Going hybrid is an experiential process. You try, try and try again until you find the formula for that perfect in-person-virtual concoction. In Smart Meetings’ webinar, “Hybrid How-To: A Step-by-Step Guide to Hosting a Successful Hybrid Event,” Alyssa Peltier, senior event marketing manager for Cvent, shared strategies to get us there with fewer hiccups.
Peltier discussed what makes a hybrid event different, how you can tackle some of those unique differences and some of the capabilities you might need to start exploring to execute a successful hybrid.
Attendees will be in multiple locations, and with that, the way they consume content is going to be different.
“Content can certainly be consumed at the same time, but the experience for each of those audience sets is going to need to be optimized for both,” Peltier says.
Virtual attendees are not going to sit through long sessions; they’re going to want more bite-sized content with more dynamic production created for their screen viewership. “Think sports broadcast or late-night talk show. That’s really what you’re aiming for with the virtual audience.” Peltier says.
See also: 4 Shortcuts to Keep Your Audience from Zoning Out
The traditional hybrid model—Peltier calls it Hybrid 1.0—takes a more limited content approach. You take “a sampling of general sessions from the in-person event, the ‘event nucleus’ (a Peltier coining) and then livestream that out to a virtual audience. This was usually done on Facebook Live, YouTube or Instagram Live,” she says.
Before much attention was paid to online viewers, they were treated simply as viewers—not as real attendees in need of as much as engagement the live audience. But then everyone became an online viewer. “Given the disruption we’ve seen in the space over the past year by way of the pandemic, we have seen the emergence of this Hybrid Two model,” Peltier says. “One event with two experiences for in-person and online attendees with inter-two-way connectivity.”
She continues, “This new hybrid model is really fostering a much deeper engagement set between both of those audiences, by way of more evolved event technology and online event platforms. Both of these experiences are done purposefully and neither one takes more or less of a priority.”
“The decision to host a hybrid event comes with some very obvious benefits,” Peltier says. No. 1 is its exponential reach, or what she calls the hybrid multiplier effect. “By going hybrid, one of our customers could see anywhere from three to 10 times the number of in-person-only events,” Peltier reports.
Using data from customers and internal data from her company, Peltier compared attendance from an in-person-only event in 2019 to the same one that went virtual in 2020. She then extrapolated what’s possible when combining the benefits of both to achieve maximum impact.
Peltier went on to explain exactly what attendance numbers can mean for ROI in a real-life scenario. “As we track conversion, we start to acknowledge those who participate [in person] are going to prove more business value at a higher rate than those that elect a virtual experience because of varying levels of engagement,” she says. “We know that the virtual audience is just much more likely to be lesser engaged and therefore convert at a lower rate.”
So now you reach an exponentially larger audience, and even at those lower conversion rates it helps you deliver more of revenue and business value. But all that sweet ROI comes with effort. “Hybrid events present their own set of challenges,” Peltier says.
First is the execution challenge. “We’re talking about the management of logistics, resources, budgeting across the in person, and the virtual life cycle. I think one of the most common questions that we get often is about staffing needs, so it certainly comes with its own set of complexities,” Peltier says.
Second is the engagement challenge. Delivering engaging experiences across both the in-person and online audience is challenging in and of itself; the challenge lies in bridging and making those connections with such disparate audiences.
And third, the data challenge. “This is a challenge with any type of event program. When you’re now responsible for capturing and activating attendee data across in-person and online audiences, that can be quite complex,” she says.
Great challenges are sometimes met with great solutions; that is the case here. Peltier discusses six foundational pillars that will help you overcome the hurdles. She believes it’s within each of these pillars that you’ll find your keys to success.
First, marketing. “We’re talking about designing a single event agenda with distinct programming offerings. That’s going to start with taking an audience-centric approach to marketing, targeting and, ultimately, delivering the right experience to the right audience,” she says. “Your audiences have different drivers for attending your event. It’s by understanding these drivers that you’ll be able to differentiate the programming offered.”
Second, venue. “Making sure we’re partnering with venues to ensure a safe experience, as well as helping you navigate new production and AV needs that are going to be ever more complex as we go into hybrid,” Peltier says. “Technology is also going to allow you to take an adaptable approach to space planning that can keep up with these constant changes in policy and protocol.”
Third, content. “We all got really good at mastering production values for virtual spaces, but what happens when you add back in that in-person environment? This really will come down to becoming a master of content strategy that emphasizes the production experience,” she says.
Fourth, there is the community pillar, as “attendees come to events to connect with content, and they come to connect with each other. Those are the two priorities for every event experience,” Peltier says. “It’s going to be really important that you’re engaging your in-person and virtual audiences individually and acknowledging where they are in space and time. We’ll also give them this sense of shared experiences.”
Then there are your sponsors and exhibitors. “Certainly, a critical element to any event success, but now that we have a virtual and in-person environment, we need to create more diverse sponsor and exhibitor packages,” she says. “Now that your event is hybrid, your sponsors have the opportunity to get in front of your in-person and virtual attendees with traditional in-person events-sponsored exhibitor packages which were once fairly limited to offline tactics.”
Lastly, insights. “We’re talking about combining in-person and virtual insights to get a fuller picture of impact and ROI. You can start to collect tons of data at every touchpoint in the attendee journey. That data is what really helps you build out the big picture profile of each of your attendees and also gives you a full picture of engagement for the community, she says.”
The Meaning of the Word
Peltier closes out by defining what having a “successful” event means, which she believes begins with having a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve in the first place. “It shouldn’t be a reactive approach. Everything you build towards should harken back to that objective. It starts with knowing your audiences, knowing what they need to get out of it and knowing what you need to get out of it as a business,” she says.
She continues: “Whether that is brand affinity, lead generation, membership growth, or revenue by way of ticket sales, that needs to be established at the start of your event. It’s going to make everything much more clear if you have a strategic vision out of the gate.”