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The Rise of Hybrid Events in the Digital Age

Bringing people together has never been harder nor, paradoxically, easier. The digital age has brought people together across the planet to build communities and share experiences. Now, in a time of unprecedented struggle in the events industry, we cannot afford to hope that our traditional business models will bounce back from the brink.

We find ourselves in a digital renaissance. More people are connecting online than ever before for work, family, and recreation, and the digital landscape is changing rapidly. They are demanding new tools and new experiences to mirror their physical life in their digital life. And tech firms are responding with huge strides in innovative technology. The way to ensure the events industry has an essential place in the economy and culture is to see these demands for a new digital experience and become leaders in shaping a new, 360° event experience.

Virtual and Hybrid Events Aren’t New

Webinars, digital events, and user engagement aren’t new ideas. Most of us have registered for a few webinars in the last couple of years. We’ve probably had widely different experiences at each of them. Some have offered great content, opportunities to engage with the presenters, and resources to continue our experience after we signed off. Others have been a waste of time with sales pitch, when we were looking for thought leadership and continued engagement and learning. Digital conferences can also be a mixed bag. Many of us have attended a virtual conference in recent months that left us wanting more. We’ve probably all registered for a virtual conference that seemed relevant and exciting but were met with a wall of pre-recorded videos or session descriptions with zero guidance, no cohesive path, and nowhere to engage with other attendees.

Despite online events no longer being a novel idea, we still struggle to think of them as more than a webinar or a virtual call with a fun name. We also struggle to see them for the clear revenue and brand engagement opportunities that they are.

The digital age has left its mark even on the traditional onsite events industry. Many conferences, trade shows, and even weddings have started to incorporate digital tools and experiences to enhance engagement opportunities for attendees. To date, these tools have been a disconnected jumble of partial solutions that don’t actually solve anything or shiny tech that struggle to provide real value. For event organizers and venues, these tools can also present real headaches because they often can’t connect easily with key business systems. These minimal efforts barely scratch the surface of authentic engagement.

Most hybrid events seem great on paper. There are online-only sessions, live streams, survey apps, and social media tie-ins all alongside onsite meetings, marketplaces, exhibition halls, and seminars. But often these elements are great in isolation and fail to fully connect the digital audience with the physical experience. We can’t just stick a webcam in an exhibition hall or slap together a bug-riddled app and call that a hybrid event. That’s a quick way to get a lot of disengagement.

Virtual and Hybrid Events Are Still the Answer

Onsite events build community, drive innovation, and change worldviews. The onsite experience offers emotional connection to the content, the audience, and the location in ways that virtual events cannot truly replicate. But online events and hybrid events offer new opportunities to engage with virtual attendees and diversify business. The digital space gives us new tools every day for communicating and can pull down traditional barriers to engagement. The digital space gives us new opportunities to offer greater value and can increase revenues and profit margins.

Adding hybrid elements to your onsite event or going fully virtual, both offer amazing benefits to our attendees and our event businesses. The new era of events requires the physical and digital world to unify in meaningful ways. These measures can reduce costs to participate and to facilitate. They can increase attendance, engagement and market presence. They can increase value on all sides.

For virtual attendees, the biggest benefit is often a lowered cost to participate. Offering digital options lets attendees go at their own pace using recordings and other continuous engagement tools to further learning. Digital tools can even help alleviate #FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) by allowing them to participate in more conference sessions than what you could normally fit in a regular conference day. Virtual event platforms offer new ways to network with other attendees and integrate matching technologies in a meaningful way. They let your online audience harness the relative anonymity of a digital presence to set aside any anxieties about attending an event solo and engage fully in the experience.

For event venues and organizers, virtual and hybrid events can extend our reach into our market and open whole new markets. We can leverage capacities to create the perfect balance of cost and profit. Virtual components allow more people to access our onsite events when they were otherwise inaccessible before. Limited capacities in digital spaces can create a sense of exclusivity to drive registration. Digital tools allow us to completely tailor access and pricing to meet the needs of our business and our audience. We can offer new perks to our exhibitors, presenters, and attendees. The plethora of analytics, lead capture, and networking utilities that we just couldn’t offer for an onsite-only event can unify easily with our digital event presence. We can create inclusive events with readily available assistive technologies.

The future of events is a smarter hybrid model. We have the technology to fully unify experiences across the physical venue and the virtual platform. We also have the responsibility to our industry to create a new standard for hybrid event experiences.

>> Continue reading Bridging the Digital Divide with Hybrid Events

Hybrid Events

What is a hybrid event?

A hybrid event is an event that combines an in-person event with a virtual attendance. Online components for the remote attendees are added to the concept of the onsite event. Via social media and interactive tools such as live chats, polls, and Q&A sessions, the remote audience can interact directly with the organizers and other attendees.

What are the advantages of a hybrid event?

Opening your in-person event to a virtual audience increases your event attendance and gives you the opportunity to generate additional revenue. The increased event reach and the fact that your content stays available to the audience for a long time also makes your event more attractive to sponsors. It may reduce travel budgets and the carbon footprint of companies, as event attendees do not necessarily have to travel to the venue of the in-person event.