Hybrid events: the next big thing?

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Every now and then, something shakes up the event industry. When economical video solutions first hit the market, slide projectors started hitting the dumpsters. And when the internet came onto the scene, everybody scrambled to be the first to log in.

Now, we’ve been living comfortably with high-definition video, high-speed internet and ubiquitous social media for what feels like a lifetime. We tend to forget how much the world has changed in the last few decades.

When was the last time you swore at your smartphone for being unable to connect to the web? You know, that magical little box that fits in your pocket and puts everybody you know and the collective knowledge of humanity at your fingertips? Exactly.

Jaded minds make poor visions. If you’re always waiting impatiently for the next major innovation to arrive, craning your neck to see what’s up ahead, you might miss the wealth of opportunities that are right under your nose. That’s how hybrid events were able to sneak up and take the event industry by surprise: they were so predictable, such no-brainers, that most people didn’t realize they still had to be invented.

How it all got started

When you launch a product or host a conference, you know you won’t be able to fit the entire world into the venue. It’s just one of those facts of life. You can also be pretty sure that at least some of your visitors won’t be able to make it, even though they really want to be there. That’s another one of those facts. And if it’s an exclusive event, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll run out of seats before you run out of people to fill them. Sad, but true – even the biggest fans have to miss out sometimes.

Except nowadays, they don’t. The internet has become far more than just a collection of corporate billboards sitting next to a digital highway. And it’s been that way for ages, too! Even social media, the cornerstone of the once-revolutionary Web 2.0 wave, has already become old hat. So it’s really not all that surprising that hybrid events have become as popular as they have. People demand interaction at a distance, and those events that provide it have more to offer their audiences.

So what is a hybrid event, exactly?

Any event that has both offline and online participants is a hybrid event. If you stream your keynote speech live to the general public, that’s a hybrid event. If you make the experience available via webcasting, that’s a hybrid event. Even if you only set up a Facebook page and a Twitter feed for your event, it’s still hybrid. Simply put, you can hybridize any event by making it accessible online in any form.

But there’s a big difference between simply fitting the definition and actually owning it.

The anatomy of a true hybrid event

If you want your event to leave a lasting impression on your attendees, you need to make sure that every detail is perfect. The lights, the audio, the presentations, the way the rooms are decorated and furnished – everything has to click into place. The experience has to be seamless for every visitor. We all want to feel special sometimes.

The secret to organizing a true hybrid event is simple: just put the same amount of thought and attention to detail into the online side of things.

If you want people to participate in your event from afar, you have to roll out the red carpet. There are a lot of other things they could be doing online, after all. They don’t have to put up with a flaky live stream or a heavily redacted Twitter feed when there are cat pictures out there waiting to be admired.

So make your intentions known. Show people you care about their participation and help them do so regardless of whether they make a physical appearance. Encourage online discussions, share videos and talking points as freely as you can, and loop valuable comments and critical opinions back into the mix. Do everything you can to make the online audience feel like they are part of the event.

Technology is key

In order for a hybrid event to be successful, you have to back it up with the right technology. There should be no barriers to online participation, both for those that made it to the conference and for those that stayed at home.

Everything from your on-site presentation management to your live streaming solutions and social media integration has to be up to the task. That might seem prohibitively challenging, but a hybrid event can increase your reach by a factor of 10 – which makes it well worth the effort. And if you don’t know where to start, ACS and Eventresult are always happy to help.