During the first 18 months of the pandemic, online events allowed us to create maximum engagement in a virtual world. Then came a relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions and a return to in-person events, and people began to ask; will this end our virtual connections, or are online events here to stay?
As we face a new wave of uncertainty from the arrival of the Omicron variant, the onset of new travel restrictions and the rapid pace of these changes have led some global clients to return to hybrid models.
Our view is that whatever the future brings, hybrid events are here to stay for many businesses, with a combination of in-person and online participants. According to research by Statista, marketers worldwide have predicted that over one third of their events in 2022 will be in hybrid format.
Why go hybrid?
Five tried and tested tactics to engage your hybrid audience
There are clear benefits to sustaining and evolving the hybrid model:
Nevertheless, anyone who has delivered or even thought about planning a hybrid event will be aware of the challenges; with the greatest among them being keeping the virtual audience engaged.
People can leave an online event at the click of a mouse, so it’s important that the content and presentation style are well thought out. The past 18 months have seen us adapt as event planners and learn many new skills to deliver engaging virtual event experiences.
To ensure successful engagement, it’s important to think about the full event cycle – the before, during and after. From attracting and registering your audience prior to the event, to involving them throughout the proceedings, and retaining their interest beyond the close, here are our top five tried and tested tips for an engaging hybrid event.
1. Build a buzz
Audience engagement should start before your participants enrol or dial in. Creating some excitement and anticipation around your event can drive up registrations and help build networks across your audience even prior to the event beginning.
We have done this by sharing teasers of what’s to come through social and online channels; building branded microsites where attendees can interact, share information and enter competitions; and creating dedicate hashtags that stimulate dialogue and exchange across platforms.
2. Educate and entertain
Your content is the heart of your event; it is the driving force behind registrations and audience engagement. Delivering a sense of RoI – whether through education or entertainment – will make your participants feel that their investment of time is worthwhile.
We’ve found that skills workshops, live polls, surveys, and quizzes are perfect ways to both educate and entertain. If you’re looking for pure light-hearted fun, an interactive talent show or even a magic performance can help you to connect with and keep your audience.
3. Facilitate interactions and networking
In-person events provide many instances to interact and network organically, but with hybrid events, these opportunities need to be created. To encourage participation in forums and attendance at speeches, we have crafted digital platforms that feature a scoreboard for each guest. The more sessions they attend, or LinkedIn connections they make, the more points they earn.
We have also delivered a number of programs to facilitate networking, from matchmaking guests to creating virtual breakout rooms within online events. You can establish dedicated pods at your in-person event and encourage networking with virtual guests – you could even gamify the experience.
4. Challenge and reward
Injecting a little healthy competition to proceedings, or incorporating awards ceremonies into an event, can help to drive engagement in a hybrid format. This could mean setting event-related challenges where the audience compete for prizes, or staging an award event that recognises participants across both in-person and virtual audiences.
Gifting is also a great idea to ensure that online participants connect with the physical event. By delivering gift boxes to delegates’ homes and having them opened simultaneously at specific points in the event, your virtual guests will stay engaged to experience the sense of sharing a moment with the in-person audience.
5. Carry on the conversation
Events are an opportunity to leverage long-term engagement and a post-event communications strategy will help you to ensure its impact lives on. We’ve used social media and digital platforms to encourage participants to share their memories of the event, join the conversation, and reflect on their experience.
Facilitating these social connections between professional peers brings a new dimension to the relationship between customers, colleagues and clients and can deepen brand association and loyalty as consumers see their suppliers in a whole new light.
Virtual participation in business events was rarely heard of until the pandemic, which has now revealed the sustainable, profitable, and accessible characteristics of hybrid events. They provide easier access to data from attendees, the opportunity to record and reuse content at a later date and, of course, the virtual element provides security and safety for those attendees who are understandably concerned with COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed by their government. Hybrid is no longer a last resort, but an opportunity to harnessed in the future of events management.