The Future of Events: Going Hybrid
The road to recovery for live events hasn’t been without its challenges. A lot of the time, the reopening of live events has been a moving target. Government guidelines now state that from 17th May 2021, live events and the music industry can plan their return while following social distancing guidelines.
We can certainly see light at the end of the tunnel as restrictions begin to ease and we see events such as the pilot festival in Liverpool happen ahead of the June 21st finish line. However, there will be many organisers who have already decided to take a more digital approach to their events and some who plan to do so for the foreseeable future.
Hybrid events will shape the future of the industry, allowing audiences to engage in smaller groups or even from the comfort of their own homes while still getting an element of the experience expected at a physical event.
What is a hybrid event?
A hybrid event is an event held in a physical location that offers the audience the ability to join physically or virtually.
Hybrid events can come in any form including conferences, training sessions, exhibitions or award ceremonies. They combine live, physical elements with digital and online concepts. For example, a business may hold an in-person conference at their HQ in London and live-stream it to staff in other branches around the country. You can learn more about hybrid events here.
Why hold a hybrid event?
The obvious reason for choosing to host a hybrid event instead of a physical right now is to help with social distancing measures. You can still hold a physical event with a small face-to-face audience while also engaging with a wider audience if needed.
However, there are other benefits that make hybrid events an obvious choice in the long-term.
1. Better engagement
By now, we are all accustomed to attending virtual meetings and webinars – but how much do we actually engage with them?
With the ability to switch off your camera and raid the fridge or answer the never-ending list of emails in your inbox, it’s unsurprising that online events don’t quite get the same level of engagement as their face-to-face counterpart.
Hybrid events create more of a ‘buzz’ than fully online events. With a physical audience, brilliant presentations and a great location, the fear of missing out will start kicking in for your online audience if they don’t fully engage.
Ask your online audience to participate just as much as your physical one. Field questions from them, use voting systems to engage them in the conversations and maybe even have a mixture of physical and online presentations to mix it up.
On another note, if you’re looking to expand your audience reach and exposure, live streaming your hybrid event on a public platform such as Facebook Live or YouTube Live is a great way to increase engagement.
Of course, you can always upload recordings to these channels later but a study by Vimeo Livestream revealed that viewers spend eight times longer engaging with live video (42.8 minutes) than pre-recorded videos (5.1 minutes)!
2. your budget goes further
Hybrid events give your audience the experience and you the engagement you need from a live event while also being a little easier on the purse strings.
For one, you don’t need to worry about booking transport and hotels for attendees coming from further afield. A study found that in 2018 the average event planner spent a whopping 23% of their event budget on hotels alone! Think about how that could affect your events budget.
With a much smaller physical audience you can also afford to hire a smaller venue with less parking. Suddenly the headache of getting 250 people parked and into one building disappears.
Saving that money means you could reinvest in better technology or resources for your attendees – or better yet – save it for the next event!
While each case is different, we have been seeing savings in the range of 25 – 40% of a traditional event budget, dependent of course on the scale and needs of the event.
3. greater flexibility
One of the key reasons hybrid events will shape the future of the events industry is of course, their flexibility.
Removing the need to attend a physical location where delegates need to think about a long commute, where they will park and of course how long it will take to get there means you’ll likely get a better attendance rate.
Equally, allowing attendees to join the event from their own homes opens the doors to those who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend, for example people with children or family commitments.
4. reduce environmental impact
Making your events more sustainable and eco-friendly is increasingly important and with greater flexibility and reduced costs comes a reduced impact on the environment. It’s a win-win-win!
A smaller physical audience with a hybrid approach means your event will have a significantly smaller carbon footprint through:
- Less travel and carbon emissions – transportation accounts for a massive 14% of the world’s emissions, so significantly decreasing those automatically makes your event more environmentally friendly.
- Less single use plastic – with fewer people in physical attendance you can say goodbye to tonnes of single use plastic cups and cutlery.
- Less paper waste – again, a smaller audience means more assets will be shared digitally!
5. enhanced insight
Enhanced insights and data make hybrid events particularly attractive for those looking to measure attendee engagement or events with larger sponsors.
While taking a headcount at a physical event gives you an insight into how many people were present, it doesn’t tell you which content was most stimulating and who took part in which sessions.
The digital element of hybrid events means you can measure all of this. That means you can improve future events by giving your audience more of what they love while also providing valuable data to potential sponsors.
Of course, in order to do all of this you need the right technology. We’ll touch on that in just a second…
How to hold a successful hybrid event
Like all good things, hybrid events don’t appear from thin air. They take planning, organisation and best practice. Let’s talk about UKSV’s best practices for holding a successful hybrid event…
1. Invest in technology
It’s 2020 and every event relies on technology but no more so than a hybrid event. The need to please both a physical and online audience means technology is key in every aspect from streaming software to HD screens and of course, a brilliant internet connection.
If just one of these elements is slightly subpar you run the risk losing your audience all together.
Investing in a great streaming software and engagement tools such as voting and polling systems is also crucial to ensure your online audience engage just as much as your physical audience.
If there’s one part of a hybrid event you absolutely can’t scrimp on it’s technology.
2. Create one event with two experiences
Hybrid events balance the tightrope between online and physical events – and this should be acknowledged. All too often we see event planners try to give their online and virtual audiences exactly the same experience.
While both should feel like they’re attending the same event, their experience will of course be different. And that’s okay!
Ensure your online audience can see, hear and participate as much as your physical audience but lean on technology and engagement tools to do this.
For example, your physical audience might be able to raise their hand and ask a question and you can achieve that for your virtual audience too by using live chat functions or by using a live Twitter stream.
Equally, your virtual audience will have a brilliant view of the speakers and presentations at all times, so make sure you achieve the same for your physical audience.
3. Optimise your content
Using the same content you would use for your live event for a hybrid one is a big mistake. Remember, you now have two audiences and the likelihood is, your digital audience is larger.
The 90-minute presentation you might have planned for your physical event won’t work with a hybrid audience.
Make sessions short, succinct and offer plenty of opportunities to engage. A typical presentation might only invite participation from the audience at the end. With a hybrid event you can offer opportunities for your audience to vote in agreement with presentations or participate in a conversation over Twitter.
Review your existing content and ask yourself if you would be engaged watching this from home? If the answer is no, it probably needs changing before it’s exposed to your audience.
4. Get the right support
Hybrid events are a complicated beast and have a lot of potential to go wrong. They also have the potential for you to have your cake and eat it too!
Choosing the right support to achieve the event you’re aiming for is crucial. Any good events partner will support you with technology, creating brilliant content and making your event a memorable experience for your physical and online audiences.
UKSV has extensive experience in the virtual, hybrid and physical event space. Our team of event specialists can help support you with everything from choosing a streaming software that works for you to planning and creating presentations that leave your audience wanting more.
Hybrid events aren’t a new concept, but with the rise in event professionals looking for alternatives to fully physical events post lock down, we predict they will shape the future of the events industry.
That said, there will always be the demand for physical events. Hybrid events will never cannibalise the experience you can achieve at a face to face event completely, but they will certainly complement it.