Hybrid Event Planning: Insights to Hone Your Hybrid Strategy

July 02, 2021 | Experiential Marketing


In light of the country reopening, it may seem as though many people appear to be ready to get back to in-person events, but it’s vital for experiential experts to consider that not everyone may feel ready to travel to a meeting or conference just yet.

“With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in full swing, it’s easy to picture a return to pre-pandemic life right around the corner,” says Bankrate. “But more than 8 in 10 U.S. adults won’t be cheering at a game, dancing at a concert or laughing at a comedy show any time soon. A new Bankrate.com survey shows only 16 percent of U.S. adults have bought tickets for an upcoming live event.”

Right now, one thing we know for sure is that virtual events are here to stay. They are no longer a one-off but will continue to be part of how we plan events moving forward.

Incorporating digital and live components into your strategy.

That hesitancy to travel for some, combined with the likelihood of lower corporate travel budgets this year, points to why it’s going to be important for event and trade show professionals to hold onto virtual components when designing their future programs. With that said, it’s going to be equally important to keep in mind the enthusiasm some people do have to return to in-person experiences. What does this all mean for the road forward? Taking on a hybrid approach by incorporating both digital and live components into your future event programs.

And before we dive deeper into what’s driving hybrid experiences and how to approach hybrid event planning today, it’s important to consider that from an attendee perspective, they’ll be considering whether they plan to attend an event in-person, virtually, or maybe a mix of both.

This is key to think about when developing your future program because it means truly considering what your audience wants and needs to ensure the format makes sense and delivers on what they’re looking for. If it’s live with virtual components, what does that look like? Is it digital-based with live regional meetups? Is it live-based with the option to attend virtually?

So while it’s important from a planning perspective to use the term ‘hybrid’, when it comes to the actual execution of an event itself, it’s key to think of it from the lens of an attendee and tailor an onsite or online experience that meets their needs in either format.

A Closer Look at What’s Driving The Shift to Live + Digital

We can look to a recent Markletic survey on hybrid events for a better understanding of current audience sentiment:

  • 57% of respondents say they would rather attend an in-person version of a hybrid event
  • 72% of respondents believe they will get more value out of attending a hybrid event in-person.
  • 43% would prefer to take in an event on a virtual level
  • 28% still see value in a digital experience.

Digital and virtual are still at the forefront and will remain a core component of events.

Based on these figures, the overall takeaway is that hybrid event planning is going to be an important component in future programs to ensure that brands reach target audiences where they are, be it online or onsite.

What’s more, for brands that are prioritizing sustainable practices in their organization, hybrid experiences can offer a valuable opportunity to be greener and reduce negative environmental impact. Events with a virtual component have the potential to make a difference by reducing attendee travel and the effects it can have on the environment, an item of increasing importance as the global conversation and concern around climate issues continues to grow.

“Hybrid event platforms can future-proof your business, now and for many years ahead, reducing costs while upping green credentials,” notes The Drum. “The various COVID-19 lockdowns have prompted people to live more sustainably or to think harder about climate change . . . With this heightened awareness of sustainability, there is a need for everyone to be more efficient with their time and resources.”

Creating Effective Hybrid Experiences with Tailored Content

When it comes to hybrid event planning, it’s critical to design a hybrid program that adapts content to each medium. Attendee dwell times, attention spans and appetites for content vary significantly between digital and physical experiences. Formats and communications should be optimized for each audience to ensure best-fit experiences for each attendee.

“It’s no secret that the bread and butter of virtual events is compelling and engaging content. Without it, attendees lose interest and log out,” notes Smart Meetings. “Physical events, on the other hand, rely on ‘the experience’ and surroundings. With that in mind, event organizers need to marry the best of both of these worlds to create a hybrid event that is enriching and unique to attendees.”

Hybrid Event Models to Consider

While it might seem a bit daunting to build the right hybrid experience for your audience and begin the process of hybrid event planning, the good news is that there are several ways to go about it, and various models to choose from.

We can look to a few examples, like the Red Hat Summit, which will be held virtually in Q2 2021 and then move to an in-person format in Q3.

Or ATD21, an event for HR professionals that’s providing attendees with the opportunity to attend on a virtual level (ATD21 @ Home), while also offering people the chance to attend its in-person event hub in Salt Lake City (ATD21 HQ) or choose from one of its smaller, regional event locations (ATD21 Regional).

Then there’s MedTech, happening in September and driving a predominantly virtual event program, while also offering select in-person engagements in Washington D.C. and Minneapolis.

What’s key here is that there is no one-size-fits-all format for hybrid events. Leading with an attendee-first strategy makes the experience meaningful and memorable, whether live or virtual.

The Takeaways

The key to approaching hybrid experiences in 2021 is to start with defining your event goals and how they may differ between your live and virtual mediums. Then, zero in on your target audiences’ preferences — consider surveying them directly for comfort levels, format preferences and content interests. Your hybrid event planning strategy should keep your attendees at the center of your program.

Once you’ve determined these foundational insights, you can begin ideating on the right format and building your hybrid strategy. And if one thing is certain, things will continue to evolve, so make sure to keep shifting audience needs in mind as you plan!

For even more insights and tips on hybrid experience role models, get the latest issue of The Trend now.

Posted by Lyndsay Merbach | Request as a Speaker

Strategist and explorer. Lover of sudoku. Energized by coffee, learning and smart people. Typically found outdoors.