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The Rise of Hybrid Events

Ronnie Whaley

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The Rise of Hybrid Events
December 13, 2022

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Ronnie Whaley

December 13, 2022

Share:

Table of contents
The Rise of Hybrid Events
December 13, 2022

Share:

December 13, 2022

IN MARCH OF 2020, events across the globe, faced a stunning level of uncertainty as was the case with anything that included physical human interaction. The events industry was in trouble. Full stop.  

Halfway thru the year though, many companies already made the decision to explore remote digital models. Words and phrases like “pivot,” “new normal” and “unprecedented times” flooded our feeds, emails, news coverage, and daily activities. From an event planning standpoint, this takes the cake for the WORST CASE SCENARIO. Nay, it might even take the whole bakery. Event professionals went from chasing and confirming speakers, planning logistics, booking AV equipment, and even selecting buffet and catering options to carefully combing thru contract cancellation clauses. 

We already know where this is headed. But before we get there, let’s rewind before the events industry went DEFCON 1. Back when DIGITAL, was a “VERY HIGH” LEAST priority.  

IF WE HOP INTO OUR TIME MACHINE, we’ll discover that people were ALREADY DOING hybrid events. But, these early hybrid events were pretty crappy for digital audiences and the in-person attendees weren’t even aware of their digital counterparts. Often, these would be large events with content streamed to at-home audiences — like forgotten webinars, or something akin to a CCTV cam pointed at what looks like a mass gathering of people with talking heads. Early hybrid events had no meaningful engagement opportunities for digital audiences, and they weren’t on an even playing field with their in-person counterparts.  

Now, they were CUTE FOR TRYING but this type of hybrid event is not going to fly in the future. What we’ve learned in the last 3 years is that digital audiences crave engagement and interaction. 

BACK IN 2020, research revealed that 68% of chief marketing officers (CMOs) had canceled or postponed customer-facing marketing events in response. The number of cancellations only continued to grow as travel bans increased, stay-at-home orders were issued and people began working remotely. But alas, event planners are the definition of nimble. It’s the job to come up with a plan A, plan B, all the way thru to Z given the time and resources. Everyone in the industry had to break routine from deadlines and schedules of the physical world and bravely jump into a new realm of exploring event platforms that supported online events and virtual conferences.  

ENTER THE ERA OF VIRTUAL EVENTS. It was an abundance of unknowns. There was no one playbook on how things should be done. But the industry rallied together. We started exploring new content types, shared best practices, and found tools to do a quick 360. Professionals, speakers, creators, artists, and even standups and theatre actors, all found a way to put out their content. They reached out, educated, and entertained by letting people into their homes. Maybe proof that sometimes we are at our best and most creative when under pressure. We made it WORK.   

FAST FORWARD TO MAY 2021, after restriction rollbacks, marketers were eager to get back to business with some semblance of the normal. However, this return to normalcy is somewhat paradoxical. Although the industry is growing restless behind its screens, work-related travel was still not high up on to-do lists. At this point, every organization has realized the benefits of online events. The virtual world offers low overhead and financial savings, the ability to reach a wider audience, and more access to talent and experts. However, the downside is that the virtual field is now so inundated with conferences, it is starting to put a strain on people’s attention spans. This eventually lead virtual events to their self-transformation into a new and improved model. “Hybrid Events” was suddenly in everyone’s mouths. According to a very credible event management software company, “Almost 89% of event organizers have claimed that even when in-person meetings resume post-2020, virtual or hybrid events will remain a critical part of their event strategy.”  

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LOOKING TO THE FUTURE, the bar has been raised as to what audiences expect from any event. Hybrid events must prioritize and capture the attention of virtual audiences. More importantly, marketers expect more from the data they capture at events now. They refuse to go back to accepting less data, regardless of channel. This means hybrid events of the future will have to focus more on engaging virtual audiences and putting them on the same level as physical attendees when it comes to engagement opportunities and the resulting first-party data and buying signals. 

AND NOW THAT WE’RE BACK TO PRESENT DAY, organizers have a path ahead that will include navigating the three different delivery mechanisms for events: PHYSICAL, VIRTUAL, and HYBRID. So from NICHE… to NECESSARY… to now the FUTURE of events, the HYBRID FORMAT is no longer just a buzzword. The transformation is complete.  

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