With the ongoing safety concerns around large gatherings, there are countless questions about what the future holds. One thing is a safe bet, though: In the upcoming year, hybrid events will be a pretty big deal.

If you’re planning a major event (e.g. conference, trade show, job fair, etc.), the concept of hybrid events is worth knowing about. Think of them as a mashup between physical gatherings and virtual events. You can host attendees at your venue — with the proper precautions, of course — while offering at-home streams and other content for those who can’t make it or aren’t quite comfortable attending.

person watching stream of live conference

We’re all in this same daily mess of COVID-19. For many countries it will be touch-and-go for the next couple of years or longer, with everyone constantly assessing their personal comfort levels for any given situation. For instance, according to one survey from May 2020, 66 percent of marketers say they won’t attend an in-person conference until there’s a proven vaccine in place.

The hybrid event offers a win-win situation for event planners and attendees during these precarious times. Even beyond the lockdown, hybrid events are poised as a go-to strategy when it comes to future gatherings. Next year will be a true showcase for their potential, as 62 percent of event planners say they will continue to accommodate a virtual audience once live events return, according to a survey by Event Manager Blog. 

The current state of hybrid events

After the initial wave of the pandemic, restrictions have taken on many shapes from region to region. The same goes for our approach to organizing events, and similarly, our willingness to attend or exhibit.

That said, large gatherings are back in style in some places, while not so much in others. Hybrid events are already picking up steam as the happy medium. Organizations are eager to bring people together again, and millions of people are eager to be there. But to ensure the rest aren’t left out, and events are kept at safe capacities with increased safety measures, hybrid events are a sensible choice. 

Examples of hybrid events

It feels like several lifetimes since the pandemic started. In that time, the events realm has already gone from complete gridlock, to virtual, and now to a mixture of virtual and hybrid.

Hybrid is not only the future — it’s already here, and in style! A quick search of hybrid events reveals the variety of gatherings that have already happened this year and the many more being planned.

idea board with lightbulb at center

The hotel industry, for starters, is a significant adopter of the hybrid approach. Not only are certain hotel companies organizing hybrid events, but also hybrid meetings. These allow guests to take part in team sessions from their rooms or smaller spaces around the hotel, while other members can join in the actual conference rooms.

Some other recent examples of hybrid events:

  • This month, the Hawai’i International Film Festival (HIFF) hosts its 40th anniversary event with its first-ever hybrid approach. More than 200 films will be presented to viewers both in person and at home.
  • In October, the World Dog Surfing Championships (you read that right!) delivered an innovative hybrid event for viewers and competitors around the world. Not only could attendees stream the event or attend in person, but competitors — dogs and humans alike — could also livestream their participation from multiple locations.
  • Not to be outdone by the surfing dogs, the Midwest Poultry Federation (MPF) is planning its 50th annual MPF Convention for next summer as a hybrid event, with in-person attendance at the Minneapolis Convention Center a virtual companion event for remote attendees.
  • The Korea MICE Expo (KME) will bring its annual event, the “largest trade show for meeting professionals and incentive planners,” into the hybrid format when it is held on Nov. 24-27.

There’s room for all types of organizations in the burgeoning hybrid event space, and it’s truly just getting started. Conferences, trade shows, job fairs, entertainment expos — you name it — will soon be spun into innovative events that combine the physical and the virtual.

Benefits of choosing hybrid events

A silver lining of this global pandemic, unquestionably, is the creativity that’s come out of it. Virtual events, and now hybrid events, are a prime example of this; organizers and exhibitors are turning lemons into lemonade at every corner, delivering memorable experiences and bringing people together for a shared purpose and mutual outcomes.

This fully modernized approach allows event planners to curate unique offerings for all types of audiences, both live at the venue and scattered around the globe. Organizers can offer perks for those joining remotely (e.g. contests, bonus content) while maintaining the feel of a live event — and perhaps improving it due to lower capacity. (e.g. Shorter bathroom lines!)

people taking notes in a conference hall

Although reducing in-person attendance, hybrid events open the door for thousands more to take part from home. Along with the potential for larger overall attendance, this virtual accessibility allows for further reach to people in different regions. While you host a physical gathering in, say, the UK, you can stream and encourage interaction with visitors from Canada, Australia, Asia — you name it.

A scaled down physical attendance can also translate to a more eco-friendly event, with lower carbon emissions and waste being produced. This is a fact you can promote to your target audience and customers, which may help drive interest and brand engagement.

Summary

The events industry changed in 2020 as much, if not more than, any other space. Almost overnight, thousands of costly, anticipated events were forced to be cancelled or rethought. Just like with remote work, though, the crisis may be a catalyst for overdue positive changes in how we approach events. A hybrid event style may be a long-term solution that unites event purists and forward-thinkers alike. Either way, the coming months will be a real test, as organizers and attendees across the world experience hybrid events for themselves.

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