According to our research, hybrid events are here to stay. More than 50% of event organizers plan to host a hybrid event in 2021 and beyond. This is backed up by a recent GBTA study that found 65% of surveyed event organizers want to host more hybrid events this year.
Why are organizers pursuing this event format? Primarily because the benefits are clear.
Hybrid events support inclusivity and sustainability while helping brands and businesses extend their reach, drive revenue, and gather audience insights that would be otherwise unavailable.
But these events are uncharted territory for most event professionals. So we spoke with three event organizers who are no stranger to the world of hybrid events and asked them to share their success stories.
Watch the full recorded panel below or read on to learn the pitfalls they encountered so you can steer clear of them.
Hybrid event pitfall #1: Letting technical difficulties spoil an otherwise seamless experience
Event professionals have stressed about tech difficulties long before virtual events were in the mix.
From crashing laptops to dying camera batteries to spotty Wi-Fi connections –– the event tech landscape is fraught with potential issues.
The bottom line? A little preparation goes a long way.
Follow these steps to avoid technical difficulties at your hybrid events:
- Pick a hybrid event-friendly venue. Consider Wi-Fi connection quality and speed, power sources, and existing on-site audio-visual equipment you can use. Look out for any venue staff union requirements that could push the cost up. Kalah Haley, founder of Saint Rock Media, recommends taking stock of the infrastructure requirements you have, then determining which pieces of that puzzle already exist onsite.
- Do a comprehensive site check and a technical run-through. Make sure your equipment is in full working order, your sound levels are even, and the infrastructure needed to support high-quality live and pre-recorded video (as well as moving between the two) is in place.
- Shadow other hybrid events before putting on your own show. That way you can get ideas, see the hybrid experience up close, understand what’s required from a technical standpoint, and sort through your need-to-haves and nice-to-haves early in the planning process.
- Make sure your internet connection is strong. Haley’s company has produced more than 120 hybrid events for clients. She suggests having a hardline connection for the actual broadcast to avoid latency and other internet-related issues.
- Send media kits to speakers and presenters. The kit should contain tech equipment to ensure they have ideal video, audio, and lighting. If you’re unable to send media kits, provide them with set-up guidelines as a baseline. This will help ensure your recorded event content is high quality.
- Don’t overcomplicate things. Keep your budget in mind and pay for the expertise of the people needed to manage the equipment you’ll have onsite. “You don’t have to stream every single session from every single room,” says Haley. Prioritize the attendee experience and lock down the core elements first. You can always get more creative in subsequent hybrid events.
At the end of the day, try to accept that even with solid preparation, there are likely to be some technical snags.
“People understand that there’s going to be glitches –– that the quality’s not going to be 100% –– because this is a live production,” says Michele Vilseck, an event marketer for the National Health Association.
Hybrid event pitfall #2: Assuming your in-person event will translate into a virtual one
Let’s call a spade a spade: A virtual event and an IRL event are two different experiences –– both awesome, but definitely different.
Straight plugging-and-playing of on-site elements to virtual, and vice versa, won’t do the mediums justice, nor will it give your hybrid event attendees the experience they’re looking for.
Brandy Avery, co-founder of Keys to Black Wealth, suggests putting together one team to focus on planning and operations for the virtual component and a second team to build out and manage the in-person experience –– with separate run-of-shows for each.
Beyond establishing two separate event teams, here are a few more ways to make sure your in-person and virtual experiences come together:
- Staff hybrid events with one virtual host and one on-site host. Haley calls the online host a “virtual advocate” –– someone who can keep the virtual attendee experience top of mind.
- Assign a chat manager for the virtual venue. Vilseck has acted as the virtual chat manager for a hybrid event, feeding questions from the virtual audience into in-person question-and-answer segments.
- Look for crossover moments that will elevate the experience. Backstage tours in between sessions, an always-on live video stream positioned on the studio audience, virtual and physical swag bags, and networking opportunities between and among virtual and in-person attendees can all help produce a connected hybrid experience, while still paying respect to the different mediums.
Hybrid event pitfall #3: Dropping the ball on health and safety measures for in-person guests
In-person attendee safety is top-of-mind for event organizers. While requirements can vary by location (and local or national guidelines might dictate some of your restrictions up front), decide on the approach that’s appropriate for your event, then find out what measures are already in place at your physical venue.
Staff at your chosen venue might be able to help you pull together elements of the health and safety infrastructure, such as:
- Multi-day venue cleaning and sanitation schedules
- Rapid-testing stations at venue entrances
- Visitor flow and navigation
- Seating arrangements that allow for social distancing
Haley always has a certified chief COVID compliance officer onsite.
“It ultimately comes down to the attendees feeling comfortable and confident attending the event in person,” she says.
Ultimately, if attendees don’t feel comfortable gathering at your in-person event or they can’t travel to the on-site location for any reason, they can still attend virtually.
Hybrid event pitfall #4: Failing to set virtual event sponsors and exhibitors up for success
Virtual expos and digital sponsorship booths are still relatively new, so proactively communicating with your event sponsors about format, logistics, and the tech they’ll be using should be a priority.
Plan to train your sponsors to properly use virtual booth technology and provide them with an overview on in-person sponsorship set-ups.
Vilseck suggests recording a video tutorial you can send to your sponsors ahead of the event so they know how to prepare and get the most out of their sponsorship –– whether they have a virtual booth, physical set-up, or both.
“Just being mindful that maybe those people who you’re bringing into the event, they don’t know anything about the technology, they haven’t done Hopin before,” she says.
Having a contact available who can support sponsors ahead of the event and in real time with technical troubleshooting, as well as answer any questions they have can also be helpful in delivering a high-quality experience.
Make your next hybrid event your best yet
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when hosting a quality hybrid event. But Avery advises organizers not to let pressure take over.
“Do what you do and focus on being great in your own space,” she says.
Haley's biggest piece of advice? Start planning earlier.
“I would just say double your timeline of whatever you were originally thinking,” she says. “Use a good chunk of your timeline just to get educated.”
Haley recommends working with a four-to-six-month timeframe for medium-to-large events if you can. A more flexible timeline ensures your next hybrid event checks all the right boxes listed in our Hybrid Event Playbook. Don't go hybrid without it!