What are hybrid events? What are the pros and cons? - Unbridled

Written by Tim Woodring, edited by Meagan Loyd

With the future of events lingering with some level of uncertainty, many event professionals have looked at the inherent flexibility of hybrid events.

With this, there’s still a sense the world may not return to normal. Part of the sense comes from the ongoing threat of COVID-19. Part of the sense comes from a world changed because of the catalytic reactions to the pandemic. One way or another, hybrid events allow for some of the best of both worlds. This is the start of a series of blog posts on hybrid events, in which we walk through the pros, cons, considerations, and more.

There is no strict guideline for determining what amount of hybrid events should be virtual or in-person, what parts will be live or on-demand, or what events will be catered to an in-person or virtual attendee — the answer to all of these is “yes.” That’s the beauty of hybrid events — the power of unlimitation (not a word, but at Unbridled, we love un-words).

Technology will drive the evolution of hybrid events. As attendees learn to adopt these emerging virtual trends, they will discover new ways to connect and share experiences from anywhere in the world. These digital services can also be applied to in-person events that feature mobile integration. In most cases, applications that support hybrid events will also be suitable for in-person events.

What is a hybrid event?

For us, we consider an actual “hybrid” event as one that has a significant number of virtual attendees. In contrast to the type of remote attendance options that events have had in the past, the primary focus is on in-person events. There’s a direct stream for a smaller subset of the attendees, generally with no or low cost.

For example, take the Super Bowl or the beloved Apple Special Events. For Apple, the event took place in front of a live audience, but the primary audience was the thousands of attendees that tuned in. The live audience gave the event the charismatic energy that comes from people being with people. We could see the attendees’ faces as they reacted, hear their cheers and laughter, and feel as if we were in the room — even though we likely weren’t the lucky 1,000 people packed into the auditorium.

For many organizations, the idea of “hybrid events” is held as a new event model afforded to us through these new capabilities. These hybrid events are deeply enriched by growth in faculty and habits related to remote work, video conferencing, and virtual platforms. The potential for both an in-person and virtual event is to create what one platform company, Bizzabo, refers to as 1 + 1 = 3. This is otherwise known as the Germanic principle of gestalt, where the whole is greater or different than the sum of its parts.

Hybrid events have the significant task of creating a valuable experience for both in-person and virtual audiences.

Let’s look at some of the advantages of hybrid events and some of the potential pitfalls

A hybrid event is an event that leverages technology to integrate in-person and virtual attendee experiences at scale meaningfully.

Pros of hybrid events

Scale and reach

With the inclusion of virtual in hybrid events, the scale of an event has virtually no limit. Similarly, mixed events also have a new scale and reach capacity. Imagine being a hotel in which not all attendees can fit into the primary ballroom. For hybrid events with a live stream, this isn’t a problem. Indeed, some hybrid events may focus less on massive general sessions and more on networking, exhibiting, or experiential spaces, as attendees are able to access content streamed.

Choice and accessibility

The flexibility of interaction gives hybrid event attendees more options and accessibility. The digital infrastructure of the events is dynamic. It may create new pathways to empower attendees to construct their experience with an assembly of attendee paths, on-demand content, virtual interaction, and access both now and later to content.

Technology-enhanced experience

Consider the potential for matching one-on-one appointments or brain dates with other attendees with similar profiles, industries, or interests. Nearly every experience will potentially enhance technology support, from polling to networking, gamification, registration, safety, scheduling, personalization, etc.

Post-event resources

Lastly, planning for digital attendance for an event can also create an advantage for building a digital repository for the content of your event — that can become a post-event resource site that enables attendees to continue to access the content after the event. This hub can be critical for attendees that missed a session, training others in the future, and secondary audience inclusion.

Data and analytics

One of the most significant advantages for hybrid events is that the digital infrastructure allows for essential and insightful data and analytics. The event should be purposeful and connect to the organizational strategy. Without data and analytics, it can be hard to track event ROI or efficacy. Data and infrastructure give hybrid events the potential to be more insightful with a digital footprint across each experience that gives event owners real insights. Instead of relying heavily on a post-event survey to understand the attendees’ perspectives, hybrid events (and virtual events, for that matter) can more easily and immediately poll attendees after key sessions to dive much deeper into the subcomponent events.

Cons of hybrid events

Exclusivity

Though a potentially unintended outcome, hybrid events may create a comparison between the two experiences and, if not done well, could make one or the other feel neglected or excluded from the actual party. For some hybrid events, this could be intentional, but if not intended — it may creep into the attendee experience.

Compromise

You’ve heard of the idea of a win-win, or the ‘best of both worlds.’ Well, there’s also the potential for the worst of both worlds. Imagine if your in-person attendees constantly feel as if they’ve had to accommodate the virtual attendees or that the experience isn’t as grandiose because the budget has been spliced to accommodate new virtual needs, which leads us into…

Costs

This is also a potential pitfall to hybrid events. In some of our explorations, especially for smaller events, hybrid events that involve significant involvement and planning for both in-person and virtual attendance may cost approximately 20% more. The caveat here is that it is nearly impossible to compare apples to apples for event budgets, as event duration, size, content, location, attendee location, make costs more complex to estimate with little information. In addition, adding virtual components can be expensive too, as it includes more labor costs for content creation, design, and platform implementation. While it is possible to be cost-effective with hybrid events, you will want to be mindful of how quickly expenses can add up.

The best practices in hybrid events are forming now. As you can see, the pros for hybrid events include the opportunity to expand your audience, utilize new technology and understand data and analytics behind events. The cons can include costs to supporting both in-person and online attendees. A new normal hasn’t been established yet, but hybrid events will be a part of that normal.

Need help determining if a hybrid event is right for you?

Reach out to us at Unbridled, and let’s tackle it together. We believe events are the most powerful catalyst toward connection, regardless of their format.