Organizations are increasingly running in-person meetings as hybrid events. Why? Because businesses don’t want to miss out on the value digital provides, like geographic reach, audience scale, and, most importantly, engagement data.
But having been on the road and running hybrid events for a few weeks, I’ve noticed some things that event planners should keep in mind. Here’s a quick rundown of my top five things marketers should consider in their hybrid event planning.
1) Take local behaviors into account
When hosting a hybrid event, you tend to attract audiences from different geographic locations. For example, one attendee may travel to the in-person/onsite experience while another logs into the virtual experience from somewhere else, like the office or home.
We must acknowledge that both of these audiences will have different behaviors and expectations that we need to account for.
For example, members of the in-person audience may be running late to the event due to various factors (traffic, public transportation, etc.). So, what do you do with your virtual audience while you wait to fill an empty room?
It’s important to keep scenarios like this in mind, so you don’t disengage one audience while accommodating another. For virtual audiences, you can incorporate certain engagement tools within your platform, such as attendee chat, poll questions or even a temporary virtual host to keep the virtual audience engaged before the official presentation begins.
Always have a plan for your virtual audience when taking in-person local behaviors into account.
Planning to run a hybrid event? Make sure you use a platform that can engage both in-person and digital audiences — all while providing you with insightful data that your team can take action on. Click here to learn how ON24 makes it possible.
2) Anticipate Technical Issues As Best You Can
Technology — both virtual and physical — can be fickle. Be prepared with your virtual event vendor and the location before you run your hybrid event. If you can, try a few practice runs before the big day.
The best practice for, well, practice is to run the event as you would live — have hosts on stage and give presentations, test your streaming technology and have a teammate pose as a virtual attendee.
If a technical issue does pop up, work with your vendors to address it or have production staff on standby to address any problems. You’ll also want to have a hybrid event plan in place to communicate any snafus with your virtual audience.
Have a backup plan if something happens to your event’s virtual element. For example, record the live in-person presentation so you can make it available on-demand for everyone.
3) Have a plan to communicate/keep virtual audiences engaged if you run behind
In-person event experiences can start later than what’s often proposed in the agenda. It’s always important to keep the virtual audience informed and engaged, should that happen, so they don’t think there’s a technical issue on your end.
Happily, you can keep virtual audiences engaged within the virtual experience in many ways! You can run a poll question to break the ice and get your audience thinking about the topic, or provide a breakout room so attendees can network and converse with peers before the event begins. You can also allow them to complete a survey to be entered into a raffle.
You can also provide conversation starters in the attendee chat by having an employee pose questions, make introductions and overall encourage attendee networking and engagement. There are many ways to keep your virtual audience engaged in case you run behind, but be sure to have this engagement experience fully baked out just in case.
4) Engage Both Sides of the Hybrid Coin (But In Different Ways)
Engagement is KEY to the success of any hybrid event. You need to build unique experiences for both audiences, but it should not feel like two separate events.
Still, it’s important to engage both sides differently because each audience has its own needs.
For example, if you have a gamification concept or raffle for the in-person component, you should introduce a similar experience in the virtual event. If there is a lot of organic networking as part of the onsite experience, then you should provide virtual attendees with similar options, like providing them with breakout events or networking lounges powered by ON24 Breakouts. Other networking opportunities include:
- Attendee chats
- Panel forums
Just make sure to have an idea and conversation starters on hand within the virtual experience so audiences can more easily engage and network. And don’t forget: you can also host session-specific networking experiences — even host-driven networking sessions — through tools like ON24 Forums.
These are just a few examples of engaging both sides of the hybrid coin, but overall the experience should feel cohesive and inclusive for both audiences!
5) Be Aware of Time Zones
With many folks now working remotely, make sure you consider time zones when planning your event.
When we’re putting on our own hybrid events, we ensure that the timings are the best as can be for various time zones in North America. Typically, we like to begin most of our hybrid event presentations at 12 p.m. Eastern, as this will capture folks on the West Coast at 9 a.m. Pacific.
We’ve also noticed that starting at this time allows the in-person audience to attend at a decent time. Overall, we have noticed this time is a happy medium for different local regions. When planning your next hybrid event, ensure that you address the time zones of your local and virtual audiences to get higher attendee conversion and engagement.
Hybrid events are one of the most difficult event experiences to pull off. So, don’t worry if you don’t nail it in the first go. Just remember to evaluate your performance over time and make the adjustments you need to succeed. Have fun and good luck!
Want to learn how ON24 helps make hybrid events possible? Check out our approach to hybrid when you click this link.