Once upon a time, we only talked about “hybrid” in science class. Today, the word is ubiquitous. In any language, we’re referring that in-between world blending in-person and remote – in the classroom, office and, yes, events.  Ready or not, hybrid events are in your future; depending on where you are, maybe sooner than later.  Take a look at what’s coming, and how to successfully build hybrid into your events strategy.

Although virtual events are now commonplace and can be highly effective in reaching your target audience, nothing beats the face-to-face connection of in-person events. Organizers of virtual events and attendees alike are digitally drained. We’re hearing from both sets of constituents that they can’t wait to get back to in-person events.

It’s not a question of if they are coming; it’s a question of when they are coming, and in what form are they coming? This will depend on several circumstances, such as the speed of the vaccine rollout, safety thresholds of hosting organizations and hosting venues, and local market conditions.

Timelines may vary, but one thing is certain: hybrid events – a combination of virtual and in-person event experiences – are on the horizon.

While we don’t have a definitive roadmap, we are already beginning to see small in-person events, and the industry is optimistic that recovery will fully commence in Q3 and Q4 of 2021. Of course, live events will not immediately bounce back to pre-Covid conditions but will begin more slowly and will start as hybrid events.

Hybrid events are a unique event type that requires a different planning process from a fully virtual or fully in-person event. Here are a few key considerations for safely and successfully producing and operating a hybrid event:

Determine your audience mix

It’s important to understand the demographics of your audience and what percentage will be attending in-person vs. virtually. If necessary, poll your potential audience to determine the comfort level of attending in-person. Invite key groups that make sense to meet physically, such as local/regional participants or teams where in-person collaboration and team building is critical to business success. Initially, start with a smaller in-person audience (and a larger virtual audience) to provide a greater sense of safety and security and more personalized service. A smaller in-person group will allow you to ensure that you meet the proper capacity limits for your in-person guests. Remember, you’ll want to get it right the first time.

Define your strategy, format and timing

What content should be offered to both audiences and what should be unique to each group? Keep in mind that a virtual audience has a more limited attention span than an in-person audience. Find a mix that works for each. Perhaps general sessions are offered live to both audiences – in-person and streamed virtually – while breakouts are attended in-person but can be offered on-demand for the virtual audience.

Think tech

Planning for virtual events has made us embrace new technologies, and hybrid events will push us even further. Utilize technology to bridge the gap between your in-person and virtual audiences. For example, select a virtual platform that has a downloadable app so the in-person and online audiences can participate and interact together. Stream remote attendees to smaller live roundtable sessions. Build and update your platform/event website with important details and source a texting platform for real-time communications and polls.

Vet your live venue

When sourcing an in-person meeting destination and venue, safety and security should be paramount. Consult convention and visitors’ bureaus and travel partners for local updates and work closely with your hotel reps to ensure that the optimum health, safety and sanitation protocols, room layouts and capacity limits are met. Inquire as to what other groups are being hosted at the same time so that you can plan to avoid unnecessary interaction. Also, ensure the property has enough bandwidth for the technology you are utilizing such as the event app that may need to be downloaded by all attendees.

Enlist separate planning teams

In-person and virtual meetings have different logistical needs. In-person events will have food and beverage requirements and meeting room layouts, while virtual events will have platform specifications and production requirements to coordinate, to name just a few. Have a dedicated planning team in place for each that integrates as an overall group to ensure common goals are met and all audiences are informed and engaged.

Create a cohesive theme

There may be two separate audiences attending, but the entire meeting should have overarching goals and a central event identity. All event graphics and attendee communications should share a cohesive theme and brand.

Budget appropriately

Hybrid events are essentially two meetings wrapped into one that carry separate cost elements. When developing your event budget, make sure that the expenditures of both the virtual and in-person components are factored into the equation. The good news is that hotels are anxious to welcome back in-person events and are offering deals, discounts and incentives to encourage bookings. A hybrid event can also increase your sponsor dollars. See below!

Rethink your sponsorships

Hybrid events offer even more ways to showcase your sponsors. There are digital opportunities in the virtual setting and more traditional offerings such as signage and hosted events in-person. Get creative with your sponsor benefits and incorporate all available opportunities into your sponsor packages.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

A clear, transparent, and effective communications plan is critical to the success of your hybrid meeting. Stay aware and updated on local conditions and any changes in travel or hotel policies to keep all stakeholders (attendees, vendors, partners) informed. Publish all policies and procedures on your event website, distribute know-before-you-go communications and provide text updates as necessary during the event.

Stay nimble

Planners were flexible before Covid, but now we’re nimbler than ever. And as the landscape continues to shift and evolve, we must continue to move with it. From negotiating the most favorable cancellation terms and monitoring contract gateways to developing a solid emergency response plan for our programs, we must be able to adjust on our feet. The more adaptable and resilient we become, the more geared for success we will be.

As we look to the next normal, hybrid events will be our go-to. With strategy and careful planning, hybrid events can address the changing needs of your audience, broaden your reach, increase engagement—and maximize your ROI.

This blog post first appeared in The Castle Group’s blog space on March 2, 2021

Sandy Lish
Sandy Lish
Principal, Co-Founder, The Castle Group
It is entirely possible for me to listen to a conversation, have an idea, and share an insight almost simultaneously. I help my clients by focusing on connections… how they reach their audiences, how their audiences reach them, how my teams and I can facilitate those interactions. I’ve helped my clients grow and sell companies, acquire firms, improve valuation/stock price, gain market share, manage crises, perfect presentation skills, launch products and the list goes on. When I’m not working directly with clients, I’m growing Castle — developing partnerships, identifying marketing opportunities and building new client relationships. And when I’m not doing that, I’m out in the marketplace, representing Castle and our clients through our dedication to the community. PR is all about third-party credibility – so I must share some of our own accolades. We recently won a bronze Stevie Award for International PR Firm of the Year. I’ve been honored with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Pinnacle Award for Entrepreneurship, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council Business Enterprise Star Award and the Center for Women and Enterprise Rising Star Award. I was also named a Boston Business journal “40 under 40″ (although I would no longer be eligible!). I serve on the boards of The Center for Women and Enterprise, March of Dimes and the Chief Executives Club of Boston. I’m especially proud to be state board chair for the March of Dimes and most recently was named to its national Volunteer Leadership Council. I also currently chair the WGBH Corporate Executive Council, serve on the Women’s Advisory Network of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and am a member of the Massachusetts Women’s Forum. When I’m not doing that? You might find me with my husband, rooting on my son or daughter at a hockey rink or lacrosse field, or walking my Whoodle. My favorite place to be is the beach – any beach with a great book and great company. What else do you want to know? Before Wendy and I founded Castle in 1996, I held in-house marketing positions at KPMG, Lesley University and the Massachusetts Bar Association, and was an executive at IQ&J, a premier Boston agency. I’ve worked on everything from pita chips to online travel to medical imaging to student lending. I grew up in Brookline, Mass. and am a proud alumna of UMass Amherst. Let me know if you have any questions.

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