You may not be surprised to hear this, but it still bears repeating: hybrid events are here to stay.
With the value of online events having been firmly established over the past year, but with people excited to be able to meet in-person again now, organizers are going to find themselves hosting more and more in-person events with a virtual component aka. a hybrid event. To put a number on it - 51% of event marketers are convinced that this kind of conference will stay even after the pandemic subsides - simply because they are "pandemic proof.”
What this means is that event organizers who half-heartedly trifled with the hybrid event format last year, no longer have the luxury to be complacent anymore in getting a hybrid event right.
And there’s a lot to get right.
There’s more to curating a hybrid event than just planning your in-person event and then inviting virtual attendees to tune in. At its essence, a hybrid event is all about bringing attendees together, regardless of their location, to enjoy a shared experience. Easy to read but not so easy to pull off, especially when you’re not aware of basic errors that could derail your entire event.
To help you out, here are 5 mistakes to eschew when you set out to plan your hybrid event.
1. Choosing an RTMP-streaming dependent virtual event platform
Real Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) is the de facto method for virtual event platforms to stream audio, video, and data over the Internet, meaning that event organizers don’t think twice when the event platform partner of their choice uses RTMP streaming. But this is the biggest mistake organizers and planners can make.
First, RTMP doesn’t allow for two-way communication which means that your virtual attendees will not be able to speak with your in-person speakers or attendees, which means you’re essentially blocking them from fully participating at the event.
Second, using RTMP causes a 30 second latency issue which means that virtual attendees will continually feel out of the loop and one step behind in-person attendees. So if you did decide to use RTMP streaming, your speakers and attendees at the venue would have to continually wait for 30 seconds for the virtual audience to react.
Just imagine this scenario at your event:
- Scientist X, speaking at the venue: We’re excited to announce this life-saving new medicine!
- Attendees at the venue: Cheers and applauds wildly
- Meanwhile, virtual attendees: *crickets*
10 seconds later… Hello? Scientist X? What’s going on?
20 seconds later…Hello? Hello?
30 seconds later…Oh
There should never be a latency issue at your hybrid event. Period.
The need for organizers now, instead of defaulting to RTMP, is to look for a streaming platform that is zero latency- like Zuddl.
2. Using a virtual event platform that makes you compromise on branding
A large part of creating a hybrid experience that feels unified and shared is branding, because consistent branding throughout the event, at both the physical venue and your virtual one, ties both experiences together. However, this can be difficult if your virtual event platform partner doesn’t have the capability to let you brand the virtual event your way.
Branding, after all, is much more than slapping a logo and your brand colours on the welcome or login page. It’s about being able to create a look and feel that resonates with your brand, and this can be achieved through creative use of image, video and interactivity.
So when picking your virtual event platform, look for the branding ability it gives you. Take for example, this schedule page created by the University of Maryland (UMD) for their hybrid Board of Trustees meeting. Not only does it make clever use of UMD branding, but it also showcases the critical role the Foundation plays, and therefore subtly highlights the importance of the event as well.
“Creating a polished and branded meeting venue was very important for us from the beginning,” says Lindsay Meyers, Senior Director, Office of Special Events. “Being able to curate every aspect of the experience was critical. We wanted to design everything in a way that trustees would immediately feel they had come to the right place, and also capture the energy, professionalism, and pride of previous Foundation board meetings.”
3. Having an ‘if they like it, they will pay attention’ mindset towards engagement
We’re betting right now that you have at least another three tabs open, and that you’re reading this piece half distracted by an email you need to read, a conversation on Slack you need to reply to, or a Netflix show you have on pause. No judgement - we get it. But like you, your attendees too have a world of distraction at the fingertips, which means that you have to actively work towards keeping their attention at your event.
Curating great content is, of course, essential but it’s engagement that will differentiate your event sessions from a slick documentary on Youtube. Therefore giving your audience a variety of ways to get involved with your event - from Chat and Q&A to Polls - and using Gamification to encourage them to keep on participating is critical to keeping them invested. And this is also a way for all your attendees to feel like they’re at the same event.
4. Downplaying the importance of curating experiences for two audiences
You don’t have to create the same experience for your in-person attendees and your virtual ones. “It’s really about what you can create even if they are different experiences that’ll make that experience worth it for separate audiences,” says Vedha Sayyaparaju, Co-Founder & CTO at Zuddl.
For example, you wouldn’t ask virtual attendees to sit and watch live sessions for 4-5 hours like in-person audiences are used to doing. Instead you could consider offering live sessions many times so that virtual attendees can join at a time of their convenience but still build off the energy of a live session with an in-person audience.
And for instance, if in-person attendees were treated to a live and hands-on demonstration of a product, you might offer virtual attendees exclusive opportunities to meet with experts in an online group for discussion.
Then, you can bring both audiences together by using virtual Rooms that can be joined by in-person attendees via a mobile app and virtual attendees via the platform, for group discussions.
5. Not using analytics to make quick improvements
The biggest benefit of a hybrid event is the ability to learn more about attendee actions at your event in real-time. You’ll be able to see which topics are getting the most interest. You can use polls to capture feedback from attendees. And you’ll be able to tell what collateral is working and what isn’t. This is all very valuable information that you would not be able to source from a traditional in-person event.
With this information, you can identify small points of difference to amplify and exploit. For example, if you realize that marketing collateral at your virtual expo booths are failing to drive any engagement or generate any leads, you have the ability to change it immediately and monitor the performance. Or you can action immediate offers and follow-up emails to attendees with higher lead scores.
To sum up…
Hybrid events offer event marketers and organizers an unprecedented opportunity to create a formidable engagement and lead generation vehicle by leveraging the best of both in-person and online event mediums. To get started, keep a watch on the 5 hybrid event pitfalls mentioned in this piece, and take immediate actions to thwart them before they become irreversible.