Are you Digitally Prepared? Tips on How to Prepare for Hybrid Events
We are all aware that in-person meetings, trade shows, conferences, and most events continue to be canceled or postponed for the beginning of 2021. Unfortunately, none of us know exactly when events and travel will be back to “normal,” but with the help of vaccines, it does seem that the return is within our sight. What has evolved during this past year is the need to be prepared digitally. And what lies ahead of us is a different type of event – hybrid events. The events industry strongly agrees that the need to combine both in-person and virtual experiences will be a crucial and long-lasting event strategy going forward.
With this in mind, planning for 2021 events and customer meetings remains a must, whether they end up being virtual events, face-to-face, or a blend of the two. So, what do you do?
What is a hybrid event?
A hybrid event is a combination of both in-person and virtual settings of your trade show or event. Participating in a hybrid event allows exhibitors to meet face-to-face with attendees while also engaging with prospects online via a live streaming, interactive webinar, or other virtual platforms. Many companies are maintaining travel restrictions due to safety concerns, which leaves the digital experience as the only viable option for participants. Globally, virtual events were already gaining popularity prior to the pandemic. Therefore, it is safe to say that adding hybrid events and virtual offerings to your event strategy is here to stay!
Realize that this is a new way of meeting, making deals, and getting business done.
The upside to virtual is its flexibility. It can be live, recorded, provides an opportunity for follow-up engagements, and can extend far beyond the fixed dates of a live event. Take advantage of this chance and use digital offerings to continue to engage and speak to your virtual audience. Attendees want more than just keynotes and sessions. They also need this time to meet with experts, to schedule demonstrations, and to make decisions on how they will achieve their objectives.
Realize that this gives you the opportunity to broaden your audience.
Since October 2020, 95 percent of B2B enterprises have adopted some form of virtual events. The event industry has been pleased to report two to five times the number of attendees compared to in-person user conferences. Having the proper virtual platform and ease of accessibility is as important as ever. Virtual showrooms, virtual training facilities, facility tours, etc. may all be incredible interactive tools to support your audience engagement on and off the show floor.
Understand that it is one event with two experiences.
Content is going to be delivered differently for a hybrid event. You must engage with remote attendees while also connecting with in-person participants. Ensuring that your content is engaging and consistent to both audiences will be crucial to your hybrid event’s success. It will be important to have activities planned for both virtual and in-person attendees; however, isolating the groups from one another will most likely create too much division within your overall messaging. Maintaining a balance between audiences will be an important objective for any hybrid event.
Try live interaction!
We just determined that this was one event, but there are two separate experiences happening. It is much harder to keep your remote attendees engaged. Try a studio setting of Questions + Answers and or live polling. This not only keeps the attention of your audience, but it provides you the opportunity to gather some useful insight from them in real-time. These sessions can be live-streamed within your trade show exhibit, as well, so that you are working to keep your messaging the same between the two experiences.
Think outside of the box!
Attendee engagement is by far the most important element when executing virtual events, yet most would say this is also one of the most challenging goals to accomplish. Do not forget that audience fatigue is a real issue for remote attendees and it should be considered during your planning. Keynote speakers and educational sessions are vitally important, but what are you doing to set yourself apart from your competitors’ events? What will your online audience remember about your hybrid event? Bring in music, maybe even an artist to play live for a breakout session, but make sure to find a way to truly engage your attendees instead of assuming that your audience will just show up and listen intently from start to finish.
Time Zones Matter.
A major benefit for hybrid events is that participants can attend virtually from around the world! However, at the same time, this does create new challenges in making certain that you are accommodating attendees from various time zones. As mentioned before, live interaction is important for audience engagement, but your remote audience should be able to access your sessions and offerings on-demand. If you are planning on offering the same live session multiple times, make sure you post your schedule so that people can choose the time that best fits them.
Track your analytics on and off the show floor.
Your ROI from the show and your virtual attendees are equally important, so making sure you are gaining insights from both experiences is key. Your post-event planning and follow-ups are just as important as the activity during the event. Use the backend data provided from your virtual platform to know who attended which session, how many sessions they attended, etc. This will help you to tailor your follow-up communication specifically to individual attendee needs and interests.
Times have really changed, and it is time for us to make the necessary adjustments in the business events world. We are still navigating unpredictable waters, but we have all learned a lot in the last year. You must be prepared, you must be flexible, and you must be able to pivot quickly when the time comes! Hosting and participating in hybrid events will help you make those changes.
About The Author
Kim Osborne is a marketing specialist from Holt Experiential in North Carolina. She has 15 years of experience in trade shows and environmental branding. She strives daily to provide clients with unique and valuable information, while also supporting them throughout their trade shows, event marketing programs, and corporate branding opportunities.