The term hybrid literally means “a thing made by combining two different elements.” In this literal sense, it’s the proper modifier for hybrid events, as in those that combine the existing physical, in-person model with a fully online virtual event. However, in understanding the usefulness of this fusion, it’s important to also note that the word hybrid comes from Latin, a language which has proved versatile, adaptable, and adept at crossing national borders throughout its history. Additionally, Latin is a language that has a multitude of manifestations and uses particular to cultural regions and professional fields. All of this might be said for hybrid events.
The aim of a good hybrid event is clearly to take the very best advantages of physical events, and the very best advantages of virtual events, and combine them to make one event that works for everyone, with the maximum amount of advantages for all attendees, and of course, the maximum ROI—not only from the event itself, but also after the event, and into the long tail that can follow.
The most basic version of a hybrid event is the sort that existed often enough before the pandemic: run the physical event normally, and just stick a webcam at the side of the stage for streaming to the folks at home. The majority of Reattendance’s competitors have taken this approach, even as Covid rendered the “normal” event a wistful memory. Prior to the pandemic, this approach perhaps made in-the-flesh attendees feel fine, but those absent felt like an afterthought. This past year allowed everyone to feel like an afterthought. We were all simply coping, muddling along.
As the world opens up again, the ability for us all to be in one place together for one event will still likely be hampered. However, making everyone involved feel like an afterthought will not be acceptable. We must adapt to the new circumstances that await us. After all, one’s reputation and brand is as much on the line as it is with face-to-face attendees as it is with online ones, so why would one treat them any differently? Surely you want your online audience to have a fantastic experience and spread the good word about your event, and indeed, return next year as a happy participant too?
Creating great experiences for in-person attendees of an event has been an art for some time; cultivating one for online participants has been the great art of 2020. But the real secret to a great hybrid event is having both sets of your audience interact together. A holistically designed event encompassing both sets of your audience, allowing them to interact with each other and with presenters, exhibitors and sponsors, allowing them both to network and mingle and find opportunities and chance encounters. And to achieve that, we need to focus on both the platform we use and, crucially, the design of the event as a whole so that everything works in harmony together.
Normally when we design our events in advance we look at the content sessions, the expo floor, how our sponsors are represented, the AV gear needed, the opportunities for networking and interaction and so on and so forth. With hybrid events our approach now has to change because we need to ensure that both sets of our audience—the physical and the online—are properly catered to and engaged.
The simplest way to start this process is to use just one app for your event which works out of the box for both sets of attendees. The Reattendance application is just such an app. For starters, we want to ensure a single place for all of our information. This means a single place for the event schedule and for my own schedule (creating a favourites list of the events the attendee wants to see), a single place to store our event access codes or barcodes or access tickets. It means a single place for our event support and event help. It means a single place for text-based chatting and video calling. A single place for event announcements. A single place for on-demand Replays. A single place for polling and for Q&A in our sessions, a single place for business cards to be swapped and stored, a single place for meetings to be scheduled.
In short, if you haven’t got the idea by now, you want just one app that does it all for you. It’s at this point I’d like to invite you to go and check out Reattendance for free—as this is exactly what it has been designed for.
But there are some differences that we need to focus on separately, in order to make the experience as good as it can be for each audience. For example, when creating networking and socialising sessions, it’s unlikely that you would want people on their phones creating peer-to-peer video networking calls with each other in a bar!!! Rather, you would want to plan a specific networking/socialising session that works for your physical attendees, and another separate one for your online attendees that is more suited to the online environment.
The same applies to expo areas: each expo company might want to provide dedicated staff to their physical expo stand where they can interact with their attendees in the traditional manner, and then additionally supply a staff member to work their online stand. We have to remember here that we want to engage our online audience just as much as we want to engage the physical attendees. There are a few ways to do this and one of the most advantageous is to split the schedule slightly for the online expo, compared to the physical one. Another way to do so would be to have the expo floor open all day and use the app to book in meetings between either the physical attendees or the online ones, thus integrating the two audiences.
Hybrid events also thrive on reciprocity between the online and the in-person. During plenary or content sessions it’s important to not only bring your room to your online audience, but also to bring your online audience into your room. There are many ways that you can do this of course. You could stream your online audience to large monitors in the room, you could invite them in as audio participation. You could have the whole audience use the Q&A function on the app and then decide to ask the presenter questions from the local audience and the online one and so on. The best practice for this would be to mix in your online audience to your live feed actually on the stage, so the audience can see that questions and comments are coming from not just the room, but from around the world.
If you pull this off and do it well, you’re going to receive huge plaudits for your technical prowess and for your inclusion and your thoughtfulness to all of your attendees, and this will reflect in the feedback your event gets. Of course, if you’re building this live mixture of physical and online interactivity, then by default you are live-streaming to your audience and this means that your on-demand replay content is already there as soon as your session has ended. It also means that your library of content is growing and you are getting real-time statistics and analytics from the session as you do it. At the end of your session, close the session on the app and watch the real-time analytics come back immediately.
It’s also worth noting that so far, we have presumed that all of your speakers and presenters are in the physical room with you. This is not 100% necessary. It might be that some of your presenters are not physically there and are only online. In this instance, as with bringing the audience into the room, you would plan to stream in the presenter directly into the room for your audience, meaning that your online audience and your physical audience are both still getting the benefits of this session.
If you get your hybrid event right, you are reaping all the advantages of the physical event and all of the nimbleness and analytics of an online one. This coming year will largely be defined by how we put the world back together and have a multitude of ways to navigate our presences in it. Hybrid events will be a cornerstone of that process.