June 09, 2021 Mark Bornstein
Last year, when the event industry was turned upside-down and all events and conferences were forced to go digital, marketers got a glimpse of an entirely new future. Suddenly, the idea that audience sizes would be limited by the restraints of geography, cost or an unwillingness to travel, vanished. Not only did more people come to events in 2020, but they actually enjoyed the experience.
While attendees may have missed the cocktail mixers, they didn’t miss the air travel, bad conference food and endless hours on their feet. And those companies that really put their hearts into creating great virtual event experiences were not only rewarded with more leads, but also better data, higher quality leads, and more pipeline and revenue — at a fraction of the cost.
So what happens now? Physical events are suddenly possible again, so does that mean we go back to the old model? I think most marketers would tell you, “not a chance.” While many companies have already decided to move to a digital-only event strategy, some companies are still not ready to give up on holding physical events.
Enter the “hybrid event.”
First, What A Hybrid Event Is Not
Hybrid physical/digital events mean a lot of different things to different people. Unfortunately, to many a hybrid event is really just a physical event, where the presentations are also streamed to a digital audience.
In these cases, the event is only really an event for the people at the event. For a virtual audience however, it’s just staring at a screen for endless hours with not much else to do. What’s missing for remote attendees is the experience.
People go to physical conferences with a set of expectations. Yes, they want to see all of the great presentations and content, but they also get excited by all the other elements of the experience, from the networking with other attendees to visiting booths, the gamification, the swag, and planned entertainment.
The question now: why would a virtual audience expect less?
The answer: they don’t. They expect more. A true hybrid event means delivering an event experience for every attendee, regardless of whether they are there physically or digitally.
With Hybrid, The Possibilities Are Endless
So what are the keys to building a truly hybrid event? Well, it starts with the virtual environment itself. Your digital experience should be just as immersive as your physical space, from the event branding to all of the available activities.
There are many types of virtual environments including 2D and 3D multi-dimensional, multi-room spaces which feature presentation theaters, partner expos, sponsor booths, networking lounges where audience members can connect with each other, and so much more. Digital event spacers can also integrate gamification, tons of interactive elements, and plenty of entertainment – ranging from virtual happy hours, to virtual yoga and even live concerts.
In the future, hybrid events will even share engagement between the physical and digital audiences, through virtual networking and other interactive elements. Consider this: when virtual attendees join a breakout session, they will expect the ability to ask the presenter questions, respond to polls, download session specific content, and chat with other session attendees.
Soon, physical attendees will want the same benefits, and everything will be connected through online interfaces. It’s time to bring the engagement of digital to physical events.
What A Hybrid Event Is
Using this new definition of a hybrid event — where every attendee, regardless of whether they are there physically or digitally, gets a full event experience — also helps solve a major problem: antiquated metrics for event success.
For most event marketers the true measure of a successful event is simply measured by how many people registered and how many showed up. A lead. A name, and not much more. That’s not good marketing, and it is no longer an effective demand generation strategy. Truly hybrid events help solve that problem by helping you collect more (and better) data.
That’s because the key to a great virtual experience is audience engagement. The more engaged your attendees are, the more you learn about them.
Think about what data you gather from a live event; you know who registered and whether they attended the event. You might be able to capture what sessions they attended or what booth they visited but that’s about it. How long did they stay at your event? Did they raise their hand in a breakout session and ask a question? Did they take a brochure?
There is no way to capture that information.
With virtual, everything changes. The more experiential and interactive your events are, the more you learn about your attendees. Now, we can capture the digital body language of every virtual attendee. We know what sessions they watched, what questions they asked, what content they downloaded, who they connected with, and for how long.
This data gives us the insights we need to find our best event leads, and by integrating that data into our sales and marketing systems, our reps can more effectively convert those leads into pipeline.
Hybrid’s Time Is Now
But none of that will happen if your hybrid event is simply a physical event, streaming presentations to a passive, and probably bored, audience.
We are at the dawn of a new event reality where we can engage more people, deliver better experiences and drive more pipeline. Some companies will surely take the lazy way out and create “hybrid events” that don’t actually offer virtual audiences much of an experience. That strategy will surely backfire and result in a lot of virtually unhappy prospects who will likely drop off early and never return. But for those companies that embrace creating truly immersive, interactive, connected, fun, experiences for both physical and virtual attendees… the future is very bright indeed.