It goes without saying: The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc, affecting the way of life and livelihoods of millions of Americans in a profound manner. For those of us in the events industry, this rings especially true.
The mass cancellation of live events starting in the first quarter of 2020 caused many agencies, venues, manufacturers, etc., to lose revenue, furlough or lay-off employees—and in the worst of cases—shut their doors for good.
The pandemic has forced the events industry, and the many clients that depend on the industry to achieve desired outcomes, to find a solution that adheres to the new normal in which we currently find ourselves: a type of event that caters to attendees no matter where they are.
That solution is hybrid events. They are the best remedy for an uncertain time in our industry, and I believe hybrid events are the way to go from here on out.
Why Hybrid Events Matter
When I started writing this, there were 11.4 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and 55.6 million around the world. We have no clue how the world is going to look in the next six months, let alone the next few years, and our industry needs to be fully prepared for everything.
Hybrid events allow you to offer the best of both worlds to your clients. For those who prefer to meet in person, you can fill a space up to a certain percentage of capacity and ensure everything is compliant with COVID protocols. For the people who prefer to avoid live events, you can create a virtual experience that they’ll enjoy and learn from, too.
That’s why I believe hybrid events will be important, relevant and crucial to the success of the events industry for at least the next three to five years. Yet, after nine months of living in the COVID-19 world, I find clients are lacking in education about hybrid events, so they carry the stigma that they cannot be as effective as live events.
Let’s correct this dearth of education surrounding hybrid events. Here are the top things your clients need to know about hybrid events:
Proper Planning Prevents Pandemic Problems
Before digging into the nitty gritty of planning a hybrid event, make sure your clients understand the “Hybrid Event W’s:”
- Why produce a hybrid event as opposed to a fully virtual one?
- What are the benefits/possible consequences from hosting a hybrid event?
- Where are attendees coming from? Does their location play a factor in your decision?
- When should the event happen?
- Who is attending the event? Which event type is best suited for your audience?
From hand sanitizer stations and creatively timed breaks to touchless registration kiosks and spaces that allow for physical distancing, there are plenty of ways to produce a safe and successful live event. My recommendation? Tell your clients to start planning their hybrid events now, because venues are already getting booked for the next couple of years.
Keep Your Eyes on the Budget
In my experience, most clients think planning a virtual/hybrid event is cheaper than planning a live event. In many cases, this is false. In fact, virtual/hybrid events cost the same, if not more, to produce.
For example, let’s say you have a client that books a 300-person live event, but needs to pivot to a hybrid. You may save the client a bit on food and beverage costs, swag costs, etc., but you won’t change the venue price because that’s usually fixed. And let’s not forget about additional costs for the virtual platform, higher-end production equipment, etc.
Also, your clients will discover finding interesting and engaging ways to inform, entertain and encourage attendees to connect with each other in a virtual space isn’t always cheap. However, you can innovate for both effect and savings!
Platform and Content Are Crucial
I think the biggest hurdle to crossing from live to virtual is researching and finding the best platform for your clients’ exact needs. The popularity of Zoom has skyrocketed during the pandemic, but Zoom is not the best platform for everything and everyone. Content has a major influence on the platform your clients will choose, and virtual content is evolving every day.
The meeting platform needs to be flexible and adaptable to showcase innovative content. From celebrity cameos to holographic speakers, event production companies are pulling out all the stops (and spending a lot of money) to increase active engagement in hybrid meetings. Sure, you may be able to see an attendee’s face on a screen, but that doesn’t mean they are actively engaging in the event.
That’s why the content in a hybrid meeting is critical. It needs to be interesting and relevant, but it should also inspire attendees to take action. And remember, the content needs to pop for attendees in the room, as well as for those on the virtual platform.
We may have lost a lot of live event opportunities this year, but our industry will survive and thrive, because the sky’s the limit for hybrid events.