Last Updated on March 31, 2022
Some events are better hosted in person, as there are components that simply don’t lend themselves well to a virtual format. Others, meanwhile, are far more suitable for the Internet; far simpler and more effective to run through a streaming platform or online client.
As the Internet gains more prominence in the field of event management, there are a number of event planners who’ve come to realize that just about any event can be enriched by applying a virtual touch. By combining a physical venue with an online platform, event organizers can reach a far larger audience than would otherwise be possible.
This is known as a hybrid event; an affair which combines a traditional venue with both live and on-demand streaming.
“Events no longer exist in a single time and space,” explained leading hospitality industry author Greg Oates at a recent conference. “Hybrid increases the life-cycle and reach of an event pre-to-post to boost engagement and promote the event.”
With that in mind, it’s not all that difficult to see why hybrid events have been enjoying a considerable surge in popularity since 2011. Given that this isn’t going to change any time soon (if anything, hybrid events are going to be even more popular in 2015 than they were previous years), it’s important that you as an event planner learn what’s involved in running one.
What tools and skills do you as an event management professional need in order to run the best hybrid event possible? What challenges will you face, and how can you overcome them? Most importantly, how can you be sure you run things efficiently and effectively?
What Is A Hybrid Event, Exactly?
Now, before we go any further, it’s important to note that there’s still a bit of misinformation in the event industry about precisely what a hybrid event is. Believe it or not, it actually isn’t as simple as integrating a virtual platform to an event you’re running. A conference that has a Twitter feed attached to it isn’t hybrid; nor is an event whose organizers are posting a photo-stream to Facebook or Flickr.
So… what is a hybrid event, then? One of the best definitions I’ve seen can be found on the Pure Rocket Science Blog. Although the post in which it appears is a few years old, it’s no less valuable for it:
“A hybrid event is one in which a technology solution is used to permit both a live and an online audience to view the same content at the same time,” the blog explains. “It’s an event where the online and live audiences can interact simultaneously with speakers and other commentators, and where they can interact with each other within the timeframe of the event.”
In other words, a hybrid event blurs the line between physical and virtual. It creates an environment where Internet attendees can interact with speakers and other guests as if they were actually there. It allows them to participate in Q&A sessions, chat about what they’re seeing on-screen, and in some cases even move around the show floor through telepresence technology.
Why Are Hybrid Events Gaining So Much Popularity?
It’s worthwhile to mention that hybrid events aren’t anything new or revolutionary. They’ve been around at least since the Internet existed. That brings us to our next question…why are they only now becoming so popular?
What’s driving their adoption? Simple: the evolution of the Internet. Networking technology today is significantly more advanced than it was ten (or even five) years ago, which means that it can be used in ways that were previously unworkable or outright impossible. Not only that, it’s become so integral a part of our daily lives that it’s actually changing how we interact with the world around us.
“The Internet is changing the way we behave,” said Startup Grind director Marian Gazdik, in an interview with Eventbrite. “After the initial phase, when it had to solve its infancy problems, it is now fast, reliable, and mobile. The Internet as an enabler is now ready.”
Gazdik went on to express her belief that, once the issue with the application layer is sorted – streaming services, she said, are still notoriously unreliable; she pointed to Apple’s recent iPhone 6 keynote as a prime example of this – hybrid events are very likely going to break into the mainstream.
“Let’s look at the big picture,” Gazdik continued. “The Internet influences the way we consume content. Attending an event is also a way of consuming content. It will take some time for the applications to become more reliable and standardized for sure. But we are getting close to hybrid events becoming more mainstream.”
It’s not just a matter of technology, either.
I’m sure you all know that the world economy isn’t exactly in a great place at the moment. What this translates to where event management is concerned is budget cuts and travel restrictions – two challenges easily dealt with through a hybrid approach. By combining a virtual platform with their physical venue, event organizers can more effectively spread the word about their events and fill seats without some of the costs associated with in-person attendance.
Why Should You Run A Hybrid Event?
Now that we’ve a bit of a foundation to work with, it’s time we move on to the next big question. What is it that makes hybrid events so great? Why should you bother putting in all the work to run one?
To answer that question, we’re first going to look at a 2010 Meetings Podcast; an interview of Virtual Edge Institute founder Michael Doyle. According to Doyle, the benefits associated with hosting a hybrid event are many, and go well beyond cost effectiveness. Although he does spend a bit of time talking about how much money can be saved through a hybrid event (along with how many free or cheap virtual platforms are on the web), he devotes a bit more time to other, more far-reaching advantages:
“There’s a broad mix of hybrid type solutions out there, and I think the benefit to the event producer first of all is that expanded reach – being able to reach an audience that might be new to your program,” said Doyle. “We’ve seen a lot of cases where people have first attended the event virtually and then converted to an actual physical attendee; from an event producer’s standpoint I think there’s a lot of marketing value.”
“Another benefit is having content available later on-demand,” he continued. “That’s a plus for the physical attendee as well as virtual attendees; to be able to go back to a session you couldn’t go to because of time constraints.”
There’s marketing, convenience for attendees, and cost-savings.
What Do You Need To Host A Hybrid Event?
We’ve finally arrived at the real meat of the piece. We’re going to discuss, in brief, everything you need to run your event. In short…what’s involved in developing a hybrid experience that makes it so different from a traditional one?
Let’s start with equipment. According to Interactive Meeting Technology, the following equipment is necessary in order to host a hybrid event (I’ve added a few items of my own to the list):
- Cameras and tripods, as well as risers to ensure they’re effectively positioned
- Studio microphones – as many as you need for effective sound coverage
- Webcasting gear such as a media site player
- A video switcher
- A streaming platform/service to which your remote attendees can connect
- Servers for storing and hosting streaming video (assuming your streaming service doesn’t provide them)
- All the standard A/V equipment you’d see at a keynote: a sound system, microphones, lighting, etc.
Drawing on the same Interactive Meeting Technology blog post, you’re going to need to hire the following people in order to develop an effective, positive experience for your remote audience (again, I’ve added a bit):
- A virtual event design consultant/project manager
- A virtual emcee to host the remote broadcast (or a facilitator who understands how to address remote audiences)
- A director to manage all the technology
- Moderators for your social media channels
- Social media staff to post/upload content and sound bytes.
- Media-site techs to manage video, audio, and VGA feeds
- A/V tech to manage in-house equipment, including sound systems and video/audio switches
- An administrator to manage A/V hosting servers
In addition, if you’re planning to make use of telepresence technology, I’d advise you to hire a few staff to help manage and maintain the robots. Depending on what kind of devices you’re using, they can actually get fairly complicated and expensive. Suffice it to say, you don’t want any of them damaged or lost.
Other Things To Consider
In addition to staffing and equipment, there are a few other things you’re going to need to take into account for your hybrid event. According to Becki Cross of the Event Manager Blog, it’s imperative that any background material – slides, video, etc. – be designed in such a way that they can be easily loaded into your web streaming portal (and that all of this stuff is tested in advance). It’s also important that you make use of social media, and keep to whatever schedule you’ve set.
As for clothing, make sure your presenters and speakers avoid anything that’s too heavily-patterned or striped, as it may end up being too ‘busy’ for the cameras.
What Challenges Will You Encounter?
Before we wrap things up, I’d like to briefly go over a few of the most significant challenges you’ll face when you set out to host a hybrid event. We’ll also detail how to confront said challenges.
“While there definitely is a connection, online participants have very different needs than visitors,” writes Event Planner TV’s Gerrit Heijkoop. “While the online attendee can access parts of the content you provide on the online platform, he has one significant disadvantage compared to live attendees. He is not there physically.”
“Unfortunately,” he continues, “many event organizers forget that virtual participants can leave your stream as soon as they get bored. If you are a bad virtual host, your online visitors will not only walk away, but may also tweet about their disappointment and delete any invitations to future events.”
Heijkoop recommends assigning moderators to facilitate online discussion, adding reporters to bring in news, and figuring out some extra content attendees can use to fill the gaps between sessions they can’t attend. If you want an idea of how to do this, he says you can look at broadcasted sports events and talk shows. I’ve another type of event you can look to for inspiration:
Riot Games’ League of Legends LCS. To date, the annual LCS championship is one of the most effectively-run hybrid events I’ve ever seen.
Whether or not trolls prove to be a problem for your event depends entirely on whether or not you’re gating the online portion behind a ticket or registration portal. Either way, it sort of goes without saying that you’re going to want to have a group of staff whose sole job it is to moderate the discussion on your live event – and deal with anyone who’s there to cause trouble.
Though less of an issue than in was in the past, signal delay is nevertheless an enduring problem in the world of hybrid events. It’s a difficult thing to mitigate; according to Conferences That Work, even signal delays of less than half a second can cause significant problems where free-flow conversation is concerned.
The Provider/Webcasting Split
Last but certainly not least, there’s the fact that most streaming service providers still don’t offer a combination of the skills necessary to host a hybrid event. In order to create a great hybrid event, it’s important that you find a streaming provider that fully understands the technology and expertise required to run one. Otherwise, you’re going to have to end up mixing-and-matching; something that rarely works out.
So, there you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about hybrid events. Given their looming popularity – the problems with streaming technology is temporary, after all- it’s important that you start learning how to run them now. After all, you probably don’t want to have to teach yourself during one of your events, right?
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