In the years running up to the start of the pandemic in early 2020, your business may have held many in-person events and hybrid events– with conferences, trade shows and professional meetings all good examples of corporate events where participants have customarily met each other in the flesh.
However, this long-established rulebook was thrown in the bin – or at least left on a bookshelf for potentially retrieving later – as lockdowns and travel restrictions were introduced en masse around the world. Whereas over 70% of marketers lacked a virtual event strategy at the pandemic’s outset, virtual events were essential to about a third of marketers by September 2020.
The relatively few references the business community made to virtual events before 2020 tended to concern webinars, which are essentially presentations, lectures, workshops or seminars delivered online via videoconferencing software. However, various other formats are available for a virtual event – with videoconferences, webcasts and virtual trade shows all possible to deliver online.
To hold an online event, you need a suitable hybrid events platform – and it speaks volumes that, as reported by event platform Eventbrite in December 2020, the number of virtual attendees at hybrid events on the platform was 34 times higher in November 2020 than it was in the January prior.
Of course, throughout the pandemic, much talk has centred around the notion of getting ‘back to normal’ – a prospect that was thought to be remote without the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine. So, as vaccination programmes continue around the world, should your business now switch back to holding only physical events, like the pandemic never happened? The picture – of both the pandemic and how your company should react to it – isn’t quite that simple.
It’s true that certain part-and-parcel aspects of in-person events – like networking – can be much trickier for online participants to master. All the same, however, virtual meetings and hybrid events have proven to be more than simply a ‘make-do’ option. For example, while a physical venue necessarily limits the number of onsite attendees, a virtual event can accommodate thousands of attendees online.
Event organisers have also come under increasing pressure to find comparatively eco-friendly alternatives to in-person events. You might not have realised that the average in-person event wastes 15-20% of the food it produces – and, in 2019, it was reported that the UK events industry was the culprit for 1.2bn kg of CO2e emissions from diesel generators on a yearly basis.
However, as the pre-pandemic UK events industry had an estimated worth of £70bn in direct spend and was responsible for over 50% of spending in the UK visitor economy, you should still think about introducing a strong in-person component to your post-pandemic events. So, could increasingly transitioning to delivering hybrid events be the way forward for your business?
WHAT IS A HYBRID EVENT AND WHY ARE THEY BECOMING MORE POPULAR IN 2021?
A hybrid event is so-called as it has both in-person attendees and an online audience, making the event fall somewhere in format between a fully in-person event and a completely digital one. Therefore, with just one hybrid event, you could tap into the practical benefits of having both onsite and virtual audiences. This leaves the obvious question: what exactly would those benefits be?
While various videoconferencing platforms originally introduced well before the pandemic era – like Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams – have stepped up to the plate when it comes to hosting virtual events, these platforms weren’t originally designed with large-scale global events in mind.
As many of these platforms were designed by software developers rather than event planners, you could find yourself struggling to make a sufficiently positive impression when delivering an event through using this software. For example, you could too often have to plan an event around technology that fails to properly serve your specific corporate objectives.
This situation has led to the emergence of hybrid event platforms better built to support the ‘new normal’ that has taken root in the events space. These platforms can help you to strip much of the modern fuss out of event planning – as they would enable you to prepare an event and advertise it as being open to both physical and virtual participants.
This is important as, at least for the time being, many members of your target audience are likely to be selective about if – or perhaps just when – they are willing to attend an event in person. Maybe the physical venue is in a place these people aren’t able to visit due to still-extant travel restrictions, or their employers won’t fund travel necessary for the employees to attend as physical participants.
Some people might want to attend but feel much more drawn towards certain sessions of the event than others. Fortunately, with – for example – virtual conferences, you could let registrants opt to turn up at particular sessions in person and view other parts of the event as virtual sessions. You could even make recorded sessions available on-demand for people who can’t make the live event.
Statistics released in the summer revealed that 97% of event marketers anticipated more hybrid events taking place in 2021 than ever before. Meanwhile, 59.4% believed that a hybrid approach would be crucial to their event strategy this year. Over half of executives opined that, at some point in the future, all live events will include a virtual dimension.
Key to the current appeal of the hybrid event format is uncertainty over how the pandemic will continue to play out. Many countries are still imposing COVID-related travel restrictions as well as limits on in-person attendee numbers for physical events.
This awkward situation leaves it unclear what shape many event audiences could take over the coming months or even years. Hybrid events could stay at the forefront of the events space or instead fade back into the background – but, right now, it is impossible for the events industry to be sure either way.
WHAT MAKES THE PERFECT HYBRID EVENTS SETUP?
When looking for a physical venue in which to hold your hybrid event, you could find that many of the venues you seriously consider fall into one of two broad categories. While some venues might have opted to continue catering exclusively for physical events in the hope that the pandemic will soon subside, other venues could have retooled themselves to capitalise on the COVID crisis.
They could have fitted out studios specifically to cater for online events and started offering extensive technical support for those businesses that might rent the space to hold a digital event there but later run into unexpected technical issues while at the actual venue.
If you want to hold a hybrid conference, you could encounter various hindrances that wouldn’t apply – or at least not so much – with a traditional conference. You need to think about how you can protect and enhance the attendee experience for both the in-person and online contingents of your audience, rather than leave either feeling like second-class attendees.
Managers of venues geared towards hosting hybrid events will know all of this, which is why there are certain things you should make sure a particular venue definitely has before you select it for your hybrid event. The first factor you should think about is the size of the event space on offer.
Would the size of this space be enough for your event to comply with national health and safety recommendations without ruling out the inclusion of all attendees you would like to welcome into the in-person space? If not, you should disregard this particular venue even if it meets the rest of the important criteria for your event. So, what exactly would these criteria be?
You need to make sure the venue can provide enough bandwidth. For a hybrid event, the minimum standard you should expect is 59 Mbps. You should also check that the venue has its own broadcasting studio designed for online and hybrid events. Once you’ve jumped this particular hurdle, you could find that much of the equipment you need for the event is already provided.
That equipment could include professional cameras at least 1080p in resolution. Using ordinary PTZ cameras for your hybrid event should be out of the question, as the transmission quality could turn out overly grainy – like the kind of thing you would expect to see on a home’s CCTV system. If you want to live-stream the event in a genuinely engaging way, you should use at least two cameras.
It would also be useful for the event space to have an LED screen capable of displaying graphics, text and animation for both the in-person and digital attendees to see – provided, of course, you make sure the cameras are positioned to fully capture that display.
PLANNING AN EVENT WITH ABSOLUTE VENUES’ EXPERT TEAM
We are under no illusions that finding just the ‘right’ venue for an event was not easy even back in ‘normal’ times – let alone now that the shreds of your former event-planning rulebook are probably still visible in your office bin, metaphorically speaking.
This is why, since our event planning company was established back in 2002, we have been helping clients from a range of industries find suitable venues for their events. These have included internal events like executive meetings and training sessions as well as external events along the lines of webcasts, conferences and product launches.
Basically, internal events are those you would put on for your organisation’s internal stakeholders like employees and executives, while external events would be reserved mainly for customers and clients. The hybrid event format can be applied successfully to both internal and external events.
We can assist you with purposing the hybrid approach in this way, too – provided you get in touch with us to specify what kind of hybrid event you want to hold and the budget you have for booking a venue. We will then search for suitable venues in the general location where you would like the event to take place.
We will come back to you with a list of promising venues we have found – with floor plans, images and website links all provided for these. We will then leave you to pick a venue from this list. The whole process will save you significant amounts of time, money and stress.
You can even leave us to turn up at each venue under consideration and inspect it on your behalf, thereby helping you to confirm that the choice of venue you eventually make is definitely the right one. Before you put pen to paper on a contract to hire a particular venue, we will help you to negotiate favourable rates and terms for that contract.
To learn more about how our FREE venue finder service could ease your preparations for holding a hybrid event, please phone +44 (0)161 929 4948 or email [email protected]. You can then start discussing your requirements in depth with us.