Why Are Hybrid Events Beneficial?
By Ash Rowe, Senior Event Logistics Manager at the IET
One of the hottest topics in the events world right now is undoubtedly hybrid events which replicate the live event experience to the virtual world.
There is the common misconception within our industry that placing a camera in a room and streaming your session live to a virtual audience is enough to make any event a hybrid one. This is not the case. A hybrid event replicates the live event experience to the virtual world and therefore matches the event experience no matter how somebody obtains your content.
A lot of recent conversations I’ve had regarding hybrid events have been around whether there is value in hosting your event in both a physical and virtual environment. Why don’t we just pick one or the other? There are so many benefits to hybrid events for both event managers and delegates, which I have outlined below.
As I covered in a recent blog, as of the year 2024, it is expected that most business travellers and conference attendees will be millennials. So why does this change mean that hybrid events will become more important? The simple answer is, customisation.
If you take out your mobile phone and look at your background, the way that you manage your applications and the general structure of your phone, I can assure you that this is a custom experience. It has been designed by you for you. It allows you to productively use your device in the way that best suits your needs and long term, this is the kind of experience that your event attendees are going to come to expect.
With a hybrid event, a delegate can select the method in which they obtain content. They can sit behind a screen and enjoy your event from home, or they can dive straight into the hustle and bustle of a physical event. They can pick what event style best suits their needs and can design that experience around their personal lifestyle and their professional requirements.
You may be of the impression that people can already design their experience at a multi-stream event. This, in my opinion, is only partially true. People attending a multi-stream conference can indeed select which speakers or talks they wish to see but with a physical event this comes at a cost. If two talks that are of interest clash, then the attendee needs to make a choice. In a hybrid world, they no longer need to make that choice as the content will be available on-demand after the event!
Another example is that you may have a high-level executive who is desperate to see one of your talks or talk with some of your attendees but has a significant number of very important meetings to attend on the same day. With a hybrid event, they can view the talks, meet your delegates and still be in the boardroom-ready for coffee, croissants and graph curves.
Longer lasting communities
One of the biggest words used when creating events is “community”. The biggest desire is to build a community of like-minded individuals who want to hear from or buy from people attending your events. The hybrid world will expand this.
Hybrid events will provide the valuable physical community with organic interaction, spontaneous connections and (hopefully) positive emotional experiences, whilst also creating a digital community that will last far longer than your physical counterpart. This will allow for your events to not only be more engaging and offer better value for money but also increase your marketability.
This will also widen your networks. You will be more likely to gain international contributions because people won’t need to factor in the financial restrictions and time to attend your event. They can do it from the comfort of their home or from their office swivel chair.
“But people already attend my events from abroad. I don’t need to move to an online environment” I hear you say. This will not change as you will still get people travelling to your events from all over the world and that is primarily because of my previous point. The hybrid world will simply widen the web of possibility and add to your audience numbers and audience experience.
Data! Data! Data!
In 2017, the Economist went as far as to say that data was now a more valuable commodity than oil and the numbers certainly support this. Long gone are the days of the top 10 most valuable companies being dominated by oil and gas producers. We now see 7 of the top 10 being companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook all of whom share one common theme. They have data, and bags of it.
If you have an audience both on a virtual platform and a physical platform, you can unify your data capture from the moment your customer registers to the moment that you send out your feedback survey. This will provide you with the opportunity to paint a better picture of your audience and allow your audience to customise their experience.
If a customer registers and is asked to fill in a profile, you will be able to see exactly how people tailor their event, whether they are attending physically or online. You can then utilise AI platforms to better connect your customers.
For example, imagine that you are attending an event with your customised schedule in hand and after visiting a few exhibitors you get a ping from your mobile app’s AI assistant “Hey! Great to see that you’ve visited X,Y,Z exhibitor and are planning to attend X,Y,Z sessions! John Smith seems to be interested in the same things as you, would you like me to schedule a meeting?”. Yes, sounds great! You hit yes and a meeting is set up between you and John. You make your way over to the meeting area, you sit in front of a computer screen and share a video chat with John which leads to an amazing business opportunity and you didn’t have to scour a delegate list or read the tiny name badges that seem to be zipping past you at the speed of light. This will be a reality in a hybrid world.
Don’t just take my word for it either. There are a couple of fantastic companies out there offering AI-led matchmaking services already such as Brella and Grip.
Sustainable Businesses, Sustainable Planet
If COVID-19 has done nothing else, it has taught us that sustainable businesses are more important than ever before. Hybrid events will play a major part in ensuring sustainable events in the future.
If another pandemic or a natural disaster takes place and rocks the world again, hybrid events provide a safety net for businesses planning them. We have a simple transition to the virtual world, and we have all the tools available to us to effectively replicate the event experience online. From networking breaks to breakout or campfire sessions, your hybrid event had them ready to go and so you see zero reduction in event production.
Even when we finally get back to normal, you’re also creating events that provide valuable physical experiences but are broadening your events so that no matter where you are in the world, your event is accessible.
There may be a product launch in London for example and the physical audience is there able to touch, feel and use the product but the audience spanning the rest of the UK and the globe is also able to have a virtual walkthrough with the designer of the product who is able to talk you through all of your questions in as much detail as you desire. You can even purchase the product right there from your sofa with premium delivery meaning you’ll have that new blender by tomorrow. You’ve been dying for a decent smoothie for a while.
Following on from smoothies, I’m going to smoothly transition to an issue that is not going to go away when COVID-19 does. Global warming.
As event organisers, we have an ethical responsibility to do our bit to help protect our glorious planet and hybrid events will enable that. Replicating event experiences could stop unsustainable travel whilst also maintaining the quality of event interactions. This will happen naturally anyway. Statistics show that millennials are less likely to travel long distances and are more aware of their carbon footprint, so we need to be prepared for this transition and give our audience what they want!
Hybrid events may also impact our food waste as even with free events, delegates will need to inform us of whether they plan to join virtually or physically, and we are in a better position to ascertain exactly how much food is required for every person to feel satisfied.