When it comes to the future of the event industry, some people might imagine a return to in-person events. Others envision online audiences live streaming content from the comfort of their homes.

The truth is that both outcomes are correct—but how can that be? Because event planners are deciding to make the best of both worlds. In other words, they’re choosing to organize hybrid events.

What is a hybrid event? What do they look like? And, most importantly, what can you do to create a successful hybrid event your target audience will love?

In this guide, you’ll get to know the basics of the hybrid format. From the most fundamental components to the hallmarks of success, we’ll cover everything you need to take event planning to the next level.

What is the definition of a hybrid event?

A hybrid event is any type of gathering that combines aspects of in-person and virtual events into one comprehensive experience. In simple terms, it’s a blended format where an attendee can either engage in the event content at the physical venue or digitally through the use of technology (i.e., an event platform). No matter how they choose to participate, all event attendees can seamlessly interact with their fellow guests, sponsors, and exhibitors.

Generally speaking, an event is truly hybrid only if it includes three basic components:

  1. In-person and virtual elements: By definition, a hybrid event must incorporate a virtual component into the physical event. This is how you extend the event to an online audience. However, that doesn’t mean simply live streaming event content—it’s about offering engaging, immersive experiences that remote attendees will love just as much as if they were front and center at the venue.
  2. Networking opportunities: Networking is one of the biggest reasons people register for events. Regardless of how they attend, your target audience should be able to easily connect with fellow event attendees, whether it’s through breakout sessions, video conferencing, or face-to-face interaction.
  3. A live component: All types of events can include pre-recorded material, but there should always be an aspect that puts the “live” in “live event.”

What’s important to remember about hybrid event planning is that it’s not exactly the same process as organizing in-person or purely virtual events. Yes, like any type of event, the aim is to maximize engagement. But here’s the thing: You’re not just dealing with one type of audience member anymore. With hybrid events, you need to implement strategies that satisfy both a physical and virtual audience simultaneously. More importantly, you need to bridge the gap between the two experiences.

That’s a tall order even for the most seasoned event organizer. In fact, 71% of event planners say that connecting in-person and virtual attendees with each other is the hardest part of hosting a successful hybrid event.

What are the benefits of hybrid events?

Many event professionals were forced to pivot rapidly during the pandemic. As they did, they quickly realized the advantages that a virtual event has to offer. 

Now, despite the return of in-person gatherings, most organizers aren’t ready to give up the virtual element—so, they’re simply choosing not to. According to a report from Skift Meetings, 63% of event professionals agree that their future events will be hybrid. When you consider the vast benefits of the hybrid format, this isn’t really a surprise. 

Here are some of the most significant advantages of hosting a hybrid event:

  • Greater reach: When you run hybrid events, you’re not backed into a corner in terms of your audience reach. By adding a virtual element, you can cast a wider net and attract more attendees to your event. Plus, there’s no need to worry about venue capacity or other limitations associated with a strictly physical event.
  • Increased revenue: By virtue of your virtual audience, you can also boost event ROI. Adding a virtual element means you’re not limited by the number of tickets you can sell, thus maximizing attendance and increasing revenue exponentially.
  • More inclusivity: Attending an event in person isn’t practical for all types of people. Some may not have the budget to travel to the venue or book a hotel. Others may have a physical disability that prevents them from walking around a large convention center. The hybrid format allows these audiences to enjoy the event content no matter their circumstances.
  • Event flexibility: A big part of planning a hybrid event is obtaining a hybrid event platform. With the right choice of technology, you can handle a large number of virtual attendees—an especially great backup plan if you’re forced to cancel the in-person gathering.
  • Measurable data: Hybrid event technology empowers you to automatically collect data and insights from your physical and remote attendees. Whether it’s through information gathered in custom fields during the online registration process or real-time polls and surveys held during the event, you can gain consolidated feedback and measure your performance.

What do hybrid events look like?

socio hybrid event

Hybrid events aren’t something you can easily fit into a single category. They tend to look different depending on a number of factors:

  • Your vision: Does your event have a theme? Is the style more upscale and elegant, or low-key and casual? Normally, a hybrid event will reflect your brand image.
  • Your choice of event: Obviously, no two events are exactly the same. A hybrid conference, for instance, will look much different than a hybrid meeting or a trade show. Check out our list of hybrid event ideas for some inspiration.
  • Your event platform: An event platform is how your virtual audience experiences the event content, which means it’s a huge factor that shapes your event overall. If your technology lacks functionality, there’s only so much your online audience can do at your event.

However, you can break hybrid events into two types: external and internal hybrid events. An external hybrid event is a public- or customer-facing event, such as a convention or recruitment fair. On the other hand, internal hybrid events are company-specific gatherings (sales meetings, corporate retreats, etc.). Regardless, all are shaped by your vision, choice of event, and your hybrid event platform.

Take MAD//Fest, for example. MAD//Fest isn’t your typical marketing and advertising conference. Its goal is to challenge the status quo of events and bring the global marketing community together in a fun, exciting, and innovative way. By leveraging an end-to-end event management platform, the festival’s founders were able to wow their audience with live polling, social networking, a branded mobile event app, and more. Best of all, MAD//Fest broke down the barrier between its two audiences by gamifying connections and showcasing attendees on a virtual leaderboard. 

5 tips for hosting a great hybrid event

If you’re planning on hosting a hybrid event, you’re going to need to know a few tips and tricks. The event planning process is long and complicated, but there are basic steps you can take to increase your odds of running a successful event.

Here are five things every event organizer should keep in mind when planning a hybrid event:

1. Keep attendees informed and up to date

There’s no point in including the virtual element if you aren’t going to fully embrace the hybrid format. Make sure your target audience knows that your event isn’t exclusively in-person or virtual. Communicate very clearly that they have options when it comes to attending the event, as this could majorly influence their decision to register or not. 

Pro tip: Optimize your ticketing strategy to reflect the differences between the two experiences. Generally, in-person tickets are priced higher than virtual ones because there are certain experiences you can’t replicate for a remote audience. Clearly communicate how the two options will differ so potential attendees can make an informed choice.

2. Gamify your event

Gamification is all about adding a little friendly competition to some aspect of your event. It’s an effective way to increase engagement at any event, but it’s especially helpful when bridging the gap between physical and virtual attendees. For example, you can incentivize networking by awarding prizes to guests who make the most connections

3. Create a run sheet

Live streaming is a key element of any hybrid event. A lot can go wrong during a live production, which means you need to plan every step of the way. A run of show—also called a run sheet—details every minute of the production so that everyone is on the same page. Think of it as an outline of your event from start to finish.

4. Prepare remote speakers ahead of time

Presenting at a hybrid event isn’t quite the same as doing so to an auditorium of onlookers. There are certain factors that need to be taken care of in advance, such as lighting, cameras, angles, audio, etc. Send remote speakers and exhibitors basic equipment ahead of time with instructions on how to best set up their shot. This will help you avoid technical difficulties that would throw off production.

5. Drive sponsorship engagement

Don’t forget about your sponsors—they’re literally invested in your success. Make sure their support is worthwhile by driving attendees to their brand. Whether you’re directing traffic to a physical booth or a virtual profile, it’s key to connect guests with sponsors at every opportunity. With the right event technology, you can easily provide sponsored breakout rooms, profiles, booths, and more. Plus, you can promote attendees’ engagement with your sponsors through notifications, alerts, and reminders.

Start your hybrid journey with Webex Events

Ready to take your first step on the path toward hybrid event planning? Great!

But before you do, ensure you have a partner at your side supporting you every step of your journey. With Webex Events, not only do you enjoy the robust capabilities of our comprehensive event management platform, but you also receive the expertise of our professional services team, who can help you turn your hybrid dream into reality.

Request a demo today and learn more about how Webex Events can take your event to the next level.