August 4, 2021

Hybrid events: the dos and don’ts

Ian Cummings, Global VP, Commercial CWT Meetings and Events, shares his top tips for organising hybrid events

Hybrid events have been around for a quite a while, but the pandemic has truly accelerated the necessity for corporates to consider all virtual and hybrid meeting options. Although we may see a decrease in pure virtual events, it is likely that hybrid events are here to stay, so corporate travel managers should consider including hybrid events within their meetings and events programme as part of the marketing mix spend. Another driving force is that events will likely come back on a more local, less travel and reduced attendee basis, with hybrid events providing the opportunity to reach a much wider audience in a more cost-effective way. Here are some key dos and don’ts for organising a successful hybrid event.

Do

  • Start planning early. You need to give the agency and yourselves plenty of time to create the perfect event for the budget available and ensuring maximum audience impact. The recommendation would be anywhere between two months for a small-scale event through to six months for something more ambitious and sizeable.
  • Set a proper budget. Don’t assume a hybrid event is always a cheaper option. It’s a cost effective one, as it hits a wider audience with less air travel and hotel room nights, but your agency is, in effect, planning two events in parallel – the physical attendee event and the virtual attendee event.
  • Focus on attendee engagement. It is vital to consider both attendee audiences. Make a plan on how to include the virtual attendees and have them fully engaged. A common mistake is to focus on the live attendees and think the virtual attendees will just watch in. This will result in quickly losing the attention of the virtual attendees. According to Markletic, 71.1% of event organisers say that connecting the in-person and virtual audience is their biggest challenge. You could include tools like polling or gamification to keep your virtual attendees interactively involved. There are many ways to address attendee engagement, but always remember: content remains king.
  • Test the technology. The tech set-up and platform are fundamental to your event success. Not all set-ups are equal. Platforms behave in many different ways. So consider what tools you would like to integrate into the platform, such as Zoom or Webex Teams, polling tools, gamification tools etc. Does the facility being used have a technical back-up should the power go down? This could have a devastating impact on your whole event, so have a back-up plan in place with both your facility and platform provider.

Don’t

  • Overpack the agenda. Give your virtual attendees time to get familiar with the platform, to connect with others in dedicated rooms and take regular breaks. Sitting in front of a screen – at home, all day – can be very tiring and easily results in a loss of concentration. The average virtual attendee watches 68% of a virtual session that is 20 minutes or longer (Bizzabo). Your live attendees on the other hand will appreciate the opportunity to connect and network, something they certainly will have missed in recent months.
  • Forget about the time zones. When we meet face to face we usually arrive the day before, get settled and are ready to start at 9am the next morning. This is different in the virtual world, so plan very carefully and be considerate of time zones. Global meetings can be a real challenge, where you only have a four-hour window to serve US (early) and APAC (late). So you might want to consider regional hubs to address this.
  • Think that regular event planners are experts in Hybrid. Don’t underestimate the fact that the organisation of hybrid events differs from a ‘pure live’ event. Either have your team members trained up on hybrid event delivery from external professional courses or engage a professional event agency that can support your internal planners. There are so many potential pitfalls within the planning process, so try to avoid your first event being a learning exercise that fails on several aspects. Get your first hybrid event right or your reputation might remain damaged for a long time.