Hybrid events have become a well-known and often requested event format. However, for event producers and marketers to deliver outstanding experiences, they must overcome various challenges while taking a creative approach to crafting hybrid event programs.
Hybrid events have recently taken center stage due to their ability to combine the best aspects of both in-person and virtual events. But for event producers to achieve favorable hybrid event outcomes in 2022, they have to go above and beyond to make them interesting, relevant, and able to meet audience needs and expectations, no matter how they choose to attend.
However, many event producers approach the hybrid format as an added extra — resulting in additional challenges — instead of designing the experience with both audiences in mind from event conception within the event strategy.
To provide advice on effectively managing and minimizing common obstacles associated with hybrid events while leveraging a creative approach, we explore how technology can assist, what tools to include in event strategies, and what we can learn from the experiences of a real-life award-winning hybrid event.
Hybrid Events as a Key Strategy
Hosting a hybrid event gives organizers access to audience members across the globe through the combined delivery of both in-person and virtual formats, often simultaneously. Utilizing this format, in turn, increases brand visibility while helping planners be adaptable in response to uncertainty and facilitate connections among people. Because of this, hybrid events form part of a key strategy for event producers in 2022 and beyond — as seen with the award-winning hybrid event, MAD//Fest.
MAD//Fest is an iconic festival that combines marketing, advertising, and disruption under one event umbrella. Essentially, MAD//Fest is an event developed for marketers by marketers, so the standards are high. Nonetheless, the festival successfully pivoted from its in-person events of 2018 and 2019 to virtual event formats in 2020 in response to the Covid pandemic.
With the gradual return of in-person options, MAD//Fest gained further traction in 2021 when it designed an award-winning hybrid event. The festival’s widely-lauded success demonstrates that event producers can utilize the hybrid model as an essential event strategy in a competitive landscape brought on by rapid event innovation.
Connect With People
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Knowing an event audience is one of the most vital elements to consider when organizing a hybrid event. Without this knowledge, event producers risk missing out on crucial insights to help shape the event experience according to audience needs, which should influence everything from format selection and content choices to engagement tactics. Essentially, each event design element should focus on achieving maximum relevance to the audience.
In addition to monitoring the market, accomplishing this objective could include asking questions such as:
- What are the main areas of interest to attendees?
- What skills would they like to learn?
- What is valuable to them?
- Why and how do they want to attend an event?
- What times slots and session lengths work best?
- What do they wish to avoid in an event?
In the case of MAD//Fest, event organizers knew they were marketing to marketers — the people who usually come up with creative ideas. Hence, close attention was paid when crafting their hybrid experience to ensure it resonated with their audience’s background and mindset.
Organizers included quirky communications, offbeat venues, loud colors, unique session structures, and experts that people want to hear from; marketing professionals would appreciate this creativity, further piquing audience interest by speaking their “language” and adding value.
Know what your audience values, and work from there.
BRING AN ELEMENT OF FUN
Events are a key milestone in the customer journey, providing opportunities to strengthen trust and build relationships. A valuable way to make people feel comfortable is to incorporate fun and laughs into an event, resulting in better business; in other words, not all content needs to be serious.
Event producers can also weave enjoyable moments into their event communications like email correspondence, making your hybrid event stand out from the crowd.
For example, MAD//Fest organizers crafted a twist on a top news story around a royal baby announcement from the royal press, quickly turning it into a MAD// Fest email communication, spreading the word about their upcoming marketing festival.
DARE TO BE DIFFERENT
When many events pivoted to virtual in 2020, MAD//Fest organizers knew they would have to do the same. However, they wanted to provide a unique digital experience with the same look and feel as their in-person events, replicating peoples’ experiences when partaking in leisure activities. Creating this atmosphere saw organizers opting for a virtual pub catering to 23,000 online attendees.
When it came time to move to hybrid, they adopted a similar mindset, which included challenging traditional formats, venues, and expectations, while creating new features and experiences in the hybrid setting, working alongside tech partner Webex Events (formerly Socio). Feature highlights included the social wall — aptly named by MAD//Fest as a pub message board — live polling, and a sponsor showcase.
Get Personal with Branding
Personalization is a significant aspect of hybrid events. Without it, an event can quickly lose audience engagement, impacting ROI. Having the ability to mix-and-match features according to event needs and overall event “personality” is one way to stand out from the crowd. Differentiators include application customization, poll integrations like Slido, advanced networking tools, and gamification.
Part of MAD//Fest’s success can be attributed to using a fully customizable event platform, like Webex Events (formerly Socio). Here, MAD//Fest crafted true extensions of their brand through branded images and custom colors and icons, allowing identity and story to be distinct and memorable.
Match Your Content With Your Audience
FEATURE RELEVANT CONTENT AND DELIVER IT WITH IMPACT
Presenting static presentations won’t meet audience expectations in 2022 — content (and how it is delivered) is king when it comes to hybrid events.
Although MAD//Fest 2020 was a virtual event, it paved the way for MAD//Fest’s creative adaptation of the hybrid format: The event featured over 700 relevant speakers rotating every 99 seconds over five days. Achieving this meant that organizers had to structure their content differently, delivering maximum impact while using an event platform with the necessary, flexible capabilities and support — something that also applies to hybrid events.
Further, an event producer could have the most significant content lined up for an event, but if the wrong speakers feature and present, the messages may not land.
SAME CONTENT, DIFFERENT AUDIENCE NEEDS
The hybrid experience should never feel disconnected; overcoming this challenge means event producers must connect every audience member to the same core educational and experiential value. In other words, everyone should feel like they went to the same event in an accessible way, regardless of if they are attending online or in-person. This “same-event-same-feeling” experience should further extend to engagement amongst attendees.
However, event producers must understand that while particular engagement methods will work for an in-person audience, the same tried-and-tested methods won’t always work for a virtual one, requiring professionals to deliver the same content to each audience differently. And event tech can help.
In fact, technology can expand accessibility, allowing attendees to engage in ways that are not possible in a purely analog format. For example, Webex Events (formerly Socio) will soon integrate real-time captions and translation capabilities, making a hybrid event more accessible to virtual viewers.
Additionally, some may be attending online because they have other commitments and may not be able to catch all of the sessions during the live broadcast. Utilizing a platform that caters to on-demand and live content delivery would solve this challenge. Providing mixed formats means a virtual attendee could watch the pre-recorded content later through an on-demand library, while also benefiting from real-life engagement during live sessions.
Adaptability and Engagement
LISTEN TO FEEDBACK AND REMAIN AGILE
Soft skills are hugely beneficial in the workplace, and events are no different — for event producers to stand out and enhance efficiency, soft skills are necessary.
Adaptability has been called one of the top soft skills of 2022, and for event producers, that means changing, adapting, and remaining flexible to rapidly evolving circumstances. Empathy and emotional intelligence are also right up there with 2022 soft skills. Having high emotional intelligence means a person can both communicate and listen.
Simplified, all of this translates to being receptive and responsive — paying close attention to client and market needs and feedback, advising on how best to act on those findings, and then knowing how to pivot between in-person, virtual, and hybrid event formats when needed. For example, event organizers could consult with their in-person exhibitors in advance to discuss both digital and in-person options. Would they benefit from the opportunity to connect with remote participants through a video chat function? With the right event tech partner, these kinds of solutions can easily be added.
MAD//Fest, for example, was able to pivot between formats by listening to the market needs while working with an event tech provider that listened to organizer needs, adapting and offering a product that supports agility and market relevance. In fact, some exhibitors that had initially planned to participate in person had to pull out — but they were still able to take advantage of a virtual booth and connect with leads remotely during the live event.
Engagement between online and in-person attendees is a pain point for hybrid events. However, by utilizing a dynamic and robust event platform and adding an app, event producers can create fun and interactive social spaces for hybrid events.
For MAD//Fest, organizers used multiple engagement tools on the Webex Events platform and app. These included the Webex Events gamified leaderboard for networking, selfie booths, a social wall for liking and commenting on pics and posts, maps to navigate the event space, and a simple interface for messaging fellow attendees, resulting in more than 20,000 connections made during the event.
By utilizing gamification tools such as these, organizers can bring virtual and in-person audiences together, creating the “same content, same experience” hybrid event encounter.
Attendee and Sponsor ROI
Measuring the ROI of an event can be a challenge, especially when deciding on what data to focus on and how to use it for future events.
Data and analytics have been crucial to securing top sponsors for MAD//Fest festivals. According to the organizers, good metrics for measuring event success include:
- The number of attendees who register for future events
- Attendees that attend future events and bring colleagues
- The number of connections that virtual and in-person sponsors have made
- Attended sessions
- Content with the most engagement/relevance
To ensure they could not only measure but also boost all of the metrics outlined above, organizers used a platform capable of collecting data and crafting personalized outreach campaigns for attendees.
Further, sponsors used video room features that provided one-on-one networking opportunities and customization to showcase brands.
Create an Event Hub
Because content is so relevant to the hybrid experience, planners can transform an event using a platform that creates a centralized on-demand event hub, showcasing all material and resources while encouraging attendees to stay connected with each other and brands once the event is over.
However, an event hub like Webex Events can now go one step further. With Webex Event’s new control hub, planners and IT admins can incorporate integrations, compliance, and accessibility behind the scenes. Essentially, control hub gives Webex admins a single place to manage events and on-demand content via designated permissions, alongside all other event apps and devices — streamlining management of the event hub process.
MAXIMIZING THE BENEFITS OF HYBRID
With their additional layers of experience design and differing attendee needs, hybrid events can get a bad rep for being difficult to organize. But by knowing your audience, adopting creative thinking, providing valuable content, and utilizing an event tech platform that is dynamic and flexible, planners can maximize the benefits and unique offerings this event format offers.