Hybrid Event Trends for 2021
If someone had predicted 12 months ago that hybrid and virtual events would be the staple they have become, that person would have been shooed off the conference stage. Yet, in 2020 ‘hybrid’ became the event industry buzzword of the year.
So, what is a hybrid event?
A hybrid event incorporates both a physical in-person event with a virtual online audience.
This isn’t a new concept however… Prior to 2020, it’s likely you had already attended a few without realising. Take the popular non-profit TED as an example. What started as an annual conference in the 1990’s became a “viral video phenomenon” and now encompasses a huge platform of hybrid events including TED Talks, TEDx and the TED-Ed series – all with aim of spreading ideas far beyond the room they are presented in.
The global pandemic has certainly thrown a few spanners in the works for Eventprofs who are still running events. There’s increased demand for the best technology for every virtual event element, as well as the COVID-safe considerations for any in-person gatherings.
So, let’s deep dive into the world of hybrid events for a more in depth look into the future of this emerging trend.
More innovative ways for delegates to engage
Whilst the beginning of the pandemic saw events pivot to the online world, there wasn’t a huge desire for all of the bells and whistles that we now see on many virtual events. I mean, let’s be honest, just being able to hear someone on the other end of a zoom call was good enough to begin with!
But as the weeks in lockdown turned in to months, the focus on the virtual element being user-friendly, professional and above all else, engaging quickly moved up to the top of the wish list for many Eventprofs.
Engagement is one of the hardest things to replicate for virtual audiences who are used to attending events in-person. At a physical event, attendees stay better engaged because they are experiencing the event first-hand, surrounded by likeminded people and with all their senses activated. The online experience, whilst exciting to begin with, does actually require more concentration than in-person and so the major learnings from 2020 are that events with a shorter duration are absolutely key for high levels of online engagement...
Highly personalised, snackable, episodic content has replaced multi-hour and multi-day agendas.
For those who are also a bit tired of staring at their screen, apps like Clubhouse provide an audio-based, real time, podcast-style method of connecting, learning and sharing and it is certainly causing a stir in the industry. Is it just a fad or will it become a must-have tool?
It’s only natural 2021 will see more experimentation in ensuring attendees get involved.
It turns out that attending an event online is very different to attending the equivalent of that event in-person. There are often several things going on at once at a physical event, you can move about freely and take time to look at other things in-between.
This isn’t the case with virtual and hybrid events. Besides having a couple of talks going on at once, that is likely all that’s happening. Your attention has one unchanging thing to focus on and that can be incredible draining – anyone who has spent a full 8 hours at a virtual conference or meeting can vouch!
Getting the balance right when it comes to breaks is absolutely key in the longevity of hybrid events. Too many, and you risk letting people get bored. Too few, and they’ll have to switch off entirely for their sake. We’d also expect to see options for things to do during these breaks to let delegates put their minds to something else for a short while.
People may enjoy the opportunity for activities like:
- Further opportunity for speaker Q&A
- Fun icebreakers to keep audiences engaged
- Performances: musical, comedy, dance – whatever you can think of!
This is going to be a very important element for planners to get right in 2021 – otherwise, they may risk alienating their audience altogether.
Bigger and bolder
Now the novelty of virtual events has worn off, people are going to need a little more convincing to keep attending new ones. A solid content/speaker schedule is what people need to have their interest’s piqued, but just listening to someone talk whilst sat in-front of their laptop screen for the 30th time isn’t going to cut it any more.
Hybrid and virtual event planners are going to have to get creative this year and implement new ways to get their next remote event to stand out.
And yes – for any Eventprof, getting the technology right is a major hurdle for planning an event in this hybrid landscape. However, soon lockdown will be a thing of the past and finding the right hybrid events venue will once again jump up on the ‘must-have’ list.
One thing this period of ‘downtime’ has given venues is the ability to enhance the products and services on offer to include semi-permanent virtual studios, enhanced video conferencing facilities and an increase in the technical knowledge of venue teams.
These services will not only be continually upgraded and updated but will also give event bookers and agents the opportunity to focus on the content, engaging the audience, and making a stand-out hybrid event - rather than all of their efforts being focused on the infrastructure.
Not only will there be a push to imagine bigger and bolder ways of engaging audiences from home this year, but there’s also the opportunity to re-evaluate the best ways to deliver different types of content. Topics that might have been on-stage discussions before could now have a more significant impact as virtual workshop, allowing people to really feel involved instead of just watching from home.
2021 will be the time for us to take a step back and really look at whether we’re creating events that best fulfil their purpose. Human connection will always be important but converting a physical event to a virtual one doesn't always need to be a one for one swap, so eventprofs have the chance this year to truly get creative.
Much Broader/Far-reaching Marketing
A virtual or hybrid event can be attended by anyone, from anywhere. The impact of that means your audience is no longer limited to a local, or even national demographic.
So now you have an international audience to consider, how do you get them to notice you and your event?
Whilst this isn’t always option, having a reasonable marketing budget can go a long way to increasing attendance from people all over the world. So in response to this opportunity for a larger, international audience we think there will be a clear shift in the amount of budget set aside for marketing in 2021.
There is so much potential for growth in this area. Some delegates would have never considered attending events that were overseas and in-person, but the bulk of them are online it’s far more practical for them to get involved with.
Who knows? You could gain their loyalty and convince them to continue attending when physical events return. Or you might find that your event is wildly more successful when it’s online and can reach a wider audience.
However, there is a potential hitch that comes with a worldwide audience…Time differences! That can add some complex logistics to your event if you were planning to attract attendees from both Australia and the USA, but there is a compromise.
Recording your event gives people the opportunity to still get involved and engage with others who have attended, even if not necessarily in the moment. Not all events supply the post-event recordings (or record them at all!), but we think this will have to change for any events that want to be truly international.
VR hybrid events
This might be a stretch for 2021, but since we do already have the technology to capture and stream live, 360-degree video, VR could play a big part in hybrid events in the not-to-distant future!
The biggest challenge currently is making the technology accessible and intuitive to attendees – although, this reality is closer than you think.
Ever heard of Google Cardboard? This is one of a handful of viable, low-cost ways to implement VR en masse, and all delegates need is a smartphone. For an event in the future, a headset could be included in the price of a ticket and sent to their address for them to attend virtually.
VR experiences would be the next step for virtual and hybrid events, giving delegates a chance to really feel like they’re immersed in the action. It would also help to bridge the gap between engagement levels at a physical event and engagement at a hybrid event. Delegates would regain the freedom to roam around, participate as they please and interact with other people – some of the core things hybrid events currently struggle to replicate.
It does still have its limitations, but nothing that we don’t have the ability to overcome and improve on. Would you attend an event based in virtual reality?
Hybrid events in 2021
If you hadn’t already been talking about hybrid and virtual events with your colleagues, clients, or just about anyone you’ve been zooming over lockdowns 1, 2 and 3 - it won’t be long before you will. We think virtual and hybrid events are here to stay, and these emerging trends are just the beginning
Hybrid event venues in London
If you’re looking to plan a hybrid event of your own, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace has partnered with Oxygen Events to offer a state-of-the-art, dedicated studio for creating professional and engaging experiences. Enjoy a luxury backdrop, a high standard of tech and a dedicated production team to ensure your event goes off without a hitch. To discuss your ideas or any questions you may have, you can get in touch with the team on 020 7969 5224 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.