When my colleagues and I returned from IMEX last year, we noticed that many event professionals no longer use the word “hybrid” to describe their events. We heard from attendees that hybrid events were too complex, and required double the budget, double the time, and of course, double the work. 

I think the hesitation around hybrid events comes from the idea that they require event professionals to create the exact same experience for both audiences. But when you look at how attendee expectations have shifted over the last few years, people now expect different experiences from each event format, and they should. But they still want flexibility in how they consume content and network when they do attend events.

Hybrid events have evolved since the early days of simply streaming in-person sessions to a virtual audience. Attendee expectations are higher than ever, and digital experiences with no virtual engagement or networking opportunities will have an increasingly difficult time engaging and retaining virtual attendees. 

Beyond this, hybrid events now exist on more of a spectrum with varying levels of engagement and activations. Most event professionals already use event technology to connect participants through networking, engage attendees with gamification, and make sessions available to stream live or watch on-demand. Whether you want to say the “H word” or not, these digital elements make your in-person event a hybrid experience. 

Instead of fearing hybrid events, embrace the idea that virtual elements make in-person events better. You can do as little or as much as you want—there are no rules in the hybrid event game. 

Let’s explore the benefits of including digital elements in your in-person events, cover some simple event strategies you can implement, and talk about how event technology gives you the flexibility to produce exciting experiences, no matter where they fall on the hybrid spectrum. 

Benefits of blending virtual elements into in-person events

Event professionals have much to gain by adding digital components to their in-person events, from expanding attendee reach and flexibility to unlocking deep insights to prove sponsor ROI. 

Some of the top benefits include:

Targeted networking: It can be difficult to find and connect with the right attendees and sponsors at large in-person events. But when you use an event app to power registration, you can better personalize the experience for attendees by grouping them based on the factors they care about most, like industry, interests, or job title. Rather than scrolling through a massive list of names, attendees can easily filter, search, and connect, no matter if they attend in person or join from home.

Meaningful sponsor activations: Organizers are always looking for unique ideas that go beyond basic sponsor packages. Including virtual elements opens the door for sponsors to leverage the shared experiences of virtual and in-person attendees to maximize their ROI. Besides a physical space at your event, they can now have a virtual booth or sponsor any type of digital activation. Vendors can sponsor a game challenge, session, or social wall. You can also use notifications to push attendees to visit a sponsor booth, check out a sponsor session, or chat with the CEO in a session Q&A—the possibilities are endless.

Improved flexibility and reach: As we return to meeting in-person, attendees are more protective of their time than ever before. Virtual elements enable attendees to be present and engage with your event from anywhere. You can also make all sessions available on-demand. Not only can these sessions fuel your year-round content strategy, they allow attendees to engage with all event content without feeling pressured to pick and choose sessions at the live event.

Enhanced collaboration and idea-sharing: Using event technology to drive engagement via chat, polling, and Q&A enhances collaboration between virtual and on-site attendees, while giving a voice to participants who don’t feel comfortable speaking publicly. When you run your event sessions through a mobile event app, attendees can ask questions and chat with others while sitting in the live audience or at home. As the organizer, you can glean tangible attendee data, such as the types of questions asked in each session, chat logs, polling answers, and most popular sessions. 

How an in-person event can become a hybrid experience without the heavy lift

Creating a hybrid experience doesn’t have to be a heavy lift, especially when you take advantage of the tools you already use. You probably already utilize a mobile event app for basic things like your agenda, travel information, and speaker lineup. You can easily incorporate digital elements into the mix without investing in new tech or hiring more staff.

For instance, including chat, polling, and Q&A into every session makes it easy for attendees to participate with your event and collaborate with all attendees. Besides increasing attendee reach, it boosts flexibility by allowing in-person attendees to take a poll or post a comment from their hotel room or while taking a walk around the venue grounds.

If you’re looking to give your events a hybrid touch, recording your sessions is an excellent way to do so. You don’t have to break the bank or hire a production company to do it either, especially since budgets are tight right now. Simply set up a camera in the room to record the session and upload the recording to your event app. This is a win-win for both in-person and virtual attendees, allowing them to prioritize live sessions while also having the flexibility to watch the others on-demand without missing out on valuable content.

For example, a Webex Events customer, the American Med Spa Association, edited together its sessions and created a virtual afterparty that housed on-demand content. AmSpa incorporated some new content and an introduction from the executive team and basically created a brand-new virtual experience. Not only did it bring in virtual attendees, many of the in-person attendees joined the virtual experience to see the sessions they missed during the live event. For the organizers, it provided a cost-effective solution to expand their reach without needing to run two events simultaneously.

How does an event platform enable event professionals to create flexible experiences for their attendees?

As you think about future events, don’t get hung up on the word hybrid. Instead, consider the digital activations that will make your event more flexible, accessible, and meaningful, and be intentional about how you weave them into your event design. 

The beauty of using an end-to-end event platform is you have the flexibility to design your events to best serve your in-person and virtual audiences. With Webex Events, event professionals can:

  • Deliver flexible attendee experiences. Participants can attend from anywhere. Even if an attendee is on-site, they can watch content from their hotel room or somewhere else at the venue. 
  • Capture robust attendee data to personalize event content, foster connection, and demonstrate ROI to sponsors. 
  • Stream live content to virtual audiences and make sessions available on-demand.
  • Bring on-site and remote audiences together for networking and collaboration.  
  • Change event formats with a moment’s notice. 

At Webex Events, we believe that event professionals have superpowers. It takes someone special to plan and organize an entire event from beginning to end, whether it’s in-person, virtual, or somewhere in between. But sometimes even superheroes need a sidekick, so that’s why we’ve designed this Hybrid Run of Show Template to help make your hybrid event planning even easier.