Could Hybrid Events Become the New Standard?

Many professionals have found it difficult to suddenly switch to online events. Besides learning to navigate new virtual event platforms, there’s the feeling of missing out on the valuable human engagement that comes with interacting with others through traditions such as welcome receptions, toasts, 5K races and community service projects completed together.

Hybrid events offer several benefits to attendees and hosts

At the same time, people are discovering that there are benefits to attending events online. Unencumbered by budget or travel restraints, more people have been able to attend virtual events. ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, for example, hosted a record 14,108 attendees (71% of whom were first-timers) at their annual conference in August. Similarly, when Salesforce pivoted their annual World Tour Sydney conference into an online event, attendance increased from a typical 10,000 in-person count to more than 13,000 online guests. When all you need is an Internet connection and dedicated time, it’s easier to say yes to attending an online conference or expo.

Now that organizations have been holding events online for a year, they’re getting better at making them more interesting with extras such as live trivia games, cooking or cocktail classes, and health and wellness breaks. Online events also appeal to introverts: If you don’t like crowds, it’s much less intimidating to attend a popular event if you’re tuning in from your desk or couch.

Then there’s the cost. Virtual events come with registration fees ranging anywhere between nothing and a few hundred dollars to attend. But when you factor in the cost of attending an in-person event — transportation, accommodations and meals, to name just a few expenses — virtual events cost significantly less than a typical in-person event. A large trade show or luxury exchange event can take up an entire year’s professional development budget. But a virtual event can cost the attendee a fraction of a fully in-person event, saving their organization money and freeing up their budget for more professional development opportunities.

Hybrid Events Can Inspire FOMO

This is where hybrid events have their chance to shine. Hybrid events, with their in-person and concurrent online component, have the potential to bring together all the benefits of physical and virtual events to provide a tailored attendee experience that reinforces the value of the event and the host association.

“I believe there will be some significant and lasting changes in the way we produce events,” says Barry Schieferstein, CMP, DES. “Hybrid events are going to become the norm because the audience will come to expect it. We were already seeing this with the younger generations. Face-to-face events are going to have to be much more experiential to not only fill the wants and desires of Millennials and Gen Z, but also to provide enough value (or FOMO) to those who could just as easily stay home and watch it on their device.”

Valerie Bihet, a Miami-based corporate planner, estimates the ratio of virtual to in-person events will be 4:1 going forward. In addition to being easier to attend, if an organization frames their online event as an experience and not just a webinar, attendees will be just as eager to participate from home as in-person.

Benefits of Hybrid Events

Increased inclusivity

Hybrid events are more inclusive. People with compromised health, very young children, disabilities, or traveling restrictions can more easily attend the online portion of an event. Plus, it’s possible attendees will sometimes prefer to attend an event virtually. Even when in-person events begin again, the Florida Society of Association Executives found that 73% plan to have a virtual component to those meetings. Uncertainty surrounding the safety of meeting in person plus school-age children learning from home means many professionals aren’t yet able or willing to travel to in-person meetings.

With the advent of the coronavirus vaccine, governments and companies are lifting travel restrictions. But even when in-person meetings and exchange events become common again, there will be attendees who don’t have the funds or the time to take off from their daily responsibilities to travel to a full-day or multi-day event. A virtual attendance option can offer buyers and suppliers the chance to still participate in the full range of your association’s programming.

Better networking opportunity

Hybrid events allow buyers and suppliers to connect with one another regardless of where they’re geographically located. Those who attend on location can meet with others face-to-face within the onsite schedule, then meet with online attendees for further conversations at a time that’s most convenient for both parties. Both groups enjoy the flexibility of meeting through the event’s virtual platform at any time during the exchange event and for whatever length of time they’d like. Plus, all parties can continue their conversations through the virtual platform after the exchange event.

Better ability to pivot

It’s not clear when governments and companies will ease or lift restrictions on gatherings and travel. Even when the pandemic is under control, things like the weather, national emergencies, and personal emergencies will always cause some uncertainty surrounding live event attendance. Knowing you can pivot between attending an event in-person or virtually takes some of that uncertainty away. Hybrid events make investing in the cost of attendance more realistic for many professionals who don’t want to gamble their professional development budget in an unpredictable world.

Opportunity to divide and conquer

Because the cost of attending an online event is usually less expensive than attending in-person, hybrid events present the opportunity for teams to attend the same event without going over budget or completely abandoning their posts. Not all companies allow for an entire team to attend an event at the same time. They might not have the funds, or their business/customer service model might not allow for an entire department to be out of office for a few working days. But with hybrid events, an organization can send one or two representatives in-person to learn, exhibit, or both, and register the rest of the team to attend virtually while also attending to normal company business.

Hybrid Events Could Become the New Normal

With the current pandemic stretching into 2021, virtual events – in the form of trade shows, conferences, and exchange events – are likely to be a mainstay for a while longer. As public health restrictions ease and association professionals become more comfortable traveling and meeting in larger groups, however, the opportunities to continue engaging attendees in an online format as well as in-person are numerous. The benefits of hybrid events, from cost savings to attendee comfort, will make them a popular option for associations wanting to host inclusive gatherings. From the ability to be more inclusive to the potential to earn more sponsorship revenue, hybrid events could become a staple of association meetings.