Hybrid event delivery is the current hot topic in the conference and events industry. These dual-format events combine a traditional face-to-face conference with virtual elements, allowing both in-person and online attendees to access the same content and networking opportunities simultaneously.
Combining two, essentially opposite, delivery modes into a single cohesive event presents a unique set of challenges and issues to be considered by event hosts and organisers.
The key concern is how to effectively bridge the gap between the two delegate cohorts to provide a shared experience for all delegates regardless of location.
Both the in-person and remote delegate experience should be given equal weight in the planning process. To prioritise one over the other opens organisers up to the trap of running two parallel events rather than a single hybrid meeting. With each cohort having differing requirements and expectations, this becomes a delicate balancing act that requires careful consideration.
If converting an existing event to a hybrid format, a good place to start is to work through each element to identify how online attendees can be incorporated and what parts of the onsite delivery may need to be changed or adapted to deliver an inclusive and cohesive event.
Technology is a vital tool to bring both delivery modes together. Select a platform that can be accessed by both online and in-person delegates to create a centralised event dashboard that is uniform for all attendees.
Online discussion forums and direct messaging facilities are an easy way to connect speakers, sponsors and delegates, and provide seamless networking throughout the event. Utilising your digital platform to facilitate polling and Q&A ensures all delegates have the same opportunity to contribute to sessions.
Thorough preparation is required to ensure presenters are comfortable using the technology and are able to balance the different engagement needs of each cohort. Build in enough time to test presentations and offer rehearsals to best support your speakers for success.
Additionally, consider providing a dedicated online MC to support presenter engagement with the virtual audience, as well as facilitate a feeling of community and shared experience between online attendees.
While adding a virtual audience can be a very attractive benefit of the hybrid format, be careful of how the constraints of your in-person business hours may affect your remote attendees. Time zone discrepancies can impact the availability of some speakers and may affect the number of remote attendees that logon in real time.
These ideas represent a broad example of the kinds of challenges and considerations organisers may encounter when planning a hybrid event. The specific format, length, timing and location of your event, as well as the technology used, attendee breakdown and even the topics covered will also raise further questions for consideration, and opportunities for novel solutions.
The emergence of hybrid events as a viable and desirable event format opens up a world of creative opportunities for conferences and events, and an exciting new challenge for event organisers.