Hybrid Events – are they really a solution?

Hybrid events – are they really a solution?

A lot has been written about the future of events, largely due to the long-lasting impact of the pandemic and many event organisers are considering whether hybrid events may be a good working solution.

For those who are not familiar with the expression hybrid events, in essence, it means having an event in person that combines with virtual elements too. This could be as simple as live streaming the main plenary sessions of a conference to building out a programme of in-person and accompanying virtual events in the run-up, during and after the main event takes place.

In the past, having a virtual element(s) as part of the event offering has extended the reach (and revenue streams) of the event to include individuals who may not be able to attend due to location and or cost or because increasingly they don’t want to generate the carbon footprint. Typically, it has involved some form of live streaming of main and side events, where virtual participants can join in the conversation through the use of platforms like twitter with twitter walls at the events posting questions etc using a specific hashtag or a digital events platform which allowed for a similar approach.

As our experience at HHC has grown and evolved on how to design, facilitate and produce high-impact, truly interactive virtual events, we have come to realise and appreciate the differences between in-person and virtual events and just how great they are. For us, therefore, hybrid events present a certain number of challenges that require careful consideration. As event organisers consider what post-pandemic events might look like – hybrid could be part of the equation. 

Here are some of our observations on hybrid events for your consideration and why it may be better to opt for either in-person or virtual and avoid blending the two forms into one:

  • When designing an event, you always start with your audience and their needs. The needs of a virtual event audience can be very different to the needs of an in-person event audience based on their motivations for participating. Trying to meet both sets of participants’ needs by producing just one event therefore will likely result in a compromise – which means neither group is really going to have the optimum event experience.
  • The days of participants being happy just sitting listening to content and networking over a coffee or a drink in the bar are over. Most in-person event participants expect a highly engaging and interactive experience as do those attending virtual events. However, the way you structure and execute this is very different depending on which medium you’re using. For example, if organising a virtual event, you would use tools like breakout rooms or small virtual table-based group discussions with virtual whiteboards if you are using platforms like Zoom or Remo to drive the conversation. Similarly, you would do this with participants at in person event. In a hybrid setting, achieving something similar without a great deal of additional effort and cost is complex.
  • The cost structure for in-person events is different to virtual – but if carefully planned and delivered either has the potential to generate a strong income stream. Hosting a hybrid event could be a real challenge when it comes to attaching a value – how much more is an in-person audience prepared to pay if they can access the event remotely? There is a real risk to organisers’ income models and potential reputations with hybrid events.
  • It’s very fashionable at present when it comes to talking about hybrid events, to talk about the in-person element being small and exclusive with the virtual element being more general, and broad-reaching. Be careful not to fall into the insider/outsider dynamic that may emerge here. Where most of the time and energy by the organisers goes into the small, bespoke in-person event at the cost of the larger virtual audience. This is particularly critical if you are thinking of a hybrid approach within a particular industry association or organisational setting as it could be perceived that there’s a preferential/tier system of participants and this would not do much for organisational dynamics!
  • Ultimately, our belief is that there will be instances where in-person is particularly important. For example, if you are a leadership team who has not met before and you’re expected to lead and deliver – it can be really helpful at least initially to get to know each other by meeting as a group in person for a period of time before going virtual and having some members join virtually while others attend in person does not allow for the team to form in the optimum way! Or if you are thinking of organising a town hall, for the reasons already mentioned it is probably best to decide either in person or virtual to avoid the challenges. And there will be instances where virtual delivers much better against objectives. The key is to understand the difference in the mediums and any potential impact (planned or unplanned).

To sum up, unless you are prepared to invest the extra time and money to create a really well thought out and executed hybrid event programme that allows for the best of both in-person and virtual interactions, we believe you are better off avoiding hybrid and instead deciding on whether it’s better to go for an in-person or virtual approach based on your participants needs.

James Hasler and Rebecca Hill are both principal consultants at HaslerHill Consulting, an organisation specialising in moderationfacilitation and curation of events, as well as presentation skills and public speaking skills training. If you would like to learn more about the services they offer and how they can be of benefit to your business, please get in touch via the HaslerHill Consulting contact page or call +44(0) 7773 229909

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