the slick stage shows that hype up their biggest fans around the world. And as the Trade Show News Network points out, sports might have been the original hybrid event. Watching the Falcons on TV at home or in a sports bar is a different experience than going to a game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and it even has some benefits like not needing to wait an hour to get out of the parking lot and drastically cheaper nachos. The simultaneous popularity of attending a sporting event or watching on TV shows that the fanbase gets value out of both experiences existing simultaneously.
Going hybrid can help your event create that type of dual-value for your audience. But there’s more to consider than just recording your event’s sessions and posting them online. Here’s how to make sure you create a hybrid event that serves both your in-person and online attendees.
What to Consider When Planning a Hybrid Event
1) The Decision to Go Hybrid
While going hybrid has many benefits that I’ve listed above, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. If your event targets a small regional niche such as a trade group from one state, then it might make sense to focus your resources on an in-person event. Likewise, if your audience is spread out around the world and there isn’t enough demand for them to travel to fill out a convention hall, then going solely virtual is the right decision. But if you have an established in-person event that consistently sells out, you might be able to drastically increase attendance by adding a virtual component. Likewise, maybe your online-based community is densely populated enough in one region that adding an in-person base would take your event to the next level.
It’s about what serves your audience and your brand’s goals best.
2) Make Both Your Priority
The best way to run a successful hybrid event is to make sure that neither component is an afterthought. Don’t just stick a webcam in front of your stage and call it a day. That would be like only sticking a bunch of folding chairs in a room and thinking your in-person was ready. Put as much thought into the production of your online broadcast as you would the layout of your event space. Ask yourself: if someone were to attend your event in person one day and then virtually the next, would they get a similar amount of value out of each day? The answer should easily be yes.
Remember: your online streams can become a marketing goldmine by using a content strategy like The GaryVee Content Model. Basically, you can take a large piece of content, like an hour-long stream of a session, and use it to create several smaller pieces of content like blog posts, social posts, a podcast, and more. Not only will a well-produced event make your attendees feel like they are getting value, but it will be easier to leverage your keynotes and sessions into other effective forms of content if they are something you would be proud to share.
3) Create a Cohesive Experience Through Design
From the website where people sign up to the closing session, every aspect of the event should be reinforcing your brand. One way to achieve this is to make sure all of the graphical elements are cohesive. We approach designing events in a similar way that we would design a network package: creating elements that holistically reinforce the brand identity while creating flexibility so that the branding scales, from the tiniest elements to the largest. So whether it’s a still graphic for social media or a complex animation displayed on a 100-foot screen at the keynote, everything works together to strengthen the branding of the event.
Whether it’s title screens, banners, standees, lower thirds, or badges, design every element with a singular vision. Once again, if someone were to attend your event in person one day and then virtually the next, would their experience look wildly different?
4) Leverage the Differences
While the in-person and online elements of a hybrid event should be equally important and feel cohesive, the experiences are going to be inherently different. Use these differences to your advantage. Picking up on the sports metaphor, the TV broadcast uses announcers and graphics to enrich the home-viewing experience in ways that can’t be done in the arena, while the arena can utilize spectacles like a massive jumbotron or fighter jet flyovers to reward fans in attendance. Make sure the virtual aspect of your event utilizes the flexibility and interactivity of an online platform. You can integrate polls, games, or live-chats into the online broadcasts of your sessions. For your in-person component, utilize elements like large-format screens in your presentations, after-hours mixers or parties at a nearby landmark, or unique experiences that can only be achieved by having people in the same room.
Need ideas for designing your hybrid event and creating a seamless experience? Feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you.