Hybrid Event Planning & Execution
With events going fully-digital in 2020, the prospect of re-introducing the in-person element to events is becoming an exciting (albeit a little scary) reality for planners and marketers. Though people are certainly craving that face-to-face experience, in-person gatherings will be small scale and largely local for the foreseeable future – and hybrid events with both digital and in-person elements will play an invaluable role in rounding out those experiences.
As businesses begin to consider, plan and execute hybrid events, we sat down to talk about what we’ve seen and learned from both our own events and those of our customers, highlighting some of the primary considerations that we consider critical to a successful hybrid event experience.
Here a few considerations to keep top of mind:
- Though a hybrid event involves two distinct audience experiences – and the goal is to merge the two – you must design for both.
- Selecting the right technology is critical.
- While so much is changing, gathering data remains paramount.
Let’s break those down a little further…
One Event, Two Audiences
Kent Martin, Certain’s field and event marketer, urges event planners to be aware from the outset that with a hybrid event you’re dealing with two audiences in need of different access to event gatherings and resources: You’re responsible for designing two experiences.
But, Kent says, “you want those experiences to have strong connection points.” You want to merge those audiences as much as possible. It’s important, for example, that your speakers are aware they’re addressing both a live and a digital audience.
“I think everyone’s gotten comfortable now with the virtual side of events,” says Marcela Ricci, Certain’s content marketing manager, “but it’s going to be interesting to see what it looks like to navigate the challenges of two audiences at once.”
For those events that will involve a live element for online audiences, it’s also important to take time zones into account.
“You’re of course going to be recording all of your sessions,” Kent says, “and you can provide that later as content on demand. But real-time content is always more engaging for any audience. So consider having a speaker do the same session at different times during the event to facilitate the time change.”
Technology Equal to the Challenge
Another important consideration is selecting the right technology for your hybrid event – one that will manage the various touch points throughout the event. That technology must carry all attendee-engagement data through to the post-event phase for evaluation.
Well in advance, ask yourself what the technology does and how well it will address your specific goals and expectations. One critical consideration is how you’re going to fulfill the above-mentioned objective: merging your audiences.
“Let’s say you’re having a panel discussion,” Kent says. “You want to make sure your virtual attendees are able to interact with this experience via polling or audience Q&A.”
Your virtual guests don’t want to miss out on the networking opportunities they’d have if they were there in person. Be certain your technology facilitates those connection points.
Managing Two Different Datasets
Analytics are everything. You need that audience-engagement data in order to make each event more engaging than the last – for example, to inform your post-event surveys.
“Everything is changing so rapidly right now,” Kent notes, “and we may be temporarily dazzled by new technologies that are hitting the market to address the virtual experience. And that’s great. But what’s not going to change is the importance of properly leveraging the data you gather to consistently improve and guarantee the return on your investment.”
Regardless of the technology, it’s incumbent on you to take full advantage of the intelligence you’ve gathered.
Throughout the planning phase, ask yourself what data points you’re looking to capture. “In a virtual environment, you have this whole new added layer,” Marcela says. “It’s no longer simply who showed up, who checked in. It’s who attended in person, who viewed on-demand, how long did they view for? There’s all this new information that the virtual experience has brought into play.”
Kent agrees: “There are really two different datasets, and it’ll be interesting to see how we’re going to handle it all. For example, if sales is an important part of your event, it’ll be interesting to see the buying signals that you’re getting from a virtual guest versus an in-person one.”
The New Reality Brings New Opportunities
This is new territory. Everyone’s learning. It’s therefore important to have an events community that’s sharing ideas with one other.
“With the introduction of all of this virtual engagement that we’re investing in and learning about, the role of the event marketer is not going to be diminished,” he asserts, “it’s going to expand.
“It’s a crazy new reality. But there’s a lot of opportunity that can come out of these uncertain times.”