Back to the basics: the ultimate guide on how to set up your first hybrid event step-by-step

Hybrid events are poised to be the future of MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences & exhibitions) events as well as internal events (company offsites, sales kickoffs, new hires onboarding sessions etc.) for organizations. So the need for organizers to know how to set up a seamless and engaging hybrid event is more critical than ever. 

It can be intimidating, we know. So, to make this process more straightforward, and to ease your trepidation, we’ve put together a simple guide on how you can go about hosting your first hybrid event.

1. Pick your hybrid event venue(s) carefully

A checklist

Choosing the venue(s) for your event is a little trickier than it seems. Not only do you need to keep the basics in mind - attendee capacity, technology capabilities - but you also have to factor in safety and health protocols and guidelines. And if you want your event to be as eco-friendly as possible, there is an additional set of factors to consider. Click here to read more.

Nevertheless, here are the basics you need to look for in a hybrid venue:

  • Robust internet connectivity
  • Space for attendees and any equipment needed (stage, lighting etc.)
  • Provides in-house support
  • Lets you hold dry runs 
  • Has safety measures in place

Click here to read a further breakdown of these basics.

2. Choose the right virtual and hybrid event platform

Four people stand around a table made of jigsaw puzzle pieces

This is the big one. Finding a virtual and hybrid event platform that can help you execute a seamless event experience for all your attendees, regardless of whether they are attending in-person or virtually is mission critical. 

The platform you pick will have to serve as the connective tissue between attendees and speakers,  attendees in different locations and venues in different locations as well. So here’s what is essential:

  • Zero lag: A platform that lets you present your stream to your attendees in the lowest latency environment and eliminate the typical RTMP delay.
  • User-friendliness: No matter how much a platform boasts of its capabilities, it won’t make a difference to you as an organizer or as an attendee if the platform is not easy to use. Look for platforms that allow you to build in days instead of weeks, and that require no knowledge of coding for the creation of the virtual venue.
  • Customizability: Customization enables effective branding, marketing, and audience engagement - all critical to the success of an event, and in generating ROI for an organizer. Needless to say, organizing a virtual trade show is going to require different elements than a virtual sales kickoff, so the more flexibility a platform has in accommodating your needs and specifications, the better.
  • Live engagement tools: Build a sense of community in your event with engagement tools such as Chat, Q&A, Polls, Emoji & Raise Hands that enable attendees to participate irrespective of where they are. For instance, for events hosted on Zuddl, virtual attendees use the in-platform tools to take part, while in-person attendees  use our mobile app. This way all interactions are facilitated and captured via a single platform. 
  • Networking capabilities: A platform that lets virtual, and in-person attendees and speakers connect in virtual booths and also network in real-time via the mobile app.
  • Analytics: Your platform should let you capture a breadth and depth of real-time data from both in-person and virtual attendees at your events — including daily attendance, audience engagement and more. 

While these are the essentials required, click here to read other important questions to remember when evaluating platforms for your event. 

3. Set up your virtual venue

A group of people all holding different shapes in their hands, try to fit them together

As mentioned, based on how user-friendly the hybrid event platform you pick is, setting up the virtual venue can take from hours to weeks, so factor this into your planning timetable.

When setting up your virtual venue, keep in mind that you’re trying to create an experience that is exciting enough to rival a Netflix show or a sale on Amazon. Therefore, curating a variety of spaces and activities, such as the following,  is key to retaining attendee attendance, attention and engagement. 

  • Lobby: Event lobbies can help people remember you vs the 5 other events they may be joining that week. Using our platform tools, you can create a warm, welcoming, exciting area that sets the tone for your brand, event, and customer experience.
  • Stages: Stages usually play centerstage at any event. This is where virtual attendees can view live keynotes, panel discussions, roundtables that are occuring at the in-person venue(s). Stages should have engagement tools that attendees and speakers can use to share opinions and join in the conversation. The layouts should also be customizable, so that you can add your company branding to the backdrop or that of your sponsors to drive visibility and awareness for them. Protip: Zuddl offers event organizers a Backstage feature that enables easy management and coordination of speakers and content. With this capability, you can control the rotation of speakers, pre recorded content and transition videos and images, and stay on top of timing. Click here to read more. 
  • Virtual breakout rooms: Rooms in which attendees can meet and talk in smaller groups help drive more in-depth conversations and create a ‘shared experience’ for in-person and virtual attendees. You can use Rooms for a variety of purposes, from team brainstorms and workshops to just casual social rooms where attendees can socialize and talk about sessions happening on the stage.
  • Expo area: Setting up a virtual expo zone enables your sponsors and partners to create virtual expo booths to showcase their products and services. It's a great way to drive value for them, and for attendees as well.
  • Fun zones: There’s plenty of opportunity to make your event an exciting one for attendees to spend time at. You can turn one of your Expo Booths into a photobooth for instance to make your event just that little bit more fun, interactive and memorable for your attendees, or set up virtual games. 

4. Brand everything

A large part of creating a hybrid experience that feels unified and shared is branding, because consistent branding throughout the event, at both the in-person venue and your virtual one, ties both experiences together.

With this in mind, you should completely brand the in-person venue with your company decor and signage, and use similar videos, colors and graphics for your virtual venue as well. This helps in creating a shared and connected experience. 

“Creating a polished and branded meeting venue was very important for us from the beginning,” says Lindsay Meyers, Senior Director, Office of Special Events of the University of Maryland (UMD) when discussing how the UMD team set up their first hybrid board meeting.  “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.” Click here to read more about the event.

5. Stay on top of event communications

A man follows a set of grey stone dot path

While this specific piece of advice is part and parcel of all event planning, it is especially important in the context of hybrid events. You can assume that most of your attendees do not know quite what to expect from a hybrid event, so all your communications to registered attendees should help them understand what to expect. 

Keep in mind that you’ll need to tailor instructions for virtual and in-person attendees.

For in-person attendees for example, you will need to specify guidelines about the in-person venue - where it is, if there are any COVID negative proofs they need to bring, any instructions about checking if, safety protocols in place, etc.  An event schedule, highlighting rooms, activities, and networking opportunities is key, as is explaining how they will be able to connect with virtual event attendees at the event.

For virtual attendees, you will need to share instructions on how to access the event, an event schedule, as well as how they will be able to connect with in-person attendees at the event. Keep in mind that your attendees will be tuning in from all over the world, so share event timings in an accessible way - ie. in PST/ EST. 

6.  Create an engagement strategy that brings in-person and virtual attendees together

Two men and women stand around holding gears in their heads

More than ever before, we’re yearning for human connection. Build your hybrid event engagement strategy around this tenet, and look for ways to connect in-person and virtual attendees in ways that make them feel part of the same shared experience. Here are some suggestions:

  • Pre-event/Pre-session chat: Connecting attendees with even one other person ahead of time can make them feel more excited, comfortable and confident in attending the event and meeting others, and can even embolden them to participate more during the event.
  • Birds of a feather sessions: These sessions, which can be hosted in virtual breakout rooms, can serve as relaxed town hall-like space where like-minded virtual and in-person attendees can chat about their interests, leading to potential collaboration. You can choose to invite a speaker to the session to facilitate group discussions, or you can make it more informal and simply encourage attendees to have unconstrained conversations about set topics. 
  • Speed networking: This type of networking works in a similar fashion to speed dating but with the advantage of AI-matchmaking. It helps attendees connect with others at the event based on similar interests. For this activity, you will need a virtual event platform like Zuddl that has this capability. Click here to read more. 
  • Stage interactions - Plan in live sessions that shake things up, get everyone energized and create a greater sense of connection. At these sessions, you’ll need to play the role of a thoughtful moderator - using Polls to remind all attendees that their opinions matter in real-time, and encourage everyone to ask questions using Gamification - via the mobile app or using the event platform.  These simple actions can go a long way in making each of your attendees feel ‘seen’ and valued, and will encourage them to keep participating.
  • Virtual watch parties - One of the advantages of virtual Breakout Rooms is that attendees within a Room can together watch what’s happening live on a Stage. In this manner, it functions as a Watch Party of sorts. It’s a great way to intertwine virtual and in-person attendees in real-time. 

7.  Use analytics to uncover relevant insights, faster

Three people stand below a symbol of a lightbulb, a set of gears and a graph diagram

One of the greatest benefits of hosting a hybrid event is that it gives you access to accurate real-time data that you would not otherwise get from a traditional in-person event. This means that with an event platform like Zuddl, you can pinpoint which speakers, sessions and content drive the most interest and participation from attendees, and which are not performing well. 

You can then leverage these insights to make immediate changes (for instance, replacing  poorly performing marketing collateral at an Expo Booth), create valuable follow-up assets (for instance, a downloadable how-to guide related to a session topic), and refine subsequent events (for instance, working again with speakers whose sessions got the most engagement).

To sum up…

We know that organizing a hybrid event can seem intimidating. There seems like a hundred moving parts to keep track of, and not enough time in a day. With this guide, you can go about organizing your event in a calm and purposeful way. Each recommendation will help you build an event experience that is fun, impactful, and memorable.

Over to you

So you just went through the most comprehensive guide for setting up a hybrid event.  From finding the right technology to planning strategies for engagement,  there’s a lot you need to do before the event can be termed a grand success.

Which is why you want to have peace of mind when it comes to the virtual event platform. Choosing a platform that’s extremely user-friendly for both attendee and organizer as well as 100% customizable is one of the smartest decisions you could take. 

We’d be happy to show you how we can help. Why not get in touch with us today?

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