The most common reaction to what a hybrid event is to stream in-person events live. This, however, fails to explain how hybrid events help brands build experiences that impress and engage. Watching a stream is an excellent way to distribute content and should not be underestimated, but it's 2021 and we need to think bigger.
An essential concept to understand about hybrid is that it is a digital format not an event format.
Most brands have an ultimate desire to scale. Scale in their influence and their brand. The more people that know and love your brand the more valuable your brand is. However, scale at the cost of engagement is counter intuitive and is the primary concern of those that see virtual events as inferior to in-person events. Most event managers will tell you that nothing beats in-person meetings. The hand shakes that cement a major deal or a conversation in the coffee line that influences someone's career in a profound way just can not be replicated in a virtual world. While we don't disagree with this sentiment, it tells only half of the story.
There are now many people and teams who value their in-person interactions, but not necessarily as they were in the pre-COVID era. Digital workers are opting for limited day-to-day interactions at the office, but they are still interested in meeting colleagues a few times a month on their own terms. This behavior will be very hard to reverse and enough people will need to control their commitment to in person gatherings that scale at any event will be impacted. The world is no longer about being forced to show-up, but it is more about creating engagements in ways that make the most sense to people.
3 major aspects that need to be nailed down prior to thinking through a hybrid event are:
- Use virtual programming as a lead to your in-person events. There is no reason for a singular event to be all in-person or all virtual. A true hybrid event offers both options across a longer time period and provides the attendee flexibility. Ideally, you want to start your events with a virtual component and offer in person interaction as a gateway to further qualify and engage your prospects.
- Open up engagement between those attending in person and those attending virtually. People need to be able to contact each other and start a conversation, via text, call or video, regardless of where they are.
- Stream only high value presentations and talks. If the content would have standing room only attendance in person, then it should probably be streamed.
Use virtual programming as a lead to your in person events
There are a few types of in-person events that are difficult to replicate in the virtual world. A few examples include a happy hour, dinners, etc. These interactive events are key to building lasting relationships. They are also a great incentive to those that are truly engaged with your brand to further engage with you. You do not need to have your entire event in-person. You can save these specific high value engagements to be the carrot at the end of the stick. Using virtual programming as a lead to an in-person event will allow you to broaden the top of your funnel to get the highest number of people to engage with your brand. Those that do engage with you during these events will be highly qualified and will likely see the highest value from attending the in-person experience. The goal here will be to determine which parts of your programming are better suited for in-person (smaller scale, higher touch) and which are better structured for virtual (lower touch, higher scale).
Open up engagement between those attending in person and those attending virtually
It should be very clear for all attendees who are attending in person and who are attending virtually. The event is happening for both types of registrants and making everyone feel as a part of one tribe is the most critical aspect of any experience. You should allow each type of registrant to be able to find, connect and chat with each other.
Those that simply cannot attend in person due to cost, distance, health, etc, will add a level of scale of reach for your in-person participants. The value in the two connecting and building relationships will allow for a truly hybrid experience that can happen serendipitously.
Stream only high value presentations and talks
Streaming experiences have been around for decades. They work! If done effectively, streaming will provide you a great opportunity to continue engagement live and long after the event ends We are already seeing the rise of the smart tech enabled conference centers. These physical spaces are already decked out with streaming capabilities so event organizers stream their live sessions. These are a great way to provide in person interactions that make sense to scale.
Teams that are now thinking of incorporating both the benefits of in-person events and virtual events into their core engagement strategy will find a way to truly scale their brands impact. The fundamentals of what people are looking for have changed. If we are able to meet people where they are and on their own terms, then we will be able to be the owners of our success.
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