What is a hybrid event?
At the dawn of the hybrid event era, definitions and expectations vary. So what does hybrid really mean, and what does a successful hybrid event look like? We asked our Future of Events panel.
In event industry circles, “hybrid” is hot. After a long period of cancellations and lightening-fast adaptation to the challenges of going completely virtual, 56% of attendees at our virtual panel on the Future of Events predicted that hybrid would dominate their plans in the coming year. But, what does hybrid really mean and what does a successful hybrid event really look like?
One word, many meanings
Chris Elmitt of events tech company, Crystal Interactive, sums up his take on hybrid, using a metaphor that will feel familiar to football fans.
He explains: "There are three types of hybrid for us. There's the one that's currently possible, within the current Covid restrictions (June 2021), and we call that 'Studio Hybrid'. And for anyone who hasn't tried it, I really do advocate trying to get your speakers into a studio, because you get so much more out of them.
"Next," says Chris, "is the ‘Match-of-the-Day Hybrid', where both your in-person and online audience are equally important. We call it Match of the Day because it offers a similar choice to the one we face when we want to see a football match. You can go to the match, watch it in real life, and experience the queues and pies, the highs and disappointments, and everything else that goes with it. But, the people who don’t go in-person can get the whole thing, boiled down to nine or 11 minutes, with expert commentary, on Match of the Day on TV in the evening.
“This is, of course, a viable version but, bear in mind, some of your speakers are going to have to work their content into two different time slots – a highlights version and a full version.
"Then, lastly, there’s 'Pure Hybrid' - one programme delivered in real-time, both online and in-person.
"This sounds the simplest but is actually the most complicated of them all to pull off," says Chris.
Digital attendees, distinct audiences
“Often, the physical can do what digital can’t and digital can do what the physical can’t,” said James Howitt, client development director at Smyle, Campaign's Creative Experience Agency of the Year 2021. "The exciting thing about hybrid is that you can do both at once."
But hybrid should be good for both audiences, warns James. Event creators need to cater for distinct audiences in each format, to give the sense that "whether you're watching in the physical or digital realm, it's your event". "If it’s just a recording of what’s going on in the room, what is that giving you as a digital attendee?”
Jo Moss, Salesforce senior manager of executive programs in UK and Ireland, agrees. After a swift pivot to virtual and hybrid formats early in the pandemic, their Success Anywhere events - broadcast live from studios around the world with a small on-site team - have proved the potential of the hybrid model. But .Salesforce quickly realised the importance of shaping the event agenda to meet the different needs of their audiences. “We know people get timed out online, so we've tailored the agenda to make sure that people at home have those breaks to walk the dog, check emails or take calls in between sessions. The people attending in-person get to use that time for networking, which, as we've all acknowledged, is still quite hard to make happen virtually.”
More content, more money
While the government aims for an irreversible lifting of lockdown measures in the summer of 2021, if event creators have learned anything in the last year, it's that best laid plans often go awry. A hybrid model has become essential for flexible foward-planning.
"Hybrid events are events that work well for people whether their in the room or somewhere else, be that a different room, a different city or a different country," says BBC Studios event producer Georgia Toppin.
"To achieve that, you might need a team on the ground as well as a team that's focused on delivering the virtual version of your event. And I guess that's exciting for us as an events industry. That's more jobs, more suppliers to work with. But, it definitely doesn't mean we've got a bigger budget. So that's a new challenge for us.”
Check out the video below to watch our digitally scribed summary of the event come to life.