According to research carried out by freelance conference producer, Claire Tulloch in preparation for Glisser’s Hybrid Events Ignited event, planned across London and New York locations on 13 July 2021, a majority of company in-house planners aren’t looking to start running in-person activity until 2022 due to corporate policies. Agency planners on the other-hand are targeting a return to live events from September this year.
Once in-person meetings, conferences and exhibitions do resume, planners will be faced with putting into practice all the theory and discussion from the past six months on what true hybrid events should look like and how they should operate.
Both corporate and agency planners told Claire that the challenges, which await just over the horizon, are wide ranging and many fear that getting hybrid wrong would be a missed opportunity to evolve audience engagement and create event content with year-round longevity.
Here’s five of the hybrid challenges keeping organizers awake at night.
Let’s face it, networking over virtual event platforms isn’t easy and a majority of planners told Claire that the serendipity angle of meeting like-minded people with common business goals was often missing from virtual activity.
So how do you find a way for physical attendees to network with virtual viewers in a hybrid format? Is this even necessary or should planners focus on a premium networking opportunity for audiences who attend in-person and say, additional content opportunities if viewers chose to remain home and watch online?
Roundtable formats have generally worked best for driving interaction between virtual attendees but planners will be looking for more advance technology-driven solutions to solving the online networking dilemma.
Is hybrid really going to cost twice the price? Planners who have swapped venues for platforms, food and beverage for couriered hampers and AV suppliers for studio recording space and green-screens are concerned that their budgets will need to cover everything once delegates are given the choice of how to attend and what experience to sign-up for.
Savvy planners will need to redistribute the monies saved from elements such as reduced transportation, smaller room capacities, less food and beverage, fewer onsite staff and minimal conference materials, into ensuring virtual production, speaker content and sponsor value is driving the longer-term commercial growth of the event.
Many of the planners Claire spoke with admitted that they had invested in platform subscriptions in haste during the first few months of the pandemic. With these subscriptions now coming up for renewal, planners are reviewing their virtual requirements more closely and assessing the best technology for a hybrid future.
How will your platform requirements change once live and virtual are blended? What has worked during the past year and what hasn’t? Are there technology integrations you can add to your existing platform or is it time to look around at what else is on offer?
Instead of seeing the platform as the whole venue, planners will start to view platforms as an extension to the venue and adapt their requirements accordingly.
4. Maintaining virtual audiences
Events have been able to scale their audiences significantly during this period of online-only. But what happens once the focus is back on creating a live experience with a digital add-on? How do you stop virtual viewers feeling like second-class citizens and logging off as a result?
Planners will be piloting a range of different strategies including staging the in-person event and the virtual outing on different days, offering digital value-adds such as access to future webinars, or creating exclusive content streams for online viewers and more experience-led packages for attending in-person.
Learning the lessons of what works and what doesn’t will be vital.
5. Sponsor ROI
Delivering Return on Investment (ROI) to virtual sponsors has been a considerable challenge over the past year. Our planner respondents told Claire that they’ve tried promoted content, pre-roll video ads, sponsored gamification and virtual exhibition booths with varying degrees of success.
The challenge for hybrid will be ensuring that sponsors can reach the two different audiences in two different ways, with content tailored for both in-person and online.
For example, sponsoring a virtual wine tasting and hosting a post-event drinks reception will look completely different and sponsors will need evolved strategy to gain value from both.