alt text: Women watching attending a virtual event
In a time of continued social distancing, businesses rely more and more on hybrid events. This includes both live and virtual attendees- to stay connected, exchange information, and find ways to thrive in a challenging climate. Although challenging in some regards, hybrid events do benefit from reaching a larger, more diverse population that can contribute their experience and expertise conveniently and safely for all. Earning virtual event engagement may be easier than you think; technology provides for amazing opportunity.
While event planners are savvy to the challenges and rewards of fully virtual events, approaching hybrid events comes with its own set of lessons learned and best practices. Planners need to consider both audiences, providing a virtual experience that is as exciting and engaging as the live event. Here are 10 best practices to make your next hybrid event a smashing success for all, regardless of distance.
1. Enhance the experience with an immersive environment
To make your virtual event memorable and engaging, you want to create virtual meeting spaces where participants can interact with each other in authentic and meaningful ways. This means creating spaces where attendees can gather and communicate effortlessly, using technology and design elements to further enhance the event’s look and feel.
For example, you could refer to the home screen- where participants return to access all event activities- as “the lobby,” designing it with features that resemble an actual conference center lobby area. You can also designate and design lounge areas for people to gather and network with chat boxes and Then, to create spaces where people can “gather” make sure attendees are actively engaged and inspired, you could also create group meeting spaces with chat windows where participants can connect and network, as well as separate “breakout sessions” equipped with everything from whiteboards to poll questions and live moderators.
2. Choose the right virtual platform
You want to choose a strong online meeting platform that will provide a seamless experience for virtual attendees. Online guests should enjoy the same interactive experience as live attendees, allowing them to strengthen their network, expand their knowledge base and seek solutions for any pain points. Here are the most important features to consider when looking for the right Online Meeting Software:
- Easy log-in & account access
- Desktop sharing
- Video conferencing
- Reliable quality service & tech support
- High-resolution visuals
- Instant messaging & interactive features
- Syncing capabilities across devices/platforms
3. Invite artists to illustrate
Real-time graphics or “digital live scribing” is an effective way to engage your viewers with dynamic, unique content that is both entertaining and educational. You can invite a talented illustrator to paint or draw visual representations during presentations or discussions, interpret topics and insights in visually stimulating, innovative, and widely shareable ways.
Added bonus: attendees are six times more likely to remember content that was presented with live illustrations. Visual aids also help attendees who speak other languages or prefer visual methods of learning.
4. Utilize an element of surprise
If you want your hybrid event to be memorable, you’re going to have to shake things up a bit. Offer teasers, surprises, and spontaneous activities throughout the event to keep things fresh and exciting. This is especially effective for livening things up after heavy content or more technical sessions. Virtual event engagement relies on intermittent reward and surprise to keep your audience on their toes. The same reward system used in casinos can easily produce the same effect in your virtual or hybrid event.
You can incorporate anything from inviting a live band to perform a couple of songs to including an outlandish trivia session to showing everyone how to make your favorite guacamole recipe.
And you can never go wrong with contests and prizes, which is also a great way to promote your vendors’ and sponsors’ products and services.
5. Have the same benefits for all attendees
Although the admission price for virtual attendees will most likely be less, you still want them to feel like they are getting equal value. Find ways to include online guests in as many event activities as virtually possible so they don’t feel like they are missing out on the whole experience.
This might take some creativity on your part, especially when it comes to meals and cocktail hours. One effective strategy is to send your virtual attendees restaurant gift certificates to use at home while your live guests are dining in-house. You could also invite a guest speaker for a coffee hour chat room and send online viewers a coffee voucher to enjoy while they listen in.
6. Use gamification for engagement
Gamification is another great way to entertain attendees throughout the entire event. There are countless fun gamification apps to jazz up a session that can involve both live and virtual participants.
Gaming doesn’t have to be complicated. You can allow attendees to earn points for certain actions they take, rewarding the person with the most points at the end of the event. You can also get people to join team challenges and competitions to drive engagement and encourage more networking opportunities.
Just make sure you have someone cheerleading and monitoring the challenges to rev up excitement and tally the score.
7. Create two-way dialogue
An essential aspect of creating an inclusive, collaborative environment is interacting and contributing to the work and conversations in engaging and inspiring ways.
Chats and emoticons are fun to get attendees to communicate, both in group comments and private messaging. You can also gauge how excited participants are about your content by which emoticons they use and how often.
Q&A sessions are another great resource for encouraging engagement between in-person and virtual guests. Be sure to have a moderator present to help gather questions and track the time. And if you plan on streaming live sessions, you might want to consider multiple shorter sessions to accommodate virtual attendees in different time zones.
8. Have a significant amount of content available
Content planning and execution can prove to be more challenging with hybrid events, but there are a few things you can do to leave less room for error.
You’ll want to think about which content you want to pre-record and which sessions you wish to Livestream, so you have the technology to capture and deliver it to your virtual audience with no issues.
Think of visual content, attachments, and links you’ll want to include in each session, and make sure these are set up or stored somewhere that is easy to access. Also, make sure to have a section to take notes on any follow-up content that needs to be distributed.
9. Reconsider your pricing model
In theory, you will be spending less on hybrid events with smaller live venues. But you still want to impress your virtual attendees with a sophisticated virtual experience.
It’s definitely worth the cost to purchase a high-performing online meeting software. You will also want to find an event specialist who can create a dynamic look and feel that translates online, in addition to a tech designer who can recreate the desired aesthetic in a way that will dazzle and delight your virtual attendees as well.
And don’t forget to factor in the extra costs that might come with enhanced safety and sanitization standards, as well as restaurant gift cards and delivery options for your virtual guests.
10. Make sure there is a networking component
Interacting and connecting with others is one of the main reasons people are drawn to events. Otherwise, it feels like a webinar. For hybrid events, however, the networking component is still a challenge to optimize for virtual events.
But there are proven tactics that can enhance networking opportunities. Having an excellent moderator to guide group discussions is a must to make sure the conversation is inclusive, flows, and stays on topic. You can partner up with expert participants who can nudge each other if prompted to share their insights and experiences with other attendees.
Regional watch parties are another great networking strategy that is gaining popularity. Smaller groups gather in a particular city or region to watch a Livestream keynote speaker or thematic content, which can prove more effective for building and sustaining relationships in your backyard.
There will hopefully be a time when everyone will be eager to gather in person again. But in the meantime, hybrid events are a great way for businesses to meet the needs of their audience and extend their reach.
Ready to make your hybrid event a dynamic success? These 10 tactics will make sure your event is as memorable as it is enjoyable for live folks and those joining in from afar.