Hybrid conferences may be the next big thing in meetings, but because they involve face-to-face and virtual participants, they come with their own unique set of planning challenges. As associations begin executing hybrid events, here are some questions to ask during the planning stage.
Associations and attendees alike are eager for the return of large, in-person events, and with vaccination numbers continuing to rise, that may be on the horizon soon enough.
But even with this renewed optimism, many groups are planning hybrid conferences in the near term. Planning a conference that includes both in-person and virtual components is no easy feat and requires meeting professionals to consider additional logistics and possibly new technology solutions. Before you get too far into the weeds, here are three questions to answer during the early stages of planning.
HOW DO WE STAFF A HYBRID CONFERENCE?
Association meeting pros have long known exactly who they need on their team to execute a flawless in-person event, and the pandemic has taught them how to do the same for virtual conferences. But hybrid meetings will require even more staffing adjustments to make sure attendees have a worthwhile experience, whether they join online or in person.
In a blog post this month, Bizzabo outlined several key roles to consider making part of your hybrid events team. For example, on the virtual side, they suggest an event technologist to help select the right technology for the event and get the most out of your technology stack, and an executive producer to keep the virtual aspect of your event running smoothly. As for your in-person event team, Bizzabo recommends an onsite technician to make sure microphones and internet connections are working and even a speaking coach who can help your presenters communicate effectively to both audiences.
DO WE NEED DIFFERENT MARKETING STRATEGIES?
According to MeetingPlay, organizations should market a hybrid event using the same channels they would use to promote live events. This includes social media, content marketing, email marketing, paid advertising, and so forth.
However, marketers will need to plan differently when it comes to timing. For example, registration numbers for virtual conferences typically increase dramatically the week before and even past the event’s start date. This is a different trend than what planners typically see with in-person events. To maximize their online audience for a hybrid meeting, associations should consider increasing their marketing efforts the week before the event kicks off.
HOW DO WE FACILITATE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN IN-PERSON AND VIRTUAL PARTICIPANTS?
This is a true challenge of hybrid events. After all, it’s easy to see how in-person attendees would wind up chatting with each other during a break between sessions, while virtual attendees might step away from their screens.
Some ways that organizers have overcome this challenge: putting a screen onstage to allow remote attendees to take part in a presentation and ask questions, hiring a virtual emcee to who collects questions and comments from the remote audience, and handing out tablets to in-person attendees to allow them to have one-on-one chats with virtual participants.
And, if these connections between audiences can’t be made during the live event, consider using the digital platform as a place for all attendees to connect post-conference. For instance, Michelle Hopewell, regional marketing director at the Duke Energy Convention Center, offered these suggestions to the Northstar Meetings Group blog: “Keep session chats open following the event to create a community resource center and continued networking opportunities,” she said. “[Allow attendees to] trade virtual business cards, and encourage guests to share and create connections based on the virtual meeting.”
Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now