Hybrid events were the exception to the rule prior to 2020, but now the business world has adjusted to the reality of remote work, physical distancing, restricted attendances for face-to-face events, and rapid growth in online events, they are quickly becoming part of the ‘new normal’.
What is a hybrid event? A hybrid event combines a virtual element with a face-to-face event, making content available for consumption to an online audience that may not have attended the physical event.
The major reason event organisers have given in the past for not adding a virtual component to their physical events was simple: they believed in-person attendance (and revenue) would be eroded if their event content was made available online.
This has been shown to be a myth: in fact, the opposite is true — adding a virtual component is the best way of promoting and making your event content accessible to a wider audience, thereby giving them a taste for attending your events in person.
Let’s look at an example: The Professional Conference Management Association (PCMA) began live streaming its ‘Convening Leaders’ annual meeting in 2010. Eight years later, the video content from its hybrid event had generated $1 million in revenue and 1800 new members have joined PCMA thanks to its online conferences.
“We’ve seen an increase in our face-to-face attendance every single year, and digital events have created a pipeline of engagement,” the PCMA says.
“We’ve proven that (cannibalisation of live events by digital events) does not happen and that the opposite is actually true. Virtual meetings can be a very strategic tool for growing face-to-face-programs.”
One of the key reasons the PCMA’s online content works so well — it now streams 20-plus live sessions, up from 6 in the first year of including an online element — has been planned engagement, whereby a moderator offers pre-planned shout-outs and encouragement for attendees viewing sessions live online to participate in the debate and the conversation.
And the association uses its online sessions to promote the rest of its conference content: “You can’t stream everything — so what you get online is just a taste of the event itself.”
On top of that, the organisation takes pains to ensure the streamed content is not only relevant for an online audience, but presented in a format that works. For example, it stopped streaming lunch’n’learn sessions live from the conference after realising that the clutter of cutlery was doing nothing for the online audience.
Beyond the increase in revenue, the PCMA has also experienced an increase in engagement metrics — such as website visits, email opens and click-through rates — for people who have attended its events online.
So what are the key takeouts for event organisers who are considering adding a virtual element to a face-to-face event?
It’s a great time to trial hybrid events: With physical gatherings restricted, and likely to be so for some time, it’s a great time to use the expertise many of us have developed hosting online-only events to complement and grow in-person event attendance.
Be relevant to both audiences: Ask yourself why people attend your event and ensure you’re catering both to in-person and online visitors with relevant content.
Don’t stream everything: Ideally you want to create a desire among your online viewers to attend future events in person.
Do stream your keynotes and panels: These not only work well online, they are most likely to generate views, comments and publicity to help promote the physical event.
Encourage engagement: Your moderator should encourage your online audience, as well as your in-person attendees, to ask questions (which they can do via online chat if they’re live-streaming the event via webinar technology).
Market your online content carefully: Market your online content at the same time you’re promoting your in-person event and consider offering it only to interstate or international viewers.
Charge strategically: Don’t undersell your online content: if it’s valuable, it’s likely attendees will pay to attend — and they’re most likely saving money they might well spend to travel there in person.
We bust some more myths about hybrid events in our new eBook: Hybrid Events: Trends, Facts and Hacks.
Or reach out to Redback directly if you’d like some help using virtual content to create a hybrid strategy to grow your face-to-face conference and events program.