Winning with hybrid events

Rethink before you restart

It should come as no surprise that we’ve reached the new year and the events and experiences industry is incredibly keen to return to the world of live events and experiences. So as vaccine distribution gets underway, many brands and organisations are beginning to gleefully imagine getting back to what we all did just a short year ago: live events and live experiences.

But here’s the thing: in the rush to return to live, a lot of brands are forgetting lessons learned from virtual events that are incredibly valuable and should be guiding the thinking on what comes next. They’re also forgetting to fully consider things from the perspective of the audience: the single most important part of any event, virtual, hybrid or live.

Here’s a typical example of a brief we’re seeing. The client is keen to return to the world they know, and ask us to create a live event that will be broadcast to those who can’t (or don’t want to) attend in person. In the mind of the client, they’re solving two problems: those who attend in person can network and experience the benefits of a live experience, and those who can’t (or won’t) can still absorb the content remotely. Everybody wins, right?

Unfortunately not, for one key reason: the audience you’re talking to will likely still be, by and large, remote. There’s almost certainly a huge percentage of your audience who won’t want to attend the event in person, from the immuno-compromised to the elderly, from people with families to those who can’t (or won’t) travel to the event. And in the scenario outlined above, these remote audiences will have a sub-standard experience: instead of watching a bespoke ‘made-for-digital’ content experience, they’ll be watching a live event, on a screen, remotely. This immediately ignores a critical learning from the early days of virtual events in the COVID-19 era: simply broadcasting a live event to a remote audience doesn’t work.

Additionally, as a client, you’re effectively doubling your workload as you need to consider two content tracks: the live experience and the remote experience. There’s also the increase in investment: maybe not quite double, but certainly more than normal. So, how best to prioritise your spend?

As always, by looking to your audience. Instead of thinking of hybrid events as live events that you broadcast, think of them as virtual events that you encourage people to watch together.

Begin by considering your content: adopt a strategy that leans into all the rich learnings we have from the last six months. Think shorter, punchier content; create moments of true interactivity; utilise the best production methods to ensure the content you capture looks and sounds excellent; spend budget on things like animation and motion graphics: do everything you can to make the content perfect for the remote viewer. With these tactics employed, you can be assured that the audiences that are uncomfortable with in-person contact will still enjoy a rich (albeit remote) experience.

Now you can turn your attention to those audience members who are open to congregating in person. Rather than hosting them at a single, traditional venue (with all the cost and logistics that go along with such a move), you can facilitate a range of options tailored to different comfort levels.

For those keen to network, curate a live watch party. This is hugely scalable, but essentially all you need is a venue with a simple AV set up for the guests to consume the screen content together. A note on this: allow for moments of interaction for those gathered together, and sprinkle in plenty of time for in-person conversations and discussions to take place.

For those who may feel more comfortable with a smaller, more trusted group (like, for example, close coworkers or friends), empower them to take matters into their own hands by curating and sending out ‘watch party’ kits. Again, this concept is hugely scalable: give them what they need to have a dynamic experience (interactive elements, catering, playful storytelling engagements) that can be hosted at a home or in a socially distanced conference room in an office: you could even rent a WeWork (or similar) to give them an unexpected new location as part of their experience.

Finally, at the conclusion of the content, make your presenters available to chat with the audience. This is a much-missed part of the in-person networking that makes live events so personal and can go a long way to bridging the gap between live and virtual.

By placing your remote audience’s needs first, and catering to different levels of comfort in regard to live engagement, you’ll be committing budget to elements that can really make your experience stand out.