“Event ‘Think hybrid’ was an eye-opener for many companies”.
“We are not going to allow invitees to attend our physical events digitally, then in the long run no one will show up anymore…”. This statement was heard during a session with event organisers and venue owners, and no, it didn’t come from an event manager counting down his days to retirement, but from a young fresh venue operator.
I didn’t want to respond right away, because I was curious about the others’ reactions. Would he get acclaim? Or would they disagree? So I was delighted to hear that his fellow event managers, who did have many questions about the approach to hybrid events, rather pointed out the short-sightedness of his remark. “The demand for online participation is coming anyway now that event participants have become used to it,” said one.
“Have you thought about the extra reach you will have with participants who don’t go to physical events anyway?”, said another. Another eloquent lady with a slight Dutch accent reminded him of the extra online experience options you can offer to customers.
BACK TO NORMAL
I honestly felt a bit sorry for the young man who had made the original comment, he had definitely not expected to get these remarks. I spoke to him afterwards. It turned out that he really didn’t know how to organise a hybrid event and who to contact, and that he couldn’t see the wood for the trees. And for months he had been so looking forward to physical live events, the “back to normal”, that he tried to shake off the thought of hybrid events as much as possible.
Granted, hybrid events, it’s a catch-all term and it’s hugely important to apply the hybrid concept to perfection, from save-the-date to final replay of the digital content. If not, it becomes a mess resulting in unfulfilled expectations and dissatisfied participants.
Therefore, it’s crucial to start by properly mapping out your objectives, target audience, content and look & feel. Only then decide on the form of event: fully physical, fully digital, or some form of hybrid.
After much research, testing and interviews with market players, we at Sylvester arrived at three hybrid concepts: Physical First (base is physical but with a range of digital extensions), Digital First (base is online but with a limited relevant physical audience, and finally Best of Both (two tracks similar but not the same).
It sounds simple, but the success of these concepts is determined by the tailor-made elaboration, from save-the-date to final thank-you mail.
A fortnight ago, together with PFL and Easyfairs, we organised our own full hybrid expertise event on hybrid events. From the many reactions afterwards, we noticed that this was an eye-opener and refresher for many participants. And here again: almost as many participants came afterwards to watch or review the event as the 200 who followed it live. And with impressive view rates: 88% for those who attended live, and still 65% for those who only participated afterwards. In short: we would never have achieved this with a physical event.
To have no misunderstanding: Physical ‘live’ events are not dead, not by any means. For fun and entertainment, it’s the first choice. But for anything whose purpose is information transfer and knowledge sharing (even as part of a physical event), an online or hybrid form lends itself best.
Moreover, physical or online or hybrid is not a choice of the organiser or the agency alone: with regard to a digital or hybrid offering, the cork is out of the bottle. As with teleworking and video meetings, everyone has been able to experience the benefits of participating in online events. The recent survey (May 2021) by AP Hogeschool Antwerp further confirms this. Most are looking forward to live physical events – me too, logically – but two in three are totally ready for online participation in the future. Avoiding travel and saving time are their biggest motives. Ecological benefits also stand out.
In short, the event world is becoming more exciting than ever. As a marketing and communication tool, the event is gaining in power and impact. Let us therefore seize all opportunities, and go for it full throttle.