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2020 was a rapid whirlwind of changes and “new normals” in general, but it was especially true for the events and hospitality industry. The events industry was always evolving as new technologies advanced our society towards increased accessibility and comfort, but COVID-19 took that to a whole new level that rapidly accelerated that evolution. However, through crisis comes opportunities, and 2020 created a whole new space for innovation in the events industry. There are many ways to host a hybrid event experience, and different companies are taking vastly different approaches to accommodate that. There has been a lot of uncertainty in this last year, but if one thing remains certain it’s that hybrid events are here to stay. There is a lot more to hybrid events than may meet the eye, so let’s jump into some best practices and things to keep in mind.
Hybrid Event Best Practices
Create Engaging Content
Creating engaging content for your in-person attendees can seem easy if you’ve been doing it for years. However, that should not be overlooked for you virtual attendees. Having a virtual platform that supports more than just video and text chat features is important! The ultimate goal of any event is to keep your attendees engaged as long as possible. Be creative with your virtual event and incorporate unique gamification elements such as a scavenger hunt or trivia. At the end of the day, your event should be a fun experience for your attendees!
Gather.Town is a great example of a virtual event platform that creates endless opportunities for attendee engagement. You can explore a customized map, create various types of interactive activities and games, host/participate in a session, engage in private video chat (1:1 and in groups), interact with on-demand content, or just roam the space to network and meet new people. “Any platform can provide a virtual platform for keynote speaking engagements,” reports Ironistic President Chris Foss, “but where Gather.Town excels is with the self-directed, micro engagements that we all crave in real life.”
A hybrid event should focus on attracting both in-person and virtual attendees. As a result, your potential audience can be twice as big as an in-person-only event, which means marketing to your audience is now twice as important! Marketing your event by creating an event website can be extremely beneficial. Likewise, emailing prospective attendees and promoting your event on social media are great ideas too. Marketing and communicating ensure your attendees are always up to date with the latest event information and happenings.
It’s common to see a Help Desk or Information Booth at an in-person event, however, you should think about these for your virtual events as well! Your virtual event representative should be an expert on the ins and outs of the platform and should be ready to troubleshoot any common technical issues that may arise. Without a representative, attendees on the virtual platform may feel left out if they’re unsure how to use certain features, having technical issues, or just left feeling unengaged without someone to guide them.
Sponsorship and Branding
Sponsors should feel the same value from having their brand represented in a virtual platform as they do for in-person events. Some sponsorship ideas to include in a hybrid event include:
- Sponsored Webinars or Sessions,
- Event Website with a sponsorship page,
- Virtual sponsor booths with sponsor personnel and collateral (videos, downloadable brochures, etc.),
- Branded banners displayed on your virtual platform, and/or
- Promotional emails to your attendees.
With hybrid events, use your virtual platform creatively to maximize those sponsorship dollars!
Collect Surveys and Data
Send out surveys to your attendees before, during, and after your hybrid event. A pre-event survey will allow you to gauge what questions and concerns your attendees may have going into the event. A short survey during the event may be helpful to gather immediate feedback on the attendee experience and resolve any issues attendees may be having (especially if your event is occurring over multiple days.) Post-event surveys are critical in providing overall feedback for the entire event. This will allow you to prepare and emphasize the positives, or conversely, fix any of the negative attendee experiences for the near future.
Troubleshoot and Test
Doing a walkthrough of a hall in a convention center or conference rooms in a hotel is standard practice for in-person events, but don’t forget to do a detailed walkthrough of your virtual event platform as well. It may be helpful to grab up to 10 colleagues/friends! Make sure you all test the platform from various locations (home vs in-office), web browsers, and devices (mobile vs desktop). The last thing you want to happen is most of your virtual attendees having a poor experience because they’re on a bad WiFi connection, trapped behind a VPN, or other technical issues that can be fixed if there were more time to prepare. Getting ahead of these issues and informing attendees of the ideal circumstances they’ll need in order to have a positive virtual experience is critical to the success of your hybrid event.
Expect the Unexpected
If you’ve been involved in any medium to large scale event in the last year (either as an attendee or as show management), you know the only thing that is certain is uncertainty itself. One thing I’ve learned is that you can never be too prepared when it comes to event planning. Incorporating a virtual component into your event will clearly be a key strategy for success moving forward. In-person events are likely to never go out of style, but it never hurts to have a virtual backup plan.
Hopefully, these best practices were informational for setting up your next hybrid event. Overall, the virtual component of your in-person event shouldn’t be seen as another stress factor you have to overcome. Instead, use the virtual platform as a new creative way to increase attendee engagement and turnout for your event.