First, let's get this out of the way: hybrid events have been around for years.
Take any example of a major sporting event that has been televised worldwide. On the one hand, you have plenty of people enjoying the game in person at the stadium, and on the other hand, you have millions of fans watching the game at home. This is an example of an event that is hybrid thanks to its virtual and in-person components. So, why the hype now?
Over the past year, event marketers have seen first-hand the benefits that come with virtual events - the ability to reach a broader audience, drive more engagement, track metrics easily, and improve event ROI. So even though people are able to meet again in person now, the success driven by virtual events have ensured that organizers will want to bring together elements of both to host a hybrid experience; as per the EventMB´s State of the Event Industry Report, 67.5% of event planners believe that future events will mostly be hybrid.
But there’s one major caveat: in order to take advantage of everything that hybrid meetings and events have to offer, focusing on ways to keep attendee engagement high is critical. But this can seem daunting - how are you going to keep thousands of online attendees along with in-person attendees invested throughout your event?
Here’s what you need to do:
1. Set expectations for both live and virtual attendees
Regardless of whether an event is in-person or virtual, letting attendees know what they can expect at the event beforehand has always been a priority for organizers. In the case of a hybrid event, this is especially important.
Keep in mind that your attendees may be confused about how the hybrid setup will affect their event experience. They may not understand how to attend it, how to consume content, or how to and interact with others.
Setting the stage, therefore, is the first step in driving better engagement. Educating attendees about how to access the event, what in-person and digital elements will be present, how they can participate, and how they can connect with other attendees will go a long way.
2. Choose the right venue for your event
From the seating plan to technological capabilities, the venue you choose can play an important role in your ability to keep all your attendees captivated and engaged. The essentials: seating capacity for your in-person attendees, Covid-19 safety considerations, full audiovisual production ability or live studio setup, and secure and reliable WiFi.
You have to ask yourself: How can I use the venue space and its capabilities to create an immersive experience for all attendees? Does it have the equipment I need to produce a high-definition Netflix-like event experience? Does the venue provide enough bandwidth to prevent any buffering or AV lag?
As hybrid events become increasingly popular, more venues are starting to offer the services that enable hosting them. Today, it’s not surprising to find hybrid events venues that come equipped with a full live studio setup with Augmented Reality, XR effects, LED backdrops, and more. These may be a little more expensive, but the experience they provide is sure to increase your session engagement tenfold.
3. Be mindful of timezones when planning your schedule
It’s quite possible that you’ll have attendees from all over the world tuning into your event, in which case, how can you make sure your attendee from Alaska is able to have an event experience as satisfactory as an attendee from Australia? How can you ensure that everyone has access to your event content? And has the opportunity to connect with other attendees and speakers? Planning your event can seem pretty complex.
But it doesn’t have to be.
One solution is to create on-demand content or set up simulated live sessions. You can release pre-recorded videos or workshop tutorials each day which means you can accommodate attendees in different time zones easily. You can then follow it up with live Q&A sessions with the speakers featured in the on-demand content, which keeps everyone interested and involved.
Another is to host the event over a couple of days - why not? The virtual component to your hybrid event allows you to do so with agility. As long as you have an event schedule that clearly spells out what sessions or activities are going to be going live at which times, your line-up can scale up or down.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
And by creating more chances for your attendees to access and consume your content, the better your engagement rates will be.
4. Choose the right virtual event platform
Keeping hybrid attendees engaged is already a challenging task, so don’t complicate it further with cumbersome technology. You can assume that just like you, your attendees and speakers and sponsors will also be a bit unaccustomed to a hybrid event setup, so your first priority should be to find a virtual event platform partner that makes the entire process as simple, straightforward, and stress-free as possible.
Second, if the event platform you choose has features and tools that will help you drive engagement, that’s half the work done. Live Polls, Q&A, and Chat facilities are the bare minimum you should look for. Then there are platforms like Zuddl that will give you enhanced features like Raise Hands, Breakaway Rooms, and AI-powered Networking that raise the bar. Also critical: a mobile app that in-person attendees can access while at the venue that lets them connect with virtual attendees.
The more spaces and pathways you give your attendees to connect, chat, and interact, the more engaging your event will be as they are constant reminders of being part of something bigger than themselves.
5. Facilitate shared and inclusive experiences
The last thing you want is for any of your attendees to feel left out. Leveraging the capabilities of the virtual event platform and the in-person venue you choose, you can then host activities and sessions that bring your in-person and virtual attendees together.
Here are a couple of ways to do this:
Networking - Give your attendees the opportunity to meet and connect with each other at their own pace by setting up networking sessions, and Breakout Rooms. Zuddl offers Smart Networking through which attendees are matched based on mutual interests such as a session topic, a job role, or an industry. Once matched, attendees can schedule a 1:1 video meeting, and get to know each other better.
Breakout Rooms - These virtual rooms can be used to facilitate small group conversations. Attendees can use these rooms just to socialize and relax or get together to discuss a specific topic. These are particularly effective as they bring together small numbers of like-minded peers who can easily form connections with each other.
Stage Interactions - While it’s important to offer content that is accessible to attendees as per their convenience, it’s paramount to have 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 attendees that their opinions matter in real-time, take as many questions as you can by the audience to Speakers, or even using Raise Hands to bring attendees onto the stage. These simple actions can go a long way in making an attendee feel ‘seen’ and valued, and will encourage them to keep participating.
6. Use gamification to make engagement more fun!
Gamification is a simple and effective way for you to prompt and encourage attendees to participate more at your event. Set points to different activities and actions your attendees can complete such as asking a question or answering a Poll, and set prizes for those who top the leaderboard. This introduces a lighthearted sense of competition that will keep energy flowing throughout the event. (Click here to read more about Zuddl’s gamification feature)
To sum up…
The popularity of hybrid events is only set to grow over the next few years, so it’s important that you know how to get the most out of any hybrid event you host. Through thoughtful planning and the support of the right venue and a virtual event platform, you should be able to create an event experience that has all of your attendees excited and tuned in - no matter if they’re attending in-person or online.