The Evolution of Hybrid Events And How to Make Yours a Success

Early 2020 was shaping up to be a busy year in the trade show industry. Convention Centre expansions and new facilities, like the BMO Convention Centre Expansion, were being approved or construction continued, and business airline travel was climbing. Abruptly in the last few months, corporations, facilities, and trade show providers, including exhibit companies, trade show organizers, logistics, and A/V companies and others, have all needed to reconsider how they do business. One of the most significant changes has been the shift to and the growth of virtual and hybrid events, as many look to find unique ways to maintain connections. 

When the event industry shut down started in Canada back in March, event providers had little to work with but, since then, have worked tirelessly to create new ideas and visions for live events. Now that there have been many events successfully run in a virtual format, we are all in a place where we know what we like, dislike, and need to update to succeed within the virtual structure. 

Early on, attendance numbers were high for virtual events, but the experience was less than ideal. Long the catalyst in trade show attendance, the customer experience has been less than perfect in the virtual format. As gathering rules have relaxed slightly over the last two months, the virtual event has been allowed to expand its reach by combining the in-person and virtual experience to engage audiences more effectively – transforming into the hybrid experience. 

Hybrid events offer an excellent way to deliver content creatively and functionally. These events allow specific content such as keynote presentations, speaker forums, videos, and sponsor messaging to be delivered to an audience hosted on an online platform. Now the content is combined with live streaming opportunities, and the result is an excellent platform for creating a more positive customer experience. 

Meeting Professionals International (MPI) defines Hybrid Meetings as  “Hybrid meetings integrate technology with traditional event practices to create new types of attendee experiences and content delivery tools. They include any meeting or event with at least one group of face-to-face participants that digitally connects with participants in another or multiple locations.”

If you are contemplating a hybrid alternative for your next trade show, there are a number of things to consider.

  • Think about whether or not your content will translate well in an online format.
  • Consider event information and event schedules when working with a broader audience and potentially increased reach.
  • How will you encourage real-time participation from both groups? For example, will you combine a live and online Q&A session with a moderator to foster both audiences’ contributions?
  • Plan with forethought and find balance in how you communicate with each of the audiences. The event content shouldn’t be geared more towards to one group over the other. The quality of communication and balance is vital.
  • Review your pricing structure for live vs. virtual attendees and exhibitors.
  • Consider if and how the sessions will be filmed. Do you want to include live audience reactions and have multiple camera angles?
  • Will you dedicate a virtual host to explain what is happening live to the virtual attendees?
  • Will you include live satellite locations where you stream the live event and encourage networking amongst local attendees in the smaller locations?
  • Will you create an online community space where attendees can interact after the event? How long will you keep this open?
  • Aesthetics – the style, decor, and the brand of the main event. These features are still important.
  • Ensure that you allow for networking between attendees before, during, and after the event. This is a must.
  • Will you create a forum so that attendees can schedule calls and meetings with exhibitors?
  • Live and virtual audiences aren’t the same and can’t be handled as though they are. Their requirements are different.
  • How will allow for polls and group chats, and easy access to networking? Online networking and engagement must be accessible and attractive.
  • How will you manage pre and post-event activities and reminders?

When choosing a platform to deliver your event, you must critique online technology providers for their solution’s flexibility. Some features that you need to consider include. 

  • Security and privacy, licensing, log-ins, and team training options.
  • Can they offer personalized attendee registration links?
  • What tools do they have for engagement and product demonstrations with exhibitors as well as lead generation features?
  • Do they offer AI to suggest the best matches for all attendees and exhibitors to facilitate event attendee connections?
  • Are there live and on-demand streaming capabilities, audience moderation, and engagement tools?
  • Is there the ability to upload and schedule pre-recorded speaker videos if required?  
  • What sound quality and streaming speed will you have, and will you need?
  • Will your live stream also need recording, post edit, and upload features for future viewing? How will event content be stored?
  • Can the technology provide dedicated spaces for sponsors?
  • Will you offer interactive 3D floorplans, virtual tours of the venue, booths, and an exhibitor marketplace?
  • How will you present the traditional trade show guide and organize the post speaker, exhibitor, and attendee profiles and ads?
  • Do you need an event app?
  • How will you integrate social media on the platform?
  • What event metrics are available?
  • Will you have tech support at the event should you need to troubleshoot during the event? Or, do you need a computer science degree to get the program up and running?
  • Can your in-person and virtual audience be managed on the same platform? What does the event look like in its entirety? Step back and look at the big picture.

Ultimately, many of the challenges of a live trade show exist in the virtual and hybrid worlds. Finding ways to create the same enthusiasm and energy around a hybrid event as what the live event experiences offer and trying to replicate isn’t easy but has been proven possible.

Creative boundaries are currently being pushed by those creating and producing hybrid events. This is a positive advancement as our industry works to maintain public interest in trade shows. However, we expect that hybrid events’ success will increase expectations for live trade shows moving forward when large gatherings are allowed to resume. In our opinion, live trade show opportunities will be preferred to make real connections in the future, and technology (XR, AR, VR, and MR) will be used to enhance the in-person experience. Live events will need to continue evolving to incorporate hybrid digital elements to adapt to the post COVID environment and increase business opportunities. Expect that, in the future, trade shows will continue to be complemented by an online component.

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