In spite of the unprecedented challenges this year has delivered, including the temporary restrictions placed on face-to-face events, organisers have shown that the show can still go on by hosting virtual events.
As restrictions slowly ease, hybrid events, which combine the “traditional” in-person event experience with a virtual online component, will play an important role as the industry transitions into this new normal. It’s easy to see why hybrid events are top of mind – there are many benefits; from maximising attendance, reach and accessibility, to engaging and educating prospects and customers, building brand awareness, generating leads, and accommodating budget constraints.
Here's my guide of what to keep in mind when planning virtual and hybrid events to deliver the best event experience.
Do be clear on your overall event objectives
It’s best to think of virtual events as value-added, engagement-driven experiences that you can create. Just like in-person events, virtual events require the same attention to detail, planning and execution. Take the time to consider what role the virtual component will play and how it will support the purpose and objectives of the in-person event production. Think about which elements of your in-person event you want to stream online for your virtual audience and which you want to showcase for your in-person audience. You may even opt to offer extra content for your in-person audience as an added incentive and show of gratitude for their attendance.
Do visualise the virtual experience
The visual elements of hybrid events are a critical part of the overall experience. When viewing virtually, the event online viewers will likely see the stage backdrop and the venue surroundings, so be sure to give these areas extra attention by looking at the basics such as a stage with a podium, a high-resolution background, and high-end audio/visual equipment to give the broadcast a more professional look and feel.
Do encourage attendee participation
Attendee engagement is key to any event’s success – and engaging your virtual attendees is just as important as engaging in-person ones. Gamification is a great way to make hybrid events more engaging. By leveraging a mobile app, attendees can complete challenges, receive points, and work their way up the leader board to receive an incentive or branded prize. Other engagement opportunities include live polling and Q&A capabilities potentially using a mobile event app or virtual chat rooms, post-session and event feedback surveys and one-to-one appointments.
Do make things simpler for your attendees
Audience preparation is important and not all virtual events are the same, there are many different video conferencing/event technology tools out there. Before the event, it’s best practice to create a guide for attendees explaining how to access the event, sessions, and more. To put attendees to ease, a few days before the event actually begins, offer an “intro session” during which attendees can have a dry run at launching sessions or sending messages to other attendees.
Do make sure you have the right technology
Hybrid events require higher levels of video production so that virtual attendees are provided a similar quality to in-person attendees. This means you will need to go beyond just having a streaming service hooked up for online session consumption. You will need to find a provider that can deliver your brand’s goals and vision as not all technology or providers offer the same solutions. Ask questions, the more the better, as this will help narrow down the right technology provider to realise your vision and empower your virtual event to ensure that you maximise the value that virtual attendees get out of it. Don’t forget a hybrid event is not a virtual one nor a physical one, it is BOTH. Ensure your provider can offer you an all-round solution. Try to avoid mixing and matching technology providers as that can add a lot of complexity to what is already a complex event.
Do get sponsors involved
Sponsors can be seamlessly woven into virtual events; pre, during and post sessions, networking and via gamification engagement. Provide sponsors with unique opportunities that fit within the content and context of the event so that it feels natural.
Don’t apply the same rule of thumb of in-person events directly
In-person events often can have 60-90-minute sessions without issue. However, the attention span of a virtual attendee is far less than that of an in-person one. It is important to keep that in mind that your in-person agenda likely cannot be just copy and pasted into a virtual experience. To reduce attendee fatigue and keep engagement levels up, consider 15/20-minute micro sessions throughout the day, with live polling for an even more engaging experience.
Don’t forget content is king
Whether you’re streaming a single day-long event or producing a webinar with many presenters, there should be a strong, clear narrative that resonates with attendees. Also, don’t see the end of the event as the end of the sales or marketing campaign. Repurposing content keeps an event going long after it ends, whether that’s in-person or online. Consider how you can continue to leverage the content on different platforms, from producing snappy videos for YouTube, blog posts, sharable slides and audio content for podcasts.
Don’t forget about networking
Much like in-person conferences, virtual conferences are built around a live agenda of keynotes, sessions, breakouts, and more. A mobile event app, whether used on the phone or in a web browser, can connect attendees and drive more event engagement. Help attendees to connect by scheduling dedicated networking time into the agenda and encourage meetings by utilising registration data to link attendees with similar interests and set up virtual group chats and in-person breakouts. Facilitate networking through video calls, chat groups, and appointments.
Don’t forget about metrics
Technologically speaking, it’s easier to track data for a virtual event is virtual as you don’t need many of the tools needed to capture data for in-person events (such as passive RFIDs, beacons, heat maps, WI-FI monitors and digital kiosks). However, don’t slip into the mindset that virtual event data collection is easier across the board. Make sure to leverage an event platform that gives you the actionable insights you need to help review KPIs and optimise return on your event (ROE). Go with a provider that offers software packages or built-in dashboards that support the aggregation of metrics that track the attendee journey through the entire virtual and physical aspects of the event. This data can be utilised to enrich the event experience and can also uncover future marketing and sponsorship opportunities.