Much like the way we work is evolving, the events industry has been ripe for disruption for years. Long before the world was hit with the biggest health crisis in a century, people were debating whether large-scale events were dead back in the last financial crisis of 2008. The arrival of the pandemic only served as a catalyst for much needed change in the events industry.
With in-person attendance no longer an option, event leaders were forced to move to virtual events and to rethink what the end-user experience needed to be, and how to improve it. Virtual events radically changed the way organizations hosted and engaged with their audiences. And it turns out that was a good thing for everyone.
The benefits for event organizers were multiple – they could reach many more people at a fraction of the cost, provide greater one-on-one attendee engagement, deliver more personalized experiences, and do easier lead tracking. Attendees also benefited from the switch to virtual – saving on travel-related costs, time away from work and family, being able to multi-task, greater flexibility in attending different sessions live and on-demand and could network with people using social networks like LinkedIn, etc.
The benefits of virtual events only hammered home the growing sentiment that the mega conferences of the past were too big, too hard to stand out in and too costly for everyone involved — and the benefits were nebulous at best. Just consider costs. If you are looking to attend one of the major conferences, expect costs to set you back five or six figures: To attend CES, for example, fees, lodging and extra expenses for one exhibitor reporting these sums (to Inc.) added up to over $150,000!
Conferences of the future will need to be more customized for each attendee, more affordable, more intimate, and more inclusive. That will require providing attendees with hybrid experiences, where the virtual and in-person events are integrated using new technologies that allow for advanced event planning, more personalized experiences, and continuous engagement.
A big shift towards hybrid events is forecast by many research groups. In a study by Metrigy Research, it showed 63 percent of event planners are shifting to hybrid events over the next year. We also partnered with Futurum Research on another research report which revealed that 79 percent of attendees would prefer to have the flexibility to attend an event in-person or virtually.
Hybrid events will provide experiences with the high engagement of a physical event combined with the reach of a virtual event, giving organizers and attendees more options and flexibility than ever before. While there’s no doubt that events and conferences are at the onset of a major transition to hybrid model, some of the key principles of marketing and ROI will still apply as it relates to producing a high-quality, high-value experience. To be successful, event planners and marketers will want to consider these six essential strategies I believe must be part of building a successful hybrid event:
The most critical strategy before you even begin your hybrid event strategies, is thinking about is where to invest your marketing dollars – i.e., which events are going to yield the best exposure, experience, and ROI in a transitional/post-COVID world?
Don’t compromise on pre-event marketing engagement. Start promoting your event long before the event begins. The experience can start months before the event to build excitement and drive registration.
Add fun to the attendees’ experience of registration. For instance, gamify the process with relevant contest or promote high value networking during the event with a celebrity or high profile featured speaker. To make registration easy, use a simple, centralized registration platform for both your in-person and virtual attendees so you can easily view important data like ticket types, event tracks, and attendee interests so you can provide and even more personalized experiences.
Make sure your content is relevant to both in-person and virtual attendees, and don’t have joint activities planned that isolate one group from participation. You want to make sure that in-person and virtual attendees are equally engaged. Think “one event, two experiences.”
Provide inclusive web experiences through mobile and web apps that allow attendees to view sessions, participate in audience engagement and network regardless of how or where they join. Use data retained across multiple events to automatically recommend sessions, speakers, sponsors, on-demand videos, etc. that are aligned with each attendee’s past behavior and preferences.
It’s important to ensure attendees are seen and be heard — create an environment that’s integrated and interactive. Onsite attendees have the benefit of experiencing the community firsthand at an event, so find ways to bring this same community experience to your virtual audience by incorporating live polls and Q&As into your sessions. Also build online communities for the virtual attendees and encourage them to keep the conversation going after the event.
Your post-event actions are as important as what you do during an event. You want to persuade attendees that they learned something that keeps them engaged beyond the one event and opens an opportunity to deepen relationships with them. For instance, provide continuous engagement with attendees after the event by leveraging data about their virtual and in-person event behaviors and preferences to build personalized journeys for attendees at future events.
The pandemic was a wake-up call that it was time for in-person events to evolve. The radical shift to virtual events over the last year revealed there were new opportunities for event organizers and attendees – the experience, the content, and engagement. In the future, communities will interact through the combination of virtual and face-to-face experiences in ways that simply were not possible in the past.
Another outcome of hybrid events is you will attract a whole new swath of attendees who may never have attended your events before. Be sure to leverage new technologies to attract and engage these newcomers, so you can turn them into long-term devotees of your events.
There is a paradigm shift underway with hybrid events, as with hybrid work, as the new norm. But it’s more than a shift in approach to events, it’s a shift in mindset where we have an opportunity to create a new type of event that builds communities, deepens relationships, and puts people and their experiences first. I wish you the best of success on your journey in this new world of hybrid events and I can’t wait to see how they unfold.
P.S. Look out for my next blog on Strategy One: Building Excitement Before the Event!