As the events industry searches for a solution to the Covid-19 crisis, hybrid events are offering a chink of light.
Events planners see this form of gathering, which comprises a small physical attendance and an off-site visual audience, as a way to cater to huge audiences without breaching social distancing regulations. In one recent survey in London, nearly three-quarters of event professionals said they are planning a hybrid meeting before the end of the year.
But this new form of event brings challenge as well as opportunity. How do you run a hybrid event that keeps virtual attendees as engaged as in-person attendees? Naturally, much of our focus is going to fall on the in-person element, as this is what will be reflected in our promotional literature. But, when planning a hybrid meeting, it’s also vital we think about the attendees we can’t see.
This post will strive to offer some tips to help you ensure your hybrid gathering is as engaging for those following on a screen as those watching in the flesh.
A tailored hybrid event platform
Ok, this one’s kind of obvious, right? Well, it’s also crucial, because your event platform provides the main engagement hub for your entire hybrid event, and will play a vital role in keeping your virtual attendees involved.
Companies such as SpotMe, Anuncio and Aventri allow you to create custom-designed platforms for your event, with an array of additional features to complement the live streams and add value to attendees.
The more bespoke and visual you can make your hybrid event presentation, the better. As Josh Allman, a business development executive with virtual events platform GoWithAlice puts it, “over the lockdown period we have all been attacked by endless Zoom webinars. To be truthful, we are bored of them.” It’s essential that we choose the right platform for our audience, and allow our virtual attendees to actively participate rather than just sitting back and absorbing content.
Verity Deaville, a judge at the UK’s Conference & Hospitality Show Award and founder of the Verity Venue event business, says “the key for virtual delegates to feel motivated is for your event not to be a one-sided conversation. Your event hub should definitely include live polls and live Q&A, and for the event moderator to regularly incorporate the updated content/results/feedback during the event.”
You should also encourage your attendees (both physical and virtual) to fill in their profile information via the platform, thereby giving them a visible presence at your event and making them more likely to take an active role in proceedings.
For millions of people, networking opportunities are the main reason to attend an event. And, if we’re running a hybrid meeting, these opportunities will naturally be skewed in favour of those who are attending in person.
So we need to even out the score by deploying technologies which give our virtual attendees a slice of the networking action. Indeed, this should be a core requirement when looking for a hybrid event platform.
To make the networking more realistic and enticing, look for platforms that incorporate video chat, as well as dedicated spaces for virtual attendees to interact, away from the main events. Verity Dearville says her chosen virtual venue platform offers virtual breakout rooms, VIP spaces and even party zones once the main business of the day is done.
Artificial intelligence is also unlocking new possibilities in this space. For example, this year’s edition of the UK’s Meetings Show is using AI matchmaking, a platform that will find like-minded attendees based on their profile preferences and keywords.
This is a great way to spice up a hybrid event for virtual participants. Gamification takes the best-loved elements of games and competition and applies them to non-competitive situations, so your attendees can pit their wits against one another.
Your games can encourage virtual attendees to achieve a set number of networking contacts, share specific content and answer questions based on the event newsfeed. In each case, you’re giving your distanced participants added stimulus and compensation for the missing buzz of in-person attendance. You can even run a live contest between the two audiences (physical and virtual) with questions about the conference.
These games can even be used to liven up the sessions themselves. Josh Allman explains: “You can be running a treasure/prop hunt, hiding items digitally and physically, and when it comes to keynotes or live streamed sessions, also hide something in that session in the background.”
We know that social’s hardly new, but it’s absolutely awesome for sharing the excitement of a live event and keeping virtual attendees hooked when you’re running a hybrid event.
In an earlier post, we talked about the best social networks to promote your event (you can find that piece here). But we should also use social during the event itself, using each platform for a specific purpose.
If we want to keep the public informed of our progress, we can use Twitter to maintain a steady stream of incentives and updates, encouraging our attendees to retweet (this could even be gamified, so the most prolific sharers receive a reward). At the same time, we can use TikTok and Snapchat to create a visual buzz around the event with video and post our favourite photos on Instagram and Facebook.
Gary Lynch, founder of MGL Communications in New York and a virtual event specialist, says “you can use social media to increase engagement among attendees and, most importantly, you need to foster networking post-event. Social media is a great tool. Have someone act as a moderator that posts questions, photos, etc. to get people engaged.”
Ultimately there are all kinds of tools we can deploy, and as technology continues to advance, so the range of options for our hybrid meeting increases.
Josh Allman believes that in the future, “AI and machine learning can be used to custom-tailor the event to each attendee, by changing the layout based on their registration information. Also, AI could be used to collect information, which could be used for purposeful marketing.”
In the end, however, the core aim remains the same no matter what technology we use: to keep the conversation moving and keep offering value to virtual participants.
Always keep in mind that your virtual attendees are giving up their time to join your event, and aren’t enjoying the commercial opportunities available to those on-premise. So your goal should be to compensate them in everything you do and never stop trying to find added value.