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How hybrid events will shape the future of the industry

There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted the global economy represents a major milestone for the event and exhibitions industry and could reshape some of the event concepts as we know them. In a short survey conducted during the virtual gathering for Global Meeting Industry Day earlier this month, 77% of the 12,500 participants consider that virtual experiences will play a more important part in events after the crisis.

Due to the health and safety restrictions, face-to-face meetings were forced to go online. Certainly eye-opening for many event professionals who haven't turned to webinar tools and video chats before, this forced development will heavily reflect in the future of events.

In our private lives, virtual conferences and video chats have become essential for us to stay in touch with friends and family. From an event organizer's perspective, online events have become a way to offer online courses and to enable a virtual exchange between participants.

Hybrid events bring the two key elements of face-to-face and virtual events together. They combine “live” in-person events with “virtual” online components for remote attendees.

Conferences & trade shows in a virtual world

Given the wide range of event types, it is important to understand: What makes an event unique and how is the concept affected by face-to-face or virtual elements?

  • Conferences, seminars, and workshops often serve as educational platforms. The benefit here is: Educational content can be provided through online courses, giving attendees the flexibility to remotely participate from wherever they choose. Learning platforms will be certainly more demanded in the future because the pandemic has once again shown the importance of on-demand accessibility of educational courses. Even the exchange and discussions between participants can be offered through live chats and forums. This is certainly not fully comparable to a "real" coffee break during conferences, or social events after breakout sessions, but it is a great way of allowing for conversations in a virtual world.
  • Trade shows and exhibitions in the B2C and B2B sector are based on face-to-face experiences between exhibitors and visitors, and the ability to do business while meeting in person. Nevertheless, virtual trade shows have become more popular during the pandemic. They allow companies to position their brand and to show their products in a virtual environment to generate leads. A virtual exhibition booth may offer first information toward the visitors, and the possibility to request a more in-depth conversation or a product demonstration.

Why should event planners consider hybrid concepts for their next event?

Independently of a global pandemic, there are several reasons that can affect the number of physical attendees to your event:

  • Sustainability policy of the company (CRS) and general awareness of sustainable travel concepts
  • Travel restrictions due to political instabilities in the country
  • General expenses involved for a company to send someone to an event (travel, accommodation, food, etc)
  • Attendees’ workload and personal life (work-life-balance)

How to commercialize your hybrid event?

Approach your hybrid event the same way you would approach your in-person event. Start by understanding your goals: what are you trying to achieve with your event?
Depending whether you want to increase your brand awareness, create customer engagement or drive revenue, this will help you determine the structure of your event:

  • Which part of the event should be virtual?
  • What are you going to offer within the face-to-face event?
  • Should participants pay for the virtual component?

Hybrid events allow you to extend the reach of your event to a broader audience who may not be able to attend otherwise. By offering “virtual pass” options to your guests, you will record a higher number of tickets sold and increase your return on investment.

Depending on the concept you pursue, the communication of all elements plays an important role in the event strategy. Attendees need to know what they will miss if they opt for the online component only, and if they pay for it, they need to recognize the educational benefit.

Why you shouldn’t be scared of offering hybrid events

No, hybrid events won’t prevent people from attending your event in person.

Even if there are a number of benefits to virtual events, recent feedback collected from our Virtual Unite Conferences reveals that there are two key elements of face-to-face events that cannot be replaced digitally:

  • The quality of networking opportunities: it is not possible to connect with people individually and sense someone's emotions and human reactions through virtual meeting technology.
  • The possibility of doing business. Business is based on trust, hence the emotional component of a meeting between humans will continue to be important in business.

Hybrid events will not threaten face-to-face meetings. They will add an additional component with probably more acceptance in the near future.