Hybrid Events: The Emerging Trend for 2021

Hybrid events are an emerging trend in the events industry and they are going to continue to be a mainstay for years to come. In the past month, many of us have realized that the pandemic we thought would be short-lived will likely continue to change our lives well into 2021. Virtual event planning has surged as we head into fall, and fortunately for our industry, organizations are now booking speakers for their virtual events, some even booking into the new year.

Many of us in the event industry are anxiously awaiting the return of live events, that is, once it is safe to do so. The definition of “traveling safety” varies greatly from person to person. A recent AAE poll of keynote speakers and entertainers showed slightly over half are not ready to attend an in-person event. 

Yet, while many people are nowhere near ready to travel yet, others are open to the idea of traveling. This presents an interesting planning challenge for event and meeting organizers in the coming months. How do they provide events that appeal to their entire audience, maximize value for sponsors, and achieve their goals? 

The answer? Hybrid events.

What is a hybrid event?

A hybrid event is defined as an event that combines virtual elements with a live in-person event experience. There is no defined ratio of live to virtual components. As long as there is a mix of both live and virtual elements in the event, it’s considered to be a hybrid event.

Virtual event elements may also include live or pre-recorded sessions. In either case, when combined with in-person activities, these fall under hybrid events too.

What are the benefits of hybrid events?

The biggest benefit of hybrid events is that they allow a participant to engage with the event and brand in a way that’s most comfortable for the participant. Customer experience (CX) best practices encourage an individual to define their journey with a brand. An attendee might decide to attend in-person or virtually, but the key benefit is that the attendee gets the choice. This is what makes hybrid events into customer experience engines for generating brand loyalty, allowing the customer to define how they want to experience the brand.

In addition, hybrid events can be more cost-effective versus a live in-person event when the meeting space and hospitality needs are factored in. Fewer people attending in person means that event planners need smaller meeting spaces with lower overhead, which should make the planning budget wizards happy.

Keep in mind that many of the same perks (free lunch, swag bags, etc.) can be achieved virtually with a little creativity. This could expand sponsorship opportunities for organizations too.

The downside of hybrid events

There are two main challenges when running a hybrid event. One, the logistics of making a seamless and cohesive event experience across both live and virtual components will take more logistical effort than if event planners went with an exclusively virtual or live event. Two, the need to incorporate live components into an event that is currently virtual will drive overhead up. 

That said, every organization is different. Knowing how your audience feels about travel should be a big indicator of whether the effort to create a hybrid event will exceed the value gained in customer loyalty.

Hybrid event ideas

As we head towards 2021, organizations are planning now to shift to hybrid event formats. Here are a few of the hybrid event ideas we’re seeing:

  1. Hybrid event roadshow: Creating in-person events on various dates that carry the brand message to a smaller audience with social distancing and recommended protocols. Weather permitting, an outside venue would provide even more reassurance when following recommended CDC guidelines.  While roadshows are not necessarily new to some industries, many planners are now considering this option. Adding a virtual date to the roadshow will bring this into hybrid event territory.
  2. Satellite virtual events: Planning for simultaneous in-person attendance in key locations around the country (or state) where smaller groups of individuals can meet to participate in a virtual conference at the same time. Attendees who are not comfortable with this can still attend from the comfort of their own home. Presentations will not need to be repeated, and those who are interested in meeting and networking in person can do so. Likewise, organizers can also empower virtual attendees to network. Sponsors could attend one or several locations in person or opt to sponsor the virtual event as a whole.
  3. Traditional hybrid events: As we become more comfortable with traveling again, there will be the return of larger live events that will now offer a limited, live-stream experience in real-time. Attendees will be able to choose the journey that is right for their health and their budget. In-person events will include all necessary safety protocols, but will largely be in a single location. With the advances in virtual event technology, incorporating virtual event elements into the mix will become commonplace and expected. 

Hybrid events will be part of the future of the event industry. While organizations are anxiously awaiting the return of live events, they can’t easily discount the value virtual events have brought to the mix.  Virtual event technology has evolved greatly in 2020, and at the same time, we have all become more comfortable with this method of attending events. 

With an increased focus on customer experience and engagement, organizations will be looking for ways to provide their customers with memorable experiences. Hybrid events will be on the rise in 2021, and at AAE Speakers, we welcome the opportunity to find great keynote speakers for them.

Jennifer Best: Jennifer Best is the Head of Marketing for All American Entertainment. Jen has been featured in print and digital publications, including Forbes.com, on digital marketing trending topics. She is a former SBA award-winning entrepreneur for her digital marketing work with small businesses. When she's not geeking out on Google Analytics and marketing automation, you'll find Jen cooking for her growing family or enjoying a great book.
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