Events are an integral part of B2B marketers’ strategy. Hybrid events offer so much flexibility in these unpredictable times even though there is a potential for things to go wrong.
From virtual panelists whose internet connections give out at just the wrong moment to in-room participants whose insightful comments can’t be heard by the remote audience, the challenges of navigating an event that is both live and online may seem like more trouble than canceling outright.
Yet nearly two years into the pandemic, it’s clear that hybrid events have become a lifeline. A combination of an in-person and virtual offering helps event marketers navigate the uncertainty of our current times and people’s willingness or unwillingness to travel.
Events still matter
In a SmartBrief survey revealed in October 2021, 55% of marketers said live events would play a large part in their 2022 strategies, but 73% of those marketers still expected to attend some events virtually. At the same time, only 34% of respondents said they planned to attend in-person events themselves. “Marketers also need to know that — whether the channel is live or digital — their message will reach an engaged audience,” says Aaron Kern, vice president, sales and publishing at SmartBrief.
The abrupt changes to CES 2022 earlier this month underscored the value of hybrid events. Some of the tech conference’s most prominent exhibitors pulled back their in-person attendance last minute as the Omicron surge halted travel and disrupted plans for many participants. Having the infrastructure to livestream those product reveals allowed the show to go on – and to reach far more people than the in-person audience of 40,000 (compared to 180,000 in-person CES attendees in the pre-pandemic past).
Marketing agency executives agree that events are changing. Gaurav Sharma, CEO & Founder of Attrock, told SmartBrief that he sees live videos and events with real-time interaction with viewers/customers will be among the marketing tactics and best practices that will dominate the future of marketing.
Hybrid is the new standard for events
“We’ve moved to a place where you will no longer have in-person only,” Marla Kaplowitz, president and CEO of the 4A’s, told The Drum. “There will always be some sort of livestream component.”
Given this and growing audience expectations around events, here are five tips on planning a successful hybrid event or meeting:
Prioritize the virtual experience. Virtual audiences won’t have the attention span live audiences do, writes Eric Holmen at Successful Meetings. “Make decisions based on keeping the at-home attendees included,” Holmen recommends, especially when it comes to event flow, speaker formats and room layouts.
Encourage interactivity. It may be tempting to simplify the event by limiting virtual attendance to watching what’s in the room, but remote audiences are increasingly expecting more out of events.
There are many ways that organizers can help online attendees get more out of the experience. Breakout rooms, exclusive interactions with presenters and facilitated networking opportunities are among the go-tos for hybrid events. Marketers must also make sure that those who took the time to attend in person also get value for that effort such as a fun networking event or an interactive showroom.
Avail data and personalize the experience. Learning more about the interests of attendees through pre-event surveys can help you create a more valuable event by facilitating introductions and grouping together people with similar interests. One way is to let attendees choose topic tracks that increase the relevance of the event, Alon Alroy notes in MarTech Series. Don’t forget to ask about accessibility needs: Virtual tools make it possible to be more inclusive, an opportunity that marketers should not miss.
Coach presenters for success. An event’s success rests largely on the speakers and panelists who share their insights with audiences, and it’s ideal – but not always practical – for them to be there in person at a hybrid event. Either way, spend time helping them practice presenting or interacting with attendees virtually, and offer them ways to connect with audiences at home.
Prioritize security and safety. Establish protocols that ensure event platforms and systems are secure and contact information protected, Azadeh Williams advises on Marketing magazine. Use a reliable event platform that prevents unwanted disruptions to livestreams. For in-person audiences, outline measures to keep the event safe and take steps to minimize exposure amid the pandemic.
If you like this article, sign up for the SmartBrief on Social Business email newsletter for free.