However, those of us who work in the sector, are nothing if not creative. We are open to new ways of operating and, while not a new technology, online or virtual platforms have become a must have tool in our armoury.
The good news for everyone is that face to face events will return, though it is recognised that people’s expectations about future gatherings have changed. Fortunately, the digital environment offers opportunities to expand the audiences of all organisations.
Physical and Virtual events are complementary to one another, with each having strengths which, when effectively brought together can enhance the experience for everyone attending and increase the ROI for both clients and sponsors.
People’s understanding, knowledge and experience of online/virtual events have also changed during the past year and, going forward, Hybrid events will inevitably form part of an organisation’s communications strategy to achieve their objectives.
Now that the vaccine programme is well under way, at least in the UK, the demand to open the economy and a return to something approaching ‘normal’ will become louder with each passing day.
Social distancing is here to stay for a while yet.
Last week, I asked a venue what its capacity might be for a conference in September? That is well under 50% from this time last year.
How viable does this become for the client, sponsors, and the audience?
Think of the ‘fixed costs’ of organising an event and divide that by 50% of the hoped-for audience. Challenging to say the least. However, bringing an online audience into the mix can change this substantially.
A successful hybrid event requires the same elements and features as a physical event.
Subject matter is even more important at a hybrid event. Along with engaging the in-person attendees, the virtual audience should also feel they are involved throughout the event. There is therefore a requirement on the organiser and client to ensure the presenters are suitably prepared and that their presentations are engaging to both the physical and online audience by managing the content and overall agenda.
While events have individual goals, an overarching goal for all hybrid events is to engage as many attendees as possible, however they may be participating.
A hybrid event allows people to connect in-person if they want that human connection experience while enabling individuals, who otherwise would not have been able to attend due to the reasons outlined below, the flexibility to engage virtually.
The aim should be to simply make the experience equally interesting and exciting for both groups. By reducing the barrier to entry, hybrid events provide the opportunity for even more people to interact with the content and the brand.
For any number of reasons, cost, travel, time, seniority within an organisation, family, etc., not everyone is able to attend face to face.
The Hybrid model caters for those still willing and able to attend while enabling a much wider audience to be an integral part of the event. This also helps potentially increase attendance in the future with would-be attendees "sampling" the experience.
From our own experience over the past few months, organisations can dramatically increase their audience by delivering the content virtually, a mix of Live and Pre-recorded sessions.
The Economic Crime Conference 2016-2019, attendance grew from 185 to 400
The Virtual Conference 2020 – Registered attendees, 875. Over 200 from one organisation who had previously sent up to 30 at most.
The Turning Point Scotland Conference, expected around 150 attendees
The Virtual Conference Registrations – 278, from 9 countries
For both conferences, attendees are still accessing the presentations via the Digital Conference Libraries.
Adding a virtual aspect to the live event opens up more engagement opportunities than would be possible at a strictly live experience, before, during and after the event itself.
This occurs when the virtual audience is actively participating from their mobile devices or desktop computer, e.g., they can talk, ask questions, share their thoughts, like and share other views and comment.
As a Hybrid event will be live streaming the speakers and sessions for virtual attendees to view, the recording and hosting of the content in a Digital Event Library will be critical.
Attendees who could not make certain sessions or simply want to review and learn more, can watch the content days or even weeks after the event is over. This will keep the event, and the key stakeholders, in the minds of the attendees long after the event has concluded.
With Glasgow hosting COP26 at the end of this year, the environment will be to the fore across the world.
While face-to-face meetings will remain important, going hybrid will be a fundamental way to accommodate attendees and organisations who are committed to reducing their own carbon footprint.
It will undoubtedly reduce the personal headcount at events, the result of which will be less need for printed materials, catering, or disposable accessories.
As with the reduced environmental impact above, hybrid events can significantly decrease travel costs across the board for everyone involved.
The travel costs and time for speakers, organisers and attendees can be dramatically reduced while the work from home norm will enable people to participate in a location, they feel safe and secure in.
While sponsors look for the face-to-face contact time at face-to-face events, they too can save by sending fewer representatives in attendance. And, with virtual sponsorship opportunities, they can participate fully online while still generating value.
When budgets are tight, hybrid events are excellent for bridging the gap between cost and results, for attendees and sponsors alike.
In conclusion, I personally look forward to renewing my acquaintance with organising face to face events and making good use of over 30 years experience in doing so. However, in the first 30 weeks of the pandemic crisis it enabled me to step back, take a look at the environment and gain a fuller understanding of how we will engage with audiences again.
Somethings will be the same. Some things will be different, much different.
The end result though will be a quality experience, delivered by an experienced team, to a geographically and more diverse audience.
How have we done so far? Follow the link here to see what 3 of our established clients have said so far.