The business world continues to experience major changes as a result of the new normal imposed by COVID-19. Event organizers are adopting different approaches in event production to keep events safe and save costs. Some of these approaches include hosting virtual events or hybrid events instead of in-person events.
If you are considering planning or pivoting to a virtual or hybrid event, this article will cover the basics of hosting a successful event. Let’s start with a strong foundation:
What is a Virtual Event?
A virtual event is a full-scale experience that is held in a virtual space. Educational Sessions, Networking, and Commerce are all virtually available to the attendee at the touch of a button. Attendance and participation in the event is entirely online.
What is a Hybrid Event?
A hybrid event is a live event with a virtual component that allows online audiences to connect and participate in the event experience. A hybrid event is more than just live streaming. At a hybrid event, online audiences are also active participants in the key aspects of the event, just like the in-person attendees.
This is why a hybrid event requires a different level of planning to create an organic environment for both in-person and online attendees.
Now that you understand the basics, let’s explore the following components that make a successful virtual or hybrid event:
- Event Audience
- Event Registration
- Event Platform
- Event Production Stage
- Event Content
- Audience Engagement
- Exhibits and Sponsorship
Continue reading to learn more.
The audience comes first when considering a virtual or hybrid event. Since these events thrive mainly on technology, the audience should feel well prepared and ready to participate in online experiences.
This should be considered while diving into the planning. Send surveys to your existing database to understand their preference between fully virtual, hybrid, and in-person. The responses gathered from the survey can be used to determine which event format is the best fit.
There are two important components to consider regarding event registration. These are the registration platform and the data collected during registration.
Event Registration Platform
Choosing an event registration platform with virtual or hybrid capabilities in mind is important. The platform should be one that has an open API so it can be easily integrated with third-party platforms and apps. This is to ensure seamless data transfer from your virtual event platform or mobile event app to your database.
When designing event registration forms, you need to collect attendee data. This can be used for the purpose of networking and also to provide exhibitors and sponsors with useful information for lead generation.
Creating a memorable virtual or hybrid event experience requires a multipurpose virtual event platform or mobile event app. Therefore, your choice of platform or app provider should be informed by the capacity and usability of the platform, the unique experience provided by the platform, and of course, your budget.
Virtual Event Platform
Virtual event platforms are not just webinar tools. They are full-service platforms used for event production, including content sharing, speaker presentation, and streaming. They also allow for interaction, Q&A, networking, gamification, polling, and more. Because of their unique designs, the platforms support real-time event analytics, reporting, and seamless lead retrieval.
Mobile Event App
A mobile event app is an app that is branded for an event to enhance the experience for attendees. It is used to provide updates via push messages and attendee networking, empowering them to communicate via live chats and 1:1 video calls.
A mobile app can be used with a virtual event platform so that attendees can have on-the-go access. It can also be used as the virtual component of a hybrid event where event sessions are live-streamed for online attendees to view and participate in through Q&A sessions, polling, gamification, etc.
Sponsors can also connect with attendees via the app to showcase their products and services. Mobile event apps provide organizers and sponsors with rich data insights about the attendees’ event experience and preferences.
Event Production Stage
While hybrid events have a stage or podium for the live elements, virtual events may also require such production elements. “Virtual” doesn’t mean that all aspects of the event production can be streamed from just about anywhere. Some virtual event platforms can simulate event stages or backgrounds, but this does not rule out having an actual stage or background for virtual event production.
Live Stage for Virtual Events
A virtual event stage might be located in a meeting room where everything is set like a live event but without the audience. Only the event crew and speakers are present. Such an arrangement gives attendees a viewing experience that is similar to participating in a live event.
Streaming Stage for Hybrid Events
Additional equipment might be required to stream a hybrid event. For example, to give online attendees a good view of the event, 360-degree conference cameras can be used. Such cameras, though expensive, can highlight the speakers and the live audience.
An immersive learning experience is required to keep attendees engaged during an online event. Therefore, event content should resonate with their interests and help them solve specific problems. The mode of content delivery may vary. It can be live, pre-recorded, or a combination of both.
For a virtual event, speakers can connect and present from wherever they are located or gather at a predetermined venue to present to an online audience.
Some event content can be pre-recorded and streamed during the event. Apart from the main content scheduled for the event, additional on-demand content can also be pre-recorded and made available to attendees on the virtual event platform or mobile app for viewing or download.
Another key consideration in a virtual event or hybrid event is audience engagement. Online audiences tend to have a shorter attention span than live audiences, and therefore, they must be engaged in a variety of ways to keep them committed. Below are some audience engagement activities that can be incorporated into an online event:
These sessions give participants the opportunity to ask questions and get responses from speakers during presentations. A hybrid event should pay special attention to online participants so that their questions can also be taken during the general Q&A sessions.
Polling is one of the ways event organizers get feedback from the audience during an event. Event hosts can poll the audience about their event experience, their opinion on event decisions, or even their preferences for certain products, services, and interests.
Gamification consists of fun activities, competitions, and incentives used to keep attendees engaged. It significantly adds to the overall event experience.
Exhibits and Sponsorship
You should include exhibitors and sponsors in your plans for a virtual or hybrid event. It’s important to strategically plan ways to maximize their brand awareness, and provide opportunities for lead generation. There are several important elements to confirm with sponsors through the planning process:
Sponsors can place their banners and logos in strategic places on the platform such as the event home screen, live poll result page, sponsor pages, etc.
Sponsors can pre-record ads to be played between event sessions. The virtual platform can also offer opportunities for video showcases, where sponsors place video content to promote their businesses.
Sponsors and exhibitors meet with attendees to discuss their offers and solutions in virtual booths. Whether the event is fully virtual or hybrid, sponsors can showcase products and services and convert attendees to customers within the platform. Therefore, sponsors should prepare their representatives to engage with attendees in real time.
The attendee event experience is incomplete without networking. Therefore, a virtual or hybrid event should provide the opportunity to network with other attendees, speakers, organizers, and sponsors. This is why it is important to collect data that will make networking simple at the point of registration.
Attendees should have the opportunity to view the profiles of other attendees, speakers, and sponsors. With relevant data provided, attendees can network via live chat, 1:1 video call, group chats and discussion forums.
Virtual and hybrid events offer small businesses the opportunity to leverage technology to grow. With a minimum budget, hosts can achieve a lot. If you get your audience targeting right, provide content that resonates with attendees, and use a multipurpose virtual platform, you can create a successful digital event experience.
Jordan Schwartz is president and co-founder of Pathable, an event app and website platform for conferences and tradeshows. He left academic psychology for the lure of software building, and spent 10 years at Microsoft leading the development of consumer-facing software. Frustrated with the conferences he attended there, he left Microsoft in 2007 with the goal of delivering more value and better networking opportunities through a next-generation conference app. Jordan moonlights as a digital nomad, returning often to his hometown of Seattle to tend his bee hives.