The consensus in our industry is that the pathway back to live events will involve a hybrid model as the steppingstone. Discussions vary from client to client in terms of whether they will plan any live activity in 2021, with some still fully focussed on virtual to deliver their communication strategy for the foreseeable future.
Currently in the middle of a UK and global lockdowns, it isn’t easy to plan future events, hybrid or otherwise. Who knows what the regulations around business events will look like on the other side of current restrictions, but we need to be ready for the next phase. I’m sure we are all desperate to get back to face to face events but, in the meantime, there is a lot we can do to plan ahead. Venues are certainly looking to the future, with some getting themselves in shape to take advantage of the hybrid requirement when it takes off. They are bringing in new technology and setting up in-house studios, to make sure they can accommodate the specific requirements that hybrid events have.
So, what are the key considerations if you are putting hybrid on your events agenda for 2021?
Top Five Considerations
Last year Dan Umney, BCD M&E’s UK Creative Director, wrote a great piece about the Success Factors for Hybrid, that is still a helpful read when planning your first steps into this format. Just like planning any event, live, virtual or hybrid, you need to start with the basics and these are my top five:
1. Why do an event?
When discussing any brief, my starting point is always why an event? Is that the best way of engaging with your audience and delivering your message? What is the benefit to the audience from attending – be that virtually or in person. Once you’ve established that, it will help you create an experience that will bring something unique and of value to your participants.
We also need to be empathetic towards clients’ own policies around M&E. Some corporates have travel and meeting restrictions to the end of 2021, so how can we help? We can still do smaller Hybrid meetings with presenters and guests in studios delivering compelling content to engage the audience.
2. Consider your audience.
A Hybrid event needs to work for both the audience in the room and online, you cannot just stream the live event and hope that will engage everyone. It won’t. The experience has to be planned for both audience types with opportunities for them to engage, participate and network. Mapping out the engagement journey for delegate types is essential, as is deciding who you invite to attend in person and online. Of course, clients may be prepared to put on a Hybrid event, but we will also have to consider whether delegates are willing to travel or stay away. Corporates can’t force attendance and need to be mindful of attendees concerns and anxieties. The great thing about a Hybrid event, is that it gives people a choice; attend in person or engage with the event online.
Along with agenda design you also need to be considerate of international audiences across time zones when deciding on dates and timings. Again, it can’t just be to suit those in the room if it means unsociable hours for your online attendees.
3. The right environment.
There will be so much to consider when planning the first face to face events and Covid health & safety will require an article all of its own! However, start thinking about the kind of venue that will work for your event in terms of safety, numbers, seating, access and production capabilities. Hybrid events will need a more studio style approach making it look more like TV production than the traditional live set and stage. Wherever the audience is watching the experience it must work for them, so things like venue design, space, video displays, camera angles and sound quality all matter.
To do Hybrid successfully you need to invest properly as you would F2F. In some instances, the costs could be higher due to needing larger meeting space for smaller numbers, AV infrastructure for both live and webcasting elements and platform related costs to meet the requirements of both live and virtual audiences.
4. Content is key.
Events needs to have a narrative that runs through them, what you need to communicate will inform how you do it. With Hybrid you will also need to consider whether everyone accesses your content at the same time, especially with a global audience across time zones. You may have areas onsite that are accessible for participants to explore while providing resources that are available as “self-serve” online. It is important that content is adapted to create a virtual experience which keeps the remote audience just as engaged as those in the room. Use technology to increase interaction and perhaps additional moderators to help facilitate online discussions. Remember your online audience will not have the same attention span as those attending in person so plan any shared sessions accordingly.
5. Make it engaging.
The rise of virtual has accelerated the development of technology to help engage audiences; polling, voting, Q&As, live emoji reactions, virtual networking, collaboration tools, gamification, mindfulness sessions and entertainment… the list goes on. These are all tools that can help your audience connect with your content and each other effectively. Of course, it depends on your platform capabilities, but most can effectively deliver varied functionality as well as provide valuable data on audience interactions. Avoid throwing in the kitchen sink, all these tools are just that, tools. They are there to enhance the experience so consider what works with your content and audience type the best.
What the future holds
With the global roll out of vaccine programmes we can hope that it is a matter of time before we are able to meet in person again. Back in March 2020 the industry had to adapt to accommodate virtual events and has done so successfully, educating clients and ourselves as to what was possible. Hybrid is the next step in that evolution and will, I believe be here to stay long after fully live events come back.
The past year has taught us there are smart, new ways of delivering communications to an even wider audience. Technology has moved at a frenetic pace and we are in a position to reach more people with less impact on the environment. I can’t see that changing just because travel restrictions are relaxed. There will always be the desire to experience things in person and enjoy that human connection we all crave, but the landscape has changed forever. Now we can see what is achievable using digital platforms, this has to be a part of our future offerings. Embracing Hybrid as the next step is not only logical, but essential for the event industry’s future.
Director of Strategic Communications