While this year has proven to be unpredictable, one thing is certain: gathering is fundamental to both business and society. 

In any field, meetings and events are paramount to growth and relationship building. Assemblies provide an arena for internal stakeholders to network with external partners, foster community, and host meaningful conversations that propel industries forward. Without the means to come together and exchange ideas, collaboration, innovation, and development lay in jeopardy. As such, hybrid events have come to take on an increasingly important role in safeguarding and supporting corporate objectives. 

Hybrid events blend in-person programming, the cornerstone of traditional event planning, with virtual components that allow remote participants to consume and engage with content from the comfort of their locale. According to a recent research report by the Meeting Professionals International Foundation, 70% of event professionals believe hybrid events will be crucial to the future of meetings. 

While hybrid events might seem like an unfamiliar addition to workplace vernacular, this format has been in use for decades. Live sporting events and primetime talent competitions have familiarized audiences with the combination of live programming and virtual engagement. To share a recent example, the NBA expanded their virtual viewing experience this season, allowing fans to connect to the venue via live video and audio feeds. Attendees are then seen and heard by players, as well as other attendees in their virtual section, replicating some of the in-person experience fans are accustomed to when attending in-person games. Players benefit from the support of their virtual audience, without having to compromise their safety or that of their fans. 

Hybrid events provide an opportunity to convert spectators into participants and in doing so, benefits both the host and attendees alike. But the value add doesn’t end there. 

Here are the reasons why hybrid events should be an important consideration as you strategize in the months ahead. 

Increasing Reach and Access with Hybrid Events

Strictly live, in-person event formats offer a sense of familiarity for meeting and events planners, but also come with several limitations, such as: venue capacity, per-person budget constraints, and geographic considerations. These natural barriers of a one-format, one-dimensional event, are addressed with the hybrid event format, while increasing reach to event attendees, deepening programming, and expanding sponsorship opportunities.

By offering a virtual component, the commute to a meeting or event can essentially be reduced to a few seconds for both attendees and participants, allowing them to be present through the simple click of a button. Additionally, recorded presentations and meetings provide non-attendees access to the content they missed – eliminating the need for planners to host multiple or duplicative events for new audiences or other locations.

Discarding the need to travel to an event not only increases the geographical reach for viewers, but also lowers the threshold for participation for thought leaders and industry experts. The ability to add these additional voices allows for the creation of more robust programming, generating deeper value for participants. This value extends to other event stakeholders, sponsors, and branded activations, as all partners gain access to in-person and digital channels to reach and engage with audiences beyond the boundaries of a traditional single venue event. 

Real-Time Engagement and Greater Analytics

In a recent report issued by CVENT, 81% of event professionals said they believed attendee data integration was extremely important to them, but only 20% felt that their organizations were effectively prioritizing this effort.

Hybrid events bring planners closer to this insight they crave, by being able to track audience participation and sentiment, in real-time. With this technology, audience attendance, participation, and opinions are logged through polls, audience voting, Q&As, and social integration. This engagement can provide the hosts valuable information on what programming was most effective, which participants found the content most useful, and what areas to expand on in the future.

The technology then doubles to offer new verbal and nonverbal ways for all participants to contribute to the group dialogue, authentically. In fact, polling is often recommended as a method to avoid groupthink and launch more candid conversations.

Greater Safety and Peace of Mind

“People need to feel comfortable, and I think when you go in – there are going to be people that are going to be comfortable getting in that [venue], and there are people who aren’t. And we need to plan for that, and we need to be ready so that everyone can consume the content in the way they feel most comfortable,” said Lauren Villaverde, US Head of Events & Operations at BlackRock, on how her team is approaching future events.

Today, most venues have lowered their capacities to ensure proper social distancing, but planners will still need to account for several safety protocols to ensure federal and local guidelines are incorporated into the live portion of hybrid programming. This includes: masks for both attendees and staff, biometric security at registration, contactless check-in, greater distances between participants during programming, and boxed meals. Hybrid events address safety concerns and provide attendees choices to meet their comfort levels, which may differ even if all members of a team are in one shared geography. And with this approach, attendees are able to access content and engage from anywhere, while planners are able to implement safety precautions required for the group that would like to enjoy an in-person format.

Pivoting to Hybrid Events

“We’ve really had to not only pivot the strategy, but pivot the way we plan, and how we think,” added Villaverde.

Meetings and events bring people together in important ways, across all industries, and what these occasions look like is changing in exciting ways. Hybrid events have a long history of success and are growing in popularity among today’s planning community, given the numerous benefits to stakeholders across the board.

“You know the event industry, we’ve met live forever – we’ve been doing this for a really long time. So right now, we have to be okay in that gray. It’s okay not knowing where the future is going to go. We will find solutions and there are partners out there that are willing to get us to where we need to be,” Villaverde reflected.

Convene Co-founder & CEO Ryan Simonetti points to applications like the Virtual Meetings platform as the basis of Convene’s approach, “What you can’t replicate is the power of physical face-to-face – our whole strategy is to use virtual – because that’s the only way we can do it today – to bring people back to physical when the time is right and people feel safe.”

The event industry has seen a drastic shift in 2020, but the advent of new technology is making it easier and easier for planners to be able to execute their programming and support their business objectives to keep pace with these changes. Hybrid and virtual events are addressing today’s needs while setting new standards of possibility to usher in the next generation of event production. Of course the industry will look forward to gathering for full in-person events in the future, but in the meantime hybrid events are filling a needed void in the efforts of gathering to build the tomorrow’s of our business world. 

If you’re looking for more information on where to start planning your next (or first) hybrid event, check out our Virtual Meetings platform.