How to Host a Hybrid Conference or Event
Following the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, a fundamental shift has occurred in the events industry. Hybrid events, once novel, unusual occurrences, have now become common - with more and more attendees expecting to have the option of attending remotely. Given this, it’s crucial that you know how to host a hybrid event or conference. Keep on reading to find out more…
What is a hybrid event?
Before we delve into the details of how to host a hybrid event, let’s kick things off with a definition.
What exactly is a hybrid event?
Put simply, a hybrid event is an event which combines both a live ‘in-person’ audience and speakers, with a virtual audience.
The very best hybrid events are those that successfully integrate the in-person components of the event, with the online audience.
In other words, the online audience truly feels involved and engaged with the event. Online and in-person attendees are able to listen to speakers, ask questions, speak to each other, network, and more.
That’s the ideal, and that’s what we’ll be telling you how to achieve below.
What are the benefits of hosting a hybrid event or conference?
Given the definition above, you may be wondering whether hosting a hybrid event is worth all the additional work and organising.
The answer is a firm yes.
The benefits of running a hybrid event, include:
- Larger reach - hybrid events allow people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend to participate. You can reach potentially unlimited numbers of people, with positive results for your bottom line.
- Reduced costs - if more of your attendees are participating online, then you can potentially reduce your ‘in-person’ costs e.g. less catering, a smaller venue space etc.
- Long-term value - a hybrid event, where the speakers and sessions are recorded, allows you to provide long-term value to attendees. It also produces valuable content that you can use on your website etc.
- Access to valuable data - when properly set up, a hybrid event allows you to capture valuable data, such as the most engaging speakers and sessions (e.g. the numbers of virtual attendees who drop out etc).
- Reduced environmental impact - if you’re running an international conference, offering people the opportunity to attend virtually will reduce the number of flights and overall carbon emissions associated with your event
Top tips for hosting a hybrid event or conference
Now that you’ve read what a hybrid conference is, and the benefits of running one, let’s turn to our top tips for hosting a hybrid conference.
1. Set a budget
Hybrid events have been hyped up as offering significant cost savings for event organisers - and they can. But, what many people don’t realise is that hybrid events involve costs in different places, for different things.
So, it’s important to think through your event requirements carefully and set an appropriate budget.
For example, for an effective hybrid event, you’re going to need to set aside budget for:
- Hybrid event software.
- Cameras and tripods.
- General AV support.
- An appropriate venue.
- Expenses for speakers/staff.
As you can see, whilst you will potentially save on your venue and catering costs, you’ll have new costs in relation to hybrid-event specific requirements such as software and cameras.
The point is, you need to make sure you have enough budget to account for all the essential ‘inputs’ that go into creating a successful hybrid event or conference.
2. Select the right venue
When it comes to hosting a hybrid event or conference, the venue is a significant factor.
To make your life easier, select a venue which has a demonstrated track record in hosting and running hybrid events.
For example, you’ll want to check that the venue has a solid, robust internet connection. It will also need to have experience of handling audio and visuals for both in person and virtual audiences, and has people with technical expertise on hand to help you throughout your event.
3. Build your event team
When you’re running a hybrid event, you’re actually running two events; one that’s in person, and the other that’s online.
As such, it makes sense to have two teams to handle each aspect of your event.
It’s also essential that these two teams are in continual communication with each other throughout the event - for example, if a speaker walks out of shot of a camera, your virtual team needs to be able to let the in-person team know, so they can remedy the situation.
4. Create an agenda that caters to in person and virtual attendees
The trick to pulling off a truly memorable and successful hybrid event is to create a balanced agenda that takes into account the needs of both in person and virtual attendees.
The trick to doing this is to consider what each of these audiences wants to get out of your event.
What do in-person attendees expect from an event?
In-person attendees are likely to expect a full-day of sessions, complete with the usual lunch break, coffee breaks and networking opportunities.
After all, they’ve invested the time and money to actually be at your event in person. So, they’re going to make a day of it.
What do virtual attendees expect from an event?
Virtual attendees will have a different set of expectations for your event. As they’re likely to be sitting at home, they’re going to want short, easy-to-digest sessions.
It’s generally the case that virtual attendees want more breaks throughout the day, especially as screen fatigue sets in.
What’s more, virtual attendees tend to need more encouragement to join in networking and interactive sessions.
Creating an agenda that works
With the wants and needs of those two audiences in mind, you’re ready to create your event agenda.
To create an effective agenda for both audiences, consider the following points:
- Allow virtual attendees to attend only the sessions they want to. You can provide them with recordings of all the sessions post-event.
- Make several of your sessions open to both audiences, and ensure that interaction is a core part of these sessions. Include Q&A sections and allow the two audiences to interact with each other. This will help create that cohesive feeling you’re aiming to achieve.
- Provide a hashtag for platforms like Twitter so that both in-person and virtual audiences can easily communicate with each other during joint sessions.
In short, balance is key to creating a successful agenda for your hybrid event. Both in person and virtual audiences must feel as though they are being catered to and engaged with.
5. Think about time zones
The beauty of hybrid events and conferences is that people can theoretically attend from anywhere in the world.
If you are expecting numerous international attendees at your event, then it’s important to factor time zones into your plan.
One of the best ways of handling multiple time zones is to record each session and make them available ‘on demand’ straight away - so if a virtual attendee has missed a session, they can catch up on it straight away.
6. Ensure speakers present in person
Whilst hybrid events offer attendees the option to attend in person or virtually, we’d advise against offering speakers this choice.
There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, in-person attendees generally expect speakers to be at the event in person too. Being able to physically see, hear and interact with speakers is part and parcel of the event going experience.
There’s far more energy and interaction when a speaker is physically present, creating a much more enjoyable atmosphere than a series of sterile video presentations.
Secondly, having speakers present at an event, interacting with the crowd, will help to create a more engaging experience for virtual attendees.
7. Connect the in person and hybrid audience
This is one of the most difficult, yet essential steps that you have to take in order to create the best hybrid event.
One of the main reasons people attend events is for the networking and social aspects, with the opportunity to make new connections.
So, give some thought to the ways in which you can connect your two separate audiences.
Some ways in which you can connect in person and virtual audiences include:
- Hybrid events software - the best examples of this type of software allow for high levels of engagement between audiences including live polling, chat rooms, direct messaging, and even the virtual exchange of business cards.
- Hashtags - as we mentioned earlier, if you’re happy for exchanges between audiences to be made in the ‘public square’, then create a hashtag which can be used on Twitter and other social media platforms.
- Meet and greets - an excellent way of combining your two audiences is to have them attend a meet and greet, setting up a screen to display virtual attendees. Video walls are a perfect way of achieving this, as well as apps like Slido.
Note - in order to better facilitate communication between the two audiences, remind your in-person attendees to bring their laptops/mobile phones to your event.
8. Use a roving camera crew
Related to the above point about connecting your in person and virtual audiences, you should consider having a camera crew roving around your event. They can capture what’s going on in between sessions and explore the exhibition hall (if you have one).
This footage can be either live-streamed or quickly chopped up and edited into short clips to keep virtual attendees abreast of what’s going on ‘on the ground’.
9. Use social media
As we mentioned above, the use of hashtags is a powerful way of creating an engaging hybrid event for virtual and in-person attendees alike.
But, there’s much more you can use social media for other than hashtags.
For example, one idea you can try out is to encourage attendees (both in person and virtual) to share posts throughout the day, sharing which sessions they’ve attended, what they thought of them etc.
Social media is also a great place to share interactive content such as polls, or to ask questions that provoke debate. These are a great way of getting both of your audiences engaged.
10. Event branding
Just because part of your event or conference is online doesn’t mean you can ignore that all important branding.
In addition to the usual branding that you’d apply to your conference space (e.g. roller banners, lighting, signage etc), you should also ensure that the virtual side of your event is properly branded.
Consider things like intro and outro video animations, b-roll footage, branded video borders and more to make your virtual attendees feel like they’re just as much a part of the event as your in-person attendees.
11. Virtual exhibition booths
If exhibitors are going to be present at your event, then why not incorporate them into a digital exhibition space too?
This will give virtual attendees the opportunity to explore the exhibition space from the comfort of their desk or sofa. It also means they won’t be missing out on a crucial part of the experience that the in-person attendees are enjoying.
Should you want to explore this avenue, and create a virtual exhibition space for your event or conference, there are a number of companies dedicated to creating virtual exhibition spaces.
12. Ensure your speakers are fully prepared
Speaking to both an in person and virtual audience is quite a departure for many speakers.
So, it pays to help them prepare and ensure they are fully equipped. Not only should you ensure they are familiar with the basics - like how to properly use a microphone and slide clicker - but with things that you’ll only find at hybrid events.
For example, if you’re using multiple cameras to stream a speaker’s talk, make sure the speaker knows the position of these cameras so that he doesn’t accidentally walk out of shot etc.
You should also encourage speakers to ‘break the fourth wall’, that is, speak directly into the camera to the online audience.
This will ensure that virtual audiences stay engaged.
Speakers should also be advised to speak clearly and not too fast. This will help online viewers keep track of what’s been said. This is particularly important should buffering or streaming issues occur.
13. Test run your event
When you’re running a hybrid event, the last thing you need are technical issues.
The worst case scenario is that your virtual audience is completely locked out of participation in part or all of your event.
So, test run your event in advance!
At least a few days before (if not longer), get together with your fellow event organisers and walk through each aspect of your event - from both an in person and virtual attendee perspective.
For example, try logging in as a virtual attendee. Does everything go to plan? For another example, try out the AV equipment. Will attendees be able to hear the speaker clearly?
14. Have a back-up plan
As any experienced event organiser knows - if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.
That’s particularly the case where lots of technology is involved.
So, make sure you’ve got a back up plan!
Think about every possible failure point, and make sure you’ve got plans in place to address each one should the worst happen.
15. Send clear joining instructions to virtual attendees
When it comes to the day of your conference, you don’t want to be deluged with emails and phone calls from virtual attendees who are unable to join.
To avoid this, make sure that you send very clear and easy-to-understand joining instructions to virtual attendees once they’ve booked to attend your conference. Where possible, include plenty of screenshots - or even better, a video - taking them through the steps required to join your conference/individual sessions.
ACC Liverpool: the number one choice for hybrid events and conferences
We hope you’ve found our guide to running a hybrid conference or event useful and interesting.
If you’re thinking about running a hybrid event, and you’re looking for a suitable venue, then speak to the ACC Liverpool team today.
We can offer you a cost-effective hybrid or virtual events package that includes world-class venue facilities, high-spec equipment and a professional in-house production team, for a seamless and memorable event experience.
Find out more about running a hybrid or virtual event at ACC Liverpool today
For more conference planning and organising advice and information, check out the ACC Liverpool News and Events Hub…