Hybrid Events; Are They A Recipe For Disaster
Are you still matching your jogging bottoms with Zoom friendly shirt? This question might seem strange but we're on the verge of being allowed to mix at events and I want to know whether you're happy to stay at home in Zoom friendly stuff or can't wait to get out. How you feel about going to in-person events? Are you keen to get back to in-person events because you just want to mix with people again or quite happy to stick to the online ones as it's just easier?
The organiser's dilemma
It's the dilemma that event organisers have at the moment because as much as we love in-person events, not everyone is going to be comfortable attending one. And companies have found that online events have given them a huge worldwide audience that wasn't previously accessible. For example, the Financial Times' first online event in 2020 attracted 8,000 registrations - unbelieveable in normal times.
There's a lot of uncertainty at the moment around in-person events and it's easier to just plan for a online one but and it's a big but, people are really wanting to get back to meeting in-person again. Venues have seen a 294% increase in event enquiries after the Prime Minister announced provisional plans to allow events from 21st June.
Why should we abandon online events?
As hybrid events are partly online anyway, we could just abandon them in favour of in-person ones. After all, whilst we were unable to meet in person, online events kept us connected. Actually, I managed to network with a larger audience than I might possibly have dreamt of - I've been to events all around the country which I would not have been able to justify in terms of either time or money and I'm not alone as the FT event registration figures showed.
Online events have environmental benefits, keeping travel emissions down, resources are reduced with time spent on these activities greatly reduced, also saving money. So it would seem that online events have a lot going for them for the audience, though for the organiser it's a different story. An online event could see a reduction in turnover by up to 50% (pressgazette.co.uk).
So, why hybrid?
The attractiveness of a hybrid approach depends on the organiser's aims. There's the perception that online = 'free'. If the aim is revenue, an in-person event is the one to do. Hybrids are great for an undecided delegate as they don't have to commit until the last moment or they may not show up at all. This lack of committment is due to the attendee's lack of investment in your event.
If they can sign up at the last minute and not have to arrange transport or accommodation, there's no connection or investment with the event. However, if you sign up to an in-person one, especially if there's an attendance fee, there's a much stronger commitment to the event.
As an hybrid event organiser, this fluidity does make planning difficult, especially if you're planning staffing, security, spacing, sanitising stations and refreshments. You want to make sure that they will return your financial and time investment. As an in-person event organiser, you'll need precise attendance figures so that you can order order these things at the best possible price.
Committment can be achieved by making sure that there's something extra for the in-person attendee, for example, access to a recording of the event, but only if they turned up.
What about hybrid?
Hybrid can scale without too much incremental spend. There's your in-person audience which will have its size determined by the location's capacity and your budget for staffing and so on, but with the added bonus of being able to spill over into the virtual world where there are fewer limits on audience size. Which one you choose to market more heavily is up to you, your budget, location and your objectives. If you do decide that your main audience is the in-person one there are steps you can take to make it more attractive. For example, if you make the online option less enticing by perhaps delaying the broadcast for a couple of weeks, use FOMO (fear of missing out) as the driver to attend in-person.
An overwhelming majority (80.2%) of event organizers have been able to reach a wider audience with online events.
Targetting your real audience
If your objective is to engage with the biggest possible audience, the online approach will target those people in the middle, who will never be able to or want to attend in person.
You will need to know your actual numbers who attend to keep the costs down, they will provide the atmosphere but your real audience will be the online one. And if you're delivering to both audiences, you'll be able to provide pre-recorded sessions and live ones.
- When you think of the production values of your hybrid event, you have 3 options:
- to have consistent production values in the in-person and online offerings so that both audiences receive the same approach. This is an expensive option and relies on good internet connection and make sure that your streaming provider can cope with the audience numbers.
- to have a higher production value for the in-person event. This will encourage people to attend in person but still cater for those who cannot go along.
- to have the reverse and offer more to the stay-in-the-office crowd. Taking this approach will mean that the online audience will still have a good experience, albeit a different one. Again a reliable streaming provider is essential.
Attend, won't attend and the middle
Your audience can be divided into the ones that will always attend, the people that always won't, leaving the rest in the middle. It's the middle people that you want to persuade to attend in person to make sure the event has atmosphere, the exhibitors have a good footfall and rebook for next year.
Will charging reduce your audience?
Differential pricing that charges people to attend online rather than in-person goes against the understanding that everything on the internet is 'free'. But look at it this way, your in-person audience will have spent time and money on travel, perhaps accommodation, refreshments just to get to and from the event, then there's the time at the event to be factored in as well.
Whilst the in-person audience may not be paying for the actual event ticket, or get it at a reduced price, they will have extra costs that the online one won't have. There is a perception that online = free. There is 'free' all over the internet and we have become so used to not having to pay for anything that it will come as a shock to have to pay for the online part of a hybrid event. Will that reduce your possible audience?
Plan in networking breaks
Whilst you are planning your event and its delivery, don't forget to factor in comfort breaks for both audiences. The in-person one will need to have time to move from one theatre to another and you will need to give your online audience a rest from looking at the screen. Both audiences will need time to network and browse the exhibition and meet the exhibitors to encourage them to book your next event. Pre-recorded elements can be useful for these sections in the online side of the event to make sure that your audience isn't faced with a blank screen.
I think that the best thing about the hybrid event is that the audience can join from anywhere in the world. Iconic events and networking can be enjoyed wherever they are without having to compromise environmental goals although there is an acceptance that the experience is going to be different. The event's entry cost may be different for both audiences, depending upon the organiser's aims and it may be that we have to become accustomed to paying for online events even though they are perceived to have no cost.
Leave a comment