A hybrid event is a sales tool that blends aspects from two or more different forms of community engagement to create a new form of engagement where all the best parts apply in a unique combination.
Hybrid events combine offline and online conferences elements to facilitate real-life interaction beyond just an opportunity for attendees to learn from each other in workshops and breakout sessions.
They merge social networking into the physical experience with live chat rooms and mobile apps designed around meeting people at conventions, spontaneous meetings between attendees who share similar interests rather than just going through the motions on a guided tour.
Hybrids are a new type of event for a new generation of buyers, notably Millennials and Generation Z. They have grown up with the internet as a near-ubiquitous form of learning, communicating, and socializing.
This is part of what makes hybrids so appealing – they offer a curated live interactive experience that builds off people’s familiarity with technology from their daily lives. And this isn’t just conjecture; Gen Z comprises an astonishing 25% or more of all consumers in the United States alone, meaning that brands that ignore them do so to their detriment.
Hybrid events appeal to buyers because they combine the immediacy of online communication with face-to-face interaction and interpersonal connection from attending real-life events.
They also benefit attendees because they offer a way to get more value out of their investment in attending an event through more profound, more focused connections and interactions than what is possible in a larger show or conference setting. That is what hybrid events mean.
Hybrid events aren’t new
Hybrid conferences have been around for a long time, but the growing ubiquity of technology and social media has made it possible to combine these elements in more effective ways than ever before to create a new type of engagement with attendees that is only possible through real-life interaction combined with online tools.
For example, in addition to the traditional “speaker and presentation” format, some content can be delivered more interactively through breakout sessions with group discussions.
But most hybrid events offer attendees the opportunity to digest information passively and interact with one another in real-time via chat rooms or mobile apps designed for the event.
Other hybrids and experiences use an offline meeting environment to facilitate online interactions between attendees after the event is over.
For example, many conferences take advantage of their access to both webcast technology and live video streaming capabilities by having “panels” that are broadcast live on Facebook Live or YouTube, then archived either individually or as part of a more extensive library of content for attendees to watch at their convenience.
Hybrid events are here to stay
There are two reasons why hybrids are becoming more popular in the conference world.
- First, they take full advantage of the fact that attendees have become used to learning through digital interfaces and social media platforms.
- Second, they provide an important way for brands to get more value from attending conferences by providing a deeper understanding of what is happening online while also leveraging real-world opportunities for face-to-face connections with potential customers.
As a result, hybrid events will only become more prevalent over time as brands continue to shift their focus towards providing meaningful experiences rather than simply slapping together another tired old marketing seminar or product presentation (however valuable those can be).
If you want to keep up, you’ll need to start thinking more like a hybrid event producer yourself.
What do hybrid events look like in practice?
Every hybrid is different because every event creates its unique blend of online and offline interaction. However, some common elements can help you understand how these events work. Icons indicating the activity happening at any given time usually appear on-screen throughout an event so attendees know what they should be focused on.
For example, if text messages are being delivered live via mobile apps or chat rooms during an onstage conversation between two panelists, the name of the app/chat room will flash on the screen for attendees who have downloaded the app and joined the room, but it won’t appear for anyone who is just watching the webcast.
These icons also appear in conference guides and other materials so attendees can plan their own “roadmap” to learning throughout the event. Depending on the type of hybrid you plan to put together, this roadmap may include optional pre-event activities such as downloading an app or joining a discussion group online before arriving at the venue.
It also helps them make sense of offline interactions by explaining what they should be looking out for while attending any live events during their time together. This sort of thing happens all the time in real-life conferences. It’s no different when it takes place virtually over the Internet.
In summary, a hybrid event combines research, learning, and networking interactively. The hybrid event technologies used to facilitate this blend of experiences may differ from what you’re used to seeing at conferences, but the concept remains very familiar once you get the hang of it.
If your audience is already accustomed to using digital tools to support their professional development, then a hybrid event should feel very natural for them to participate in.
Remember that any time attendees choose between watching something passively or participating actively in a live discussion or activity with others around them (or even both), they will almost always choose the latter over the former.
Hybrid events allow brands to take advantage of this fact by giving their audience members more chances to engage with each other and the brand throughout an event.
So how do you know if hybrid events are suitable for you?
A lot depends on your situation, so it’s impossible to offer a simple yes or no answer here. However, some basic questions should help get the conversation started:
- Do people in your target market already use digital tools in their personal lives to interact with others around them? If this is true, they probably also want similar opportunities when it comes time to learn about new subjects at work.
- Will digital elements be critical components of activities or presentations during your sessions? For example, are you planning to conduct an online poll, run a live Twitter chat or create some other activity that could be significantly enhanced through the use of digital tools?
- Do you want attendees to be able to learn everything they need about your event experience in advance so they can plan out their itineraries before arriving onsite? If you answered yes, then it’s probably time for a hybrid event.
The more questions you answer with “yes,” the stronger case you’ll have for hosting a hybrid conference.
Hybrid events are certainly not without challenges, but they offer unique opportunities for brands looking to break away from the pack and serve the needs of an increasingly tech-savvy audience. The best thing to do is to take action and plan a hybrid event, or at least write down the steps you would need to take to put one together.
If you don’t have the time or resources to run an actual conference, try putting together a small-scale simulation instead.
Figure out which items are critical for your attendees during different parts of the learning experience, then develop ways to incorporate them into an online route map so everyone can see what they’ll be missing out on if they choose not to participate.
If certain activities only work face-to-face, then figure out how you could design something similar that people can do online in their own time between sessions.
The key question is, how do you bring your audience together so they can develop a better understanding of your brand and each other at the same time.