Hybrid Events: An Evolution in Thinking

Our Hybrid Expert, Charlotte Culley, recently joined a panel on the Let’s Do London stage at International Confex to discuss the next developments for hybrid events. The session was hosted by Ed Poland, CEO at Hirespace.com and the other panellists included, Kim Myhre, Managing Partner at Experience Designed and Deborah Jones, AV/IT Sales at the QE2 Centre.

The discussion touched on a how hybrid events are developing in practice with in-person events back firmly on the radar. The panel debated whether the industry is better equipped than ever to plan and execute events that include both in-person and virtual attendees. Here are some of the insights Charlotte shared.

What hybrid event have you been most impressed with in 2022, and why? 

An industry event we have hosted for C&IT really impressed - The Agency Forum held at County Hall in early January. C&IT used our virtual venue solution to link up virtual buyers and suppliers with in-person buyers and suppliers. It worked well for the scheduled 1-2-1 meetings as everyone, whether virtual or in-person had the same exposure and opportunity to network. The 1-2-1 meetings are critical to the success of the event as the suppliers are guaranteed a minimum of 10 appointments. At the time, travel restrictions were an issue and the virtual venue solved this by connecting the buyer and supplier to each other from locations around the UK and Europe in a 3D environment. See how we provide virtual venue solutions on our dedicated website.

Adoption of hybrid doesn't seem as rapid as some were predicting, with a real focus on in-person currently. How come? Will this change? 

Now restrictions are gone, there is a desire to be back face-to-face. We hear from clients that attendees are keen to return to conferences in-person as they have been forced to attend virtually for so long. They now have both options and because they can, they want to meet face-to-face. We think this attitude and the seeming dip in virtual events is masking the growing interest in hybrid and what event planners are really planning for. 

Over the next six months the overwhelming desire for in-person will smooth out. Event Planners will be able to return to looking at what the purpose and reason for their events is and what format would work best for that event. It will take time for more strategic decisions to surface as right now, decisions are serving an emotionally driven need.

At the moment clients are asking how to incorporate a hybrid solution to accommodate contingencies. Ultimately, as numbers stabilise at live events and demand for face-to-face levels, we expect to see an increase in hybrid deployment to extend audiences once again.

Is it possible to create meaningful interaction between online and offline audiences? And if not, where is the true value of hybrid? 

The true value of hybrid is extending the in-person event online. It is about reaching more people, showcasing content to people who couldn’t afford to attend in-person or could not travel or be there.

Hybrid events are primarily about the extension of the overall event audience rather than creating meaningful interactions. The virtual element will not and cannot replace face-to-face as that is where the real connections are made but hybrid does provide options; audience attendance flexibility and an extension to the event days.

Understanding the difference between the two audiences is key. The in-person audience doesn’t need the interaction with the virtual audience as much as the virtual audience want the interaction with the in-person audience. Almost like a FOMO attitude to see what they are missing out on, onsite. Using the 1-2-1 appointments goes some way to satisfy this need.

What direction do we anticipate the big, successful virtual event platforms taking in 2022 and beyond? 

We are seeing platforms taking a more “self-service” approach.  Platforms are opting for an annual fee rather than an event-by-event model. This could encourage more hybrid events as clients are paying for an annual subscription anyway and will want to make use of the subscription.

However, a word of caution. The events industry is a service industry so it will be interesting to see the client reaction to a self-service approach from the platforms. One result could be that it gives rise to Event Management companies and Agencies taking on the platform management for the clients.