Combining virtual and in-person events is more than a trend – it's the new normal. Here's what you need to know about hybrid event planning.
You've probably heard this before – 2020 changed a lot about our digital lives.
While all our movie-going, office sitting, conference planning, in-person-ness was put on hard pause, the digital world saw an explosion in virtual connections.
How did that impact the events industry?
Well, for starters, around 70% of planned, in-person meetings were switched from physical to virtual and hybrid events. That’s a big shift, and it looks like it’s here to stay.
Don’t worry, though. The shift to hybrid event planning is actually a great opportunity.
Where webinars, online conferences and virtual events have served specific purposes because of flexibility and safety, in-person and live experiences engage people a little differently — at least in person, you can be 100% confident everyone is wearing pants!
When designed and executed well, both types of events rock. Putting them together? We think that’s a no-brainer.
The real world has always been a hybrid of digital and in-person experiences, so if you’ve ever thought of planning a hybrid event yourself, we’re here to help you get rolling.
In this guide, you will learn the basics of hybrid event planning — the core concept behind hybrid events, the main types of events you can plan, key elements of successful hybrid events, some world-class examples and even a few resources to help you start.
- What is a Hybrid Event?
- Why go Hybrid?
- Types of Events
- Core Elements of Successful Events
What is a hybrid event?
A hybrid event is any seminar, conference, trade show or workshop that combines in-person activities with a virtual or remote component. The virtual/remote dimensions are often interactive, and they make it possible for people to participate in or draw value from local-bound activities from anywhere.
Odds are, you may have already attended some type of hybrid event without knowing it! The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are a great example.
Imagine the excitement of that in-person experience, watching the world’s greatest athletes flying through the air over a gym mat or swimming laps around international competition — shoutout to all of our Minnesota Olympic medal winners!
Even though we’re all thousands of miles away, Americans could still share the experience of Tokyo 2020 on Olympics.com.
Online, creating an Olympic ID unlocks live updates on favorite athletes, games to win prizes in the Fan Zone and even a fantasy league. Millions of people were able to root for swimmers, gymnasts, soccer players and more as if they were right in the middle of a massive, global event happening oceans apart.
Are you inspired yet?!
Your hybrid event may not have the significance of Olympic Games — not yet anyways. But, events like this demonstrate what’s possible when organizations take the time to consider the larger audience that can’t appear in the stands.
In fact, in the case of the Olympics, the virtual audience across the globe is what these events are all about. Their experience — the remote audience — really really matters.
More than a cool event add-on or a “nice to have” feature, a hybrid event is how you will create an experience that appeals to a wider audience and make your attendees feel part of something incredible.
Why Go Hybrid?
Hybrid isn’t just a trend — it’s how the real world works. Your event marketing should take inventory of both digital and in-person engagement opportunities.
Conference attendees bring work on their laptops while a speaker presents; webinar registrants are sipping on their favorite morning brew in a Starbucks-branded paper cup; all of them are taking breaks to glance at phones.
Hybrid events offer a “best of both worlds” solution that synchronizes virtual and physical platforms. That translates into real numbers:
- You’re expanding how many people you can reach.
- You’re maximizing the number of interactions before, during and after your event.
Most importantly, the virtual component of hybrid events can keep attendees safe — either by reducing physical contact or streamlining the process to go 100% virtual when needed because the bulk of the planning is already complete.
For example, virtual check-ins eliminate cramped lines at the start of a conference, and a meet-n-greet hosted on a digital forum can take the place of crowded networking sessions.
Whether the goal is expanded reach or safety, a hybrid event expands what’s possible and empowers event planners to solve problems creatively.
Types of Hybrid Events
Most any event type can use hybrid components — from sports and entertainment to education and conferences. These are some of the most common types of hybrid events and how you might take advantage of their virtual and in-person components.
Conventions and Conferences. There are tens of thousands of conventions and conferences in the U.S. every year. Influencers and experts meet to share concepts and promote their brands in a marketplace of ideas.
Attending an industry conference is usually exciting and inspirational for professionals of any experience level.
To transform a conference into a hybrid experience, event planners look for digital content creation opportunities that can be accessed from any screen. Digital content lives in one of two places — either in a feed or library:
- A digital content feed includes live updates and announcements — i.e. a push notification that notifies you a keynote speaker will be taking the conference stage soon, a mid-day email survey for attendees to provide feedback or a social media story with photos from a live workshop.
- Digital content libraries store event recordings and assets for on-demand access from anywhere at any time. Videos, audio recordings, images and more are stored in a single repository for streaming or download.
Whether in a single database or distributed live, the core themes of these hybrid events are broadcasting information and accessibility. All content should be accessible to your whole audience from anywhere on digital channels.
Summits. Unlike a conference, summits are exclusive for higher-level business leaders to make critical decisions, create collaborative industry plans and get work done.
Adding a hybrid element to an exclusive, work-centric event like this may be more nuanced than distributing recorded or live content. Oftentimes, the contents of these events are confidential and aren’t designed to be shared.
Hybrid elements for this type of event focuses on making virtual connections and communication enablement. Small-scale summits will use tech like invite-only Microsoft Teams and Slack groups, AI notetakers like Otter.ai or video conferencing tools like Zoom or Google Meet can help leaders connect and build towards a common goal.
Looking to host a bigger summit?
Broadcast-level is the way to go! Vimeo and YouTube Live are simple platforms that can bring in a larger audience.
Product Announcements. Do you remember when the iPhone was released in 2007?
Aside from the incredible hype in tech-enthusiast circles prior to the product launch event, most of the world was introduced to this game-changing gadget after the exclusive Macworld convention through news outlet recaps and advertising campaigns.
The number of attendees at Macworld? Around 45,000.
Fast forward to 2019: Apple made the decision to live-stream the iPhone’s product launch globally. The live stream attracted over 2 million people that year, making virtual attendance 99% of the event audience.
Product launches are a perfect occasion for hybrid event planning, especially live streams. Not only is this an engaging way to bring a product to market, but it also expands the reach of product announcements quite a bit — a difference of millions in Apple’s case.
Galas and Expos. Galas and expos are special events and celebrations that bring people together to honor the accomplishments and innovations of some really cool people.
Hybrid components for these events will focus heavily on adding a “fun factor,” incorporating digital auctions, gamification and interactive features into the scheduled programming.
The biggest benefit of going virtual for your gala? Data! You can track who attended, what booths were most engaging and more.
Plus, while it may not be ideal, guests, speakers and honorees who may not otherwise be able to attend can join in virtually to accept awards or make appearances.
In a world where in-person gatherings may likely encounter unpredictable interruptions, hybrid event planning ensures the show will go on.
Core elements of successful hybrid events
So, how do you make your hybrid-platform conventions, conferences, summits and product announcements a reality? A range of elements work together to make it happen.
Pre-Event Networking. It’s the event before the event! Many attendees arrive to your events early or have blocked out a part of their day to tune in virtually. It’s important to keep them entertained and engaged until the main activities start!
Hybrid events incorporate pre-event networking activities that anyone can participate in. Social media photo contests with an exclusive hashtag or even a quick Zoom-meeting icebreaker are easy to implement and leave a strong, positive first impression.
Event Website / Platform. It’s 2021 — there’s an app for everything, including event management. Some of the most popular event management apps include:
Each of these are designed to create and facilitate hybrid event features like the content feeds and libraries mentioned above.
What platform you use will depend on your situation and budget. It helps to have an expert at the helm to guide this type of technology choice. At Heroic, we guide event planners, like yourself, through the experience of testing all these platforms to find the perfect fit for their situation and budget.
Starting to look for an event management platform on your own?
Keep in mind that the best all-in-one solution to event websites, registrations, ticketing, agendas and even speakers will include in-depth data analytics to help you measure the success of an event.
Event Registration. Whether you’re using a centralized event management platform or handling each part of your hybrid event with separate tools, streamlining event registration is perhaps the single most important dimension of a hybrid event.
How do you streamline your event registration?
Short and simple is always the best approach. Draft clear, concise descriptions of what a ticket includes, edit down your registration forms to collect less information up front and ensure your check-in process can be completed in less than one minute.
Venue. One of the first tasks for any new event is securing the right venue. It is the most important piece of any event. In most cases, the other details can’t even be arranged until the venue has been decided.
Scouting multiple locations is key for choosing the right one, adding to the importance of starting early. Capacity and minimums, services and amenities are the four basics you should check first.
Oh, and don’t forget about WiFi!
Internet connection powers the virtual side of your events. Some venues, like hotels, have hefty fees for wireless internet access, so be sure to ask about pricing up front.
Virtual Networking. Virtual networking is more than encouraging attendees to follow each other on LinkedIn and Twitter! Event websites can help facilitate conversations through forum and chat features, but most importantly, participation from speakers and facilitators across all your networking platforms helps attendees get connected and stay connected.
Digital Audience Interaction. A good keynote speaker makes you forget to check your phone. A great keynote speaker keeps audiences engaged by integrating their devices into the presentation.
What does that look like?
This element should be unique to each speaker or performer, but instant polls and Q&A are a popular choice that add the audience’s voice into presentations.
Professional Broadcast Production. If the in-person component of your event is held in a room that requires amplification and/or illumination, you already know you’re going to need an AV partner or producer.
Successful hybrid events incorporate high-quality sound and HD visuals into every dimension — from a high-fidelity live experience to crisp, well-executed digital recordings.
Examples of hybrid events
Apple Events. While Apple didn't start live streaming its annual iPhone reveal on YouTube until 2019, the iconic computer designer and manufacturer has been incorporating exclusive digital experiences into Apple Special Events for over a decade.
Minute-by-minute event feeds, interactive product tours and seamless pre-orders just touch the surface of what has become the pinnacle of well-executed hybrid event planning and production.
INBOUND. HubSpot is one of the most popular marketing technology platforms in the world, and each year, they invite marketers from around the globe to INBOUND — a conference designed to help marketers get inspired.
As one of the earliest promoters of the term “content marketing,” it’s no surprise that every speaker session at this conference is recorded and repurposed for digital marketing. More than a series of speakers, INBOUND is also an extremely entertaining and fun experience with its own app and opportunities to earn digital badges.
The Super Bowl. Televised sports are the original live-streaming experience, and the Super Bowl is one of the largest televised sports events in the world.
Beyond the live broadcast, this larger-than-life game has endless apps, exclusive content and digital engagement happening around it every year. Just search the keyword “NFL” in the App Store or Play store, and you’re met with dozens of network apps, spin-off games, fan communities and more.
If you’re looking for a place to get inspired for your next event, keep an eye on the NFL’s digital activity year round.
Christmas in Christ Chapel, at Gustavus Adolphus College. This annual event has been a campus and local community tradition in St. Peter, MN since 1973. Hundreds of performers take the stage each year, and concerts sell out regularly.
Starting in 2018, Heroic Productions began live-streaming the concert for community and alumni audiences to enjoy from anywhere in the world. In addition to a 2019 Telly Award, Heroic has also garnered a Hermes Creative Award 3 years in the running, for its production of the multi-camera live stream broadcast.
Hybrid event resources
- MeetingPulse: Event tools for Q&A, moderation, polls, surveys, raffles, and more.
- Wrike: Event planning templates for event coordination, management and scheduling.
- SpotMe: All-inclusive hybrid event platform for B2B events.
- Live Stream Solutions Overview: Guide for when to use a live stream partner and the questions they might ask you to determine the proper investment and solution.
- The Ultimate Event Venue Checklist: The checklist includes sections on general venue information; room size; stage considerations; power types and locations; rigging Information; loading dock questions.