When the pandemic hit, I remember thinking we’d be back to in-person events in a matter of weeks. A few weeks turned into several months, and now nearly three years later, the way we host and attend events has certainly changed.

The pandemic forced event organizers to become production managers overnight. Most of us had never run a webinar — let alone a hybrid event — before the pandemic. But in March 2020, we had no other option than to dive headfirst into the unknown. 

We face so many distractions in this new post-pandemic world. In the past, it seemed easier for folks to step out of the office to attend in-person events, or to block off time for a webinar. That’s not the case now that we’re all working in hybrid environments. 

Meetings and deadlines don’t stop because you’re attending an event. In fact, we’re seeing even more attendees take meetings during events. You need  high production value to hold attention. Content has always been important, but right now it’s king. Content is what’s going to drive someone to attend the event, and your event production is what’s going to keep them there.

Get ready to throw out that old events playbook, and learn how to level up production for your in-person, virtual, and hybrid events.

Elevate in-person events

For in-person events, you need to provide an experience that attendees can’t get through a computer screen. It’s all about on-site activation, whether it be playing a hands-on interactive game, hosting a painting activity, incorporating team-building breaks, or even including a champagne toast. 

Attendees also want a taste of the local area and culture. We all miss traveling so much, and if you aren’t going to bring your city into the event, attendees might skip sessions to see it for themselves. Gone are the days when people only saw the airport and the event venue.

Don’t just tell your attendees about the great restaurants and local attractions nearby, take them. Do a dine-around, host a social event at a nearby museum, or bring in local treats for your afternoon break. 

I once planned an event in Nashville where I wanted attendees to engage at my session and see my hands-on demo, but still feel like they were getting an authentic experience. To bring in a bit of Broadway, I hosted a patio party with a live country music singer, beautiful Nashville views, and a taste of Nashville foods like hot chicken, hush puppies, and Goo Goo Clusters. It was a blast!

People really crave these kinds of event experiences. Consider what you can’t you get from sitting in your home office and looking at a computer screen. It’s those experiences, the networking, and the bonding that will set your in-person event apart from the rest.

Level up virtual events

Event professionals now understand the basics of a virtual event, so it’s important to focus on how to up the ante to keep your audience’s attention. If you want people to attend and stay engaged, then you need to speak to what they care about.

Ask your customers what they want to learn about at registration, send out surveys or polls, host customer advisory boards, post on social media, or work with an industry partner. You really want your audience to inform the content and create the agenda.

During sessions, make sure your presenters or event staff respond to attendees in the live chat. Attendees, particularly in a virtual environment, want to feel heard. Engaging with their chats in a timely manner lets them know you’re there and you’re listening. A lively chat can also boost the overall tone of your event and help you identify topics for future content.  

For example, we’re hosting a five-part Event summer camp series right now. The 20-minute sessions provide insight into event trends and tactical tips without the fluff. We pre-recorded the content and announced to everyone early on that we’ll be engaging in the chat. 

Pre-recording gives us a chance to release the content at a time that works for us and our audience. Plus, we can answer any burning questions right away. It’s so much fun watching the recording at the same time as the attendees, and it allows us to incorporate real-time feedback into future sessions.

Honing hybrid events

People are now accustomed to attending all or part of an event, virtually. At a bare minimum, they expect slide decks and on-demand recordings. In this increasingly hybrid world, event professionals must create experiences that meet the needs of all attendees.

Hybrid can’t just be a live stream to virtual attendees. You need to create two different event environments within a single experience. Ideally, you’ll have separate staffing for the in-person and virtual audiences. 

First, you need to decide whether to host an asynchronous or synchronous hybrid event. Asynchronous means there are two events happening at different times. Synchronous means sessions occur simultaneously. 

The AV and staffing requirements for a synchronous event can be challenging for companies who only have one event planner or a small team. Can you pull off a synchronous event with a smaller staff? Absolutely. But having separate teams for the audiences is a best practice. 

Working with a strong AV partner alleviates some of the stress of a hybrid event. Screen resolution, lighting, audio, video recording, internet — they’ve all been very important, but now they’re critical. You need to be able to lean on an AV partner for new industry ideas and best practices, and that vendor should know how to properly execute a hybrid event depending on the group and scale.

At an in-person event, everyone is in the ballroom together sharing the same experience, while virtual event attendees experience the content from home. In a hybrid event, you need to consider how to create the same kind of community across both mediums. 

Multiple camera angles helps with engagement, particularly for the remote audience. Include interactive elements that everyone can enjoy no matter how they attend the event, such as polls, games, whiteboarding, or an integrated photobooth in your mobile event app.

You can also bring virtual speakers to complement the in-person panelists. Picture a large monitor showing a virtual presenter right next to the in-person speaker on the stage. It adds a level of production and excitement. We all live in a hybrid world, and people like to see that in action. 

As important as it is to offer different collaboration tools and opportunities to meet the unique needs of a hybrid event, it’s even more important to curate the experience. Plan out when it makes the most sense to use those tools to garner the most participation.

We have a client who pulled off an amazing asynchronous hybrid concept. They considered learnings from the in-person event to create new content for the virtual component. People who attended the in-person event ended up joining the virtual event experience as well, because there was new information. It was such a great way to think outside of the typical hybrid box. You don’t need to offer the exact same content. If you’re doing asynchronous, or even synchronous, consider ways to switch it up. 

Content tips for all event formats

Early in the pandemic when people didn’t have many outside obligations, the most important tip was to promote your content and stay consistent. Production wasn’t as important because we were all learning. Attendee expectations were fairly low. Today, attendee expectations are at an all-time high across  all event formats. Follow these best practices to level up your events.

  • Be active in the chat. The organic conversations and questions provide amazing ideas for content pieces or future events.
  • Revamp your presentation style. Use slides when it feels purposeful, not just as a standard.
  • Rethink your session length and format. Consider lightning rounds, or quick 5-minute sessions. These are especially great around lunchtime when people are feeling sluggish.
  • Pre-record content. Seriously, pre-recording is not a bad word. It saves an event organizer time and money while eliminating live event mistakes. 
  • Share slides and session recordings after the event.
  • Use a mobile app to merge experiences, so all participants can participate in chat, social wall, quizzes, and other interactive event elements. 

Enhance event production with powerful event tech

Event tech used to be a nice-to-have benefit. Now, it’s a need-to-have component of event production. It emcompasses everything from registration to check-in and badge printing, mobile apps, and beyond. These tools, when leveraged correctly, help event professionals create a seamless event experience for virtual, in-person, and hybrid attendees.

An end-to-end event management platform powers the event from start to finish, so you no longer need to piece together disparate tools, which provides a better user experience. And that’s what events are all about right now — understanding the unique needs of your attendees, meeting them where they are, and making sure everyone has a voice, no matter your event format.

It truly takes someone special to plan, organize, and produce an entire event from beginning to end, whether it’s in-person, virtual, or somewhere in between. But sometimes even the most advanced event professional needs a sidekick. That’s why we’ve designed a hybrid run of show template in partnership with Meeting Tomorrow. Download your copy below! 

Yvonne deFuria
Yvonne deFuria

Yvonne is an Event Production Manager at Webex Events (formerly Socio). With over 10 years of event management experience, she is passionate about creating memorable and engaging events.