Recently, Swoogo hosted a webinar that featured our CEO, Chris Sykes, along with Josh King, VP of Growth for EMC3, and was moderated by Colleen Koslovsky, Director of Content and Education at Airmeet. They all got together to discuss hybrid events, which is obviously an incredibly hot topic in the events space. Including at Swoogo!
We’ve been hard at work improving the hybrid experience, with upcoming product improvements like our Zoom embed and a major upgrade to our native mobile app! As Chris says in the webinar, we’re really focused on meeting our customers and their attendees where they are, and offering as many options as we can to improve their in-person, digital experience, as well as an enhanced hybrid experience.
We’re loving our webinars, but we get that sometimes you can’t make it. (Schedule? What’s that?) And even though you can always watch our webinars on-demand, after the fact, maybe you prefer to read your content. So we like to do a blog edition too. Makes it easy to consume on your own time and skip to the best bits, whatever they are for you.
The first thing our esteemed experts did was talk about what a hybrid event is … and conversely, what it isn’t.
What IS a hybrid event?
Here’s the definition we brought to the table: A hybrid event is two events, with joining features, that give equal attention to in-person and digital attendees.
Simple, right? Har.
In even more simple terms, it’s an event that people can engage with, both online or in-person. A hybrid event is more than just a livestream of an in-person event.
There’s a difference between a hybrid event, and a hybrid strategy. Most event profs have some kind of hybrid strategy, but are you really running two connected, but separate, events?
Here’s how we broke it down:
What a hybrid event is NOT:
- A live streamed event
- A share-on-demand video
- An event where either the in-person or digital audience gets all the attention
What a hybrid event IS:
- A joint event where both live and digital audiences can fully participate
- An event that treats both audiences with equal respect, but gives them unique experiences
- An event that gives every attendee choices in how to consume their content
Biggest takeaway? A hybrid event is thoughtful and mindful of both kinds of audiences.
60% of our attending event profs had run a hybrid event, and 10% had one coming up.
Examples of hybrid events
In their multi-national event, Gong Celebrate Roadshow 2022, Gong not only did the typical things—like making their main content available on demand—they went a big step farther and set up a completely separate stage that was dedicated to the digital audience, complete with its own host. In this way, they had an attendee journey that was unique for both their digital and online attendees.
Rapid 7 has 18,000 employees across EMEA and APAC, all of whom they wanted to reach, in one way or another. There was plenty of content-on-demand, but also engagement and integration, so everyone—regardless of geography—felt connected. And that’s the point. One key: many of their gamification efforts were specifically geared toward either the online or the in-person audiences. They had interactive, online cooking classes or in-person sunrise yoga.
Mulesoft’s flagship event, Mulesoft Connect, was a multi-hub event, all over the world, and they didn’t want attendees to come together only to sit in a big room and have someone talk at them. Instead, they offered all of the content online, ahead of time. This gave everyone access to the important content, but allowed the in-person experience to be focused on face-to-face connections.
Should your event be a hybrid event?
So, let’s say you’re considering throwing your very first hybrid event. Why should you? What you’ve heard in the webinar (or read right here) is that hybrid takes time, thought, creativity, and money.
Well, let’s start at the bottom line: money. Because virtual components don’t require many of the expenses of an in-person experience, opening up your event to hybrid can feed right into your ROI.
A Markectic survey found that 47% of event planners saw a positive ROI from their hybrid event in 3-6 months. Pop that number up to 7 months and the positive ROI percentage is a whopping 86%.
Our experts felt those numbers were very accurate, but warned that you can’t be laser-focused on ROI and go cheap. A bad hybrid event can be really costly to your brand image. But a well-done hybrid event, with an appropriate investment of both budget and time, not only builds your brand, but harnesses that power to hit your ROI.
At Swoogo, we’ve been talking a lot about both our own and partners’ mobile apps to enhance the in-person, digital experience (watch this space for much more on that coming soon!) Running a hybrid experience not only allows you to have a digital audience, it also gives your in-person attendees a way to consume their event content in different ways. For example, if our CEO, Chris, is attending an in-person event, but missed one of the speakers the previous night, he can catch the live stream while he’s getting ready in his hotel room the next day. “It’s about meeting people where they are,” Chris said.
Colleen brought five specific reasons to add a hybrid component to your in-person event.
- Higher engagement for both audiences: Having a hybrid track allows attendees to engage on their own terms
- Increase attendance: A digital event path takes geography out of the equation. This is definitely the first big lesson the events space learned about digital events during COVID.
- Reduce carbon footprint: There’s simply less waste in a digital experience. That doesn’t mean we have to get rid of in-person events, but having a hybrid event certainly means you’ll be using fewer physical resources.
- More choices for speakers and sponsors: Like the point about increased attendance, a digital venue gives both speakers and sponsors outside of the big cities where many of the events are held, a chance to shine.
- More insight into audience behavior: While in-person attendee tracking is getting better, there’s simply no substitute for the huge amount of information you can extract from your digital attendees, that can then be used for targeted marketing outreach.
Chris added the benefit of Accessibility. One of his favorite Swoogo customers is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. When we started working with them, Chris learned that people with Cystic Fibrosis can’t gather together physically, because of the high risk of cross-infection. Working with Swoogo, and participating in events online and via hybrid events, is literally the only way this community can gather, and both Chris and Swoogo are exceptionally proud to help this underserved group come together in the only way they can.
There are many groups of people who can only attend events via online avenues and holding a hybrid event is a great way to show your commitment to accessibility.
When making the decision of whether or not to go for a full hybrid experience (vs just making your content available online, which is also good,) you have to be thoughtful and mindful and ask yourself some tough questions.
Josh started right off the bat emphasizing that you have to be asking why? Why should you have a hybrid event? Part of that is knowing your goals. He cited one (unnamed) company that decided to only make their content available on-demand, post-event, because they run a massive tradeshow, and they discovered that offering a fully-hybrid experience reduced the footfall for the event. For some companies, this might not be a problem. But for this company, footfall was their main KPI, and hybrid was hurting that. So hybrid was clearly not the best choice for this company.
So is it for you?
Here’s what to consider.
- Objectives: What is the goal of your event? Will hybrid get you closer to your goals, or hold you back?
- Audience needs: Do you have attendees in various family and work situations, where they won’t be able to attend in-person? If you have enough of those, you’ll want to open up a hybrid track.
- Budget: Do you have the resources (including time and creativity) to put on a really great hybrid experience?
- Time: Do you need to run your hybrid component and in-person element simultaneously? Chris mentioned that we here at Swoogo had lots of conversations around this for our customer event, UnConventional IRL. In the end we decided to put our hybrid budget into great AV capture, and release high quality content post-event, rather than putting extra budget into running the digital track live. “We’re basically making hybrid work for us,” Chris said.
How to create a meaningful experience at your hybrid event
Impact, impact, impact! How do you hold a hybrid event in a way that truly engages digital attendees?
Colleen brought us these tips that she’s seen great success with at Airmeet:
- Q&A and polls: (Note: Colleen made awesome use of both of these tools during the webinar! We were fans.) These tools can help not only keep your audience engaged, but draw their attention back if they’ve become distracted.
- Networking: This can take SO many forms. While your in-person attendees have a coffee break, you can create an online space where your digital attendees can also approach each other and make connections. (Airmeet has amazing digital networking features.)
- Gamification: Consider both of your audiences and host digital or in-person leaderboards, or combine them. Make sure any type of attendee has a competitive shot. Treasure hunts and joint code solving were suggested by our audience members.
- Lively host: Colleen didn’t mention her own skills in this area, but we’re going to! She was excellent—clear and concise with good timing for tuning in to the audience and incorporating their feedback.
- Giveaways and prizes: Admit it, we all love free stuff. And with digital gift cards, there’s no reason you can’t create special giveaways that are perfect for both of your audiences.
An added tip was to be very thoughtful about who you give your audience access to. Being able to ask a company-specific question directly to an executive can be really energizing to a digital audience. Don’t ever make the digital component feel like cheap leftovers.
Any digital event should give the audience an opportunity to engage with the speakers by asking questions, so of course our webinar was no different. And our fantastic audience brought some good ones.
How do you maintain a balance between gamification and prestige?
Josh suggested that in-depth content makes Q&A feel more serious. Chris added that certification can be the flip side of gamification, and offering an element of that can make your audience feel like they are accomplishing something, rather than just being entertained. (Not that we’re against being entertained.)
Abby asked about Swoogo’s efforts toward accessibility, especially in the disabled communities, and Chris was super excited to talk about that.
Swoogo works with an organization called Disability In—a leading proponent of disability inclusion—not only to run their events, but to make tools available to all of Swoogo’s customers to allow for more accessibility in events. We also work with High Ed Web, who strive to make software and tech more accessible to everyone. (If you want to know more about this, please email us at [email protected], and we’ll connect you with info, or directly with Chris—he’ll chat your ears off about this personal passion!)
How do you map the audience journey? (Is there a template?)
The better you can map your audience journey, the better experience your attendees will have, and the higher your ROI potential. Be sure to segment attendee journeys so that all communications are tailored to the experience they’re registered for, to make it more meaningful. Mass emails are not your friend.
Atlassian, for example, creates five principles for their events for the entire year. Then, as they plan those events, every step of the way they make sure that they’re upholding the event values that they thoughtfully created at the beginning of the year.
How do you add a hybrid experience to an already established conference to boost your ROI?
Before you even get to ROI, look really hard at the why. Why are you adding a hybrid element? There has to be more of a reason than simply hoping for additional revenue.
Think about your attendees and either put yourself in their shoes, or ask them directly, what elements of your conference they would prefer to have available online? If you’re coming up blank, maybe hybrid isn’t for you. If you immediately think of the big potential, maybe this is the right path for your established conference.
How do you keep the fun factor for your online audience?
Never underestimate sending something physical to your digital attendees, whether it’s a drink kit for a virtual happy hour, or ingredients for an interactive cooking hour. The afterparty is a huge draw of any in-person event, and giving your digital audience a piece of that experience is huge. With so many people trying so many options for hybrid events, now is the time to be really creative, so your element shines.
And finally, what’s next in hybrid events and the events industry in general?
Hoo-boy, don’t we all wish we had a crystal ball?
Josh is super interested in what’s going to happen in the Metaverse, and how much of an impact AI is going to have on events, especially comms and marketing.
Chris thinks the industry is going to converge on a true definition of what a hybrid event is and a paradigm will emerge. In the meantime, we’re in a huge moment of creativity, where lots of experimentation can happen. He also predicts we’ll see speakers being expected to do more to make the remote and digital attendees feel included.
Watch the webinar!
A special Swoogo thank you to Colleen and Josh for sharing their time with us. (And with you!)
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