A few months ago, the term “event” would have unequivocally referred to what is now known as an “in-person event”. From the moment that the pandemic hit us at the start of 2020, it has become necessary to distinguish between “in-person” and “virtual” events. However, with a certain ‘loosening’ of health measures, alongside the natural evolution of virtual events, we can now see an interest in hybrid events manifesting on the horizon. Interest in this type of event is based on its proven benefits for everyone, heralding its long-term presence in the event world.
Even today, however, a limited number of events have been produced in hybrid mode. There are very few examples that might truly and tangibly demonstrate what hybrid events are all about. As such, the definition of hybrid events is not so crystal clear to everyone. We asked our team of event experts to provide us with their own definition of a hybrid event. With these answers from our experienced team, we have drafted a definition that comes as close as possible to the concept’s reality.
WHAT IS A HYBRID EVENT?
An event is said to be “hybrid” when it takes place in front of a live audience while simultaneously interacting with a virtual audience through their screens. A hybrid event combines the advantages of an in-person event, such as the shared energy felt in a room, with those of a virtual event, such as unlimited seating.
The event agency’s role is to create a memorable event for these twin audiences, who do not share the same priorities or have the same patience… The Master of Ceremonies plays a dual role in helping to animate an audience both in the live room and online. As we will be seeing below, interaction with both audiences distinguishes hybrid events from filmed in-person events.
BENEFITS AND OPPORTUNITIES
The fusion of in-person events and virtual events obviously creates great opportunities that should be seized. Here are a few of them.
Hybrid events are a new and unexplored approach. It is time to make your brand shine through something never before seen. It is an opportunity to completely reinvent codes by taking advantage of a dual platform, redoubled visibility, and innovative technology.
Do you sell tickets? Do you finance your event with the help of sponsors? Revenue opportunities have multiplied with the advent of hybrid events.
Every virtual event platform has its own unique constraints, but some can accommodate an unlimited number of guests, and therefore provide many more tickets than there are seats in an amphitheatre. On the ticket sale side, for those attendees who will be on-site during an event, there is an opportunity to create a completely VIP experience due to the limited number of people who will have access to the live event venue. Table service, gourmet meals, privileged access to celebrities – these are the sorts of advantages that make this type of ticket all the more valuable (and therefore increase their price)!
On the sponsor side, this represents an even greater opportunity for outreach. In addition to attracting larger budgets, these opportunities for visibility will certainly generate considerable excitement from the various companies that understand their superior marketing potential.
As we have seen with purely virtual events, the Web provides us with an opportunity to go anywhere in the world. Though we are talking here about the possibility of an international audience, this is also the case for our speakers. We can therefore invite speakers or special guests to a hybrid event without the expense of airfare and accommodation.
CONVERTING AN EVENT INTO WEB CONTENT
The hybrid formulation enables the recording of an event without the necessity of investing additional efforts. Photos, videos (clips of the event – performances, animations…), and surveys can all be directly converted and used as content for a website, social networks, etc. With this approach, compared to a 100% in-person event, an entire evening can be repurposed after the fact.
GATHERING CUSTOMER DATA
More and more companies are turning to “first party data” – the in-house management of customer databases. Hybrid events not only enable the online storage of audience data, but also easy surveying and information gathering by the company via web platforms, which accelerates the collection of information for the company’s database. This is also an aspect that can facilitate sponsorship sales: a tangible database of event attendees.
Hybrid events allow you to benefit from the dynamism of an in-person event: a crowd, people, applause, enthusiasm, and the excitement of the hosts, which can all be felt, even on-screen. This is an advantage that should be exploited.
Audience members are provided with an opportunity to choose between having an on-site presence and a virtual presence. This option is appreciated by guests who may have personal obligations such as children, busy schedules, or appointments. The public can therefore choose the form of their event involvement according to their wishes and practical preferences.
THE CHALLENGES OF HYBRID EVENTS
It is often said that hybrid events represent the best of both worlds. However, the challenges and ramifications of hybrid events should nevertheless not be forgotten.
When doubling an event’s audience, one can necessarily expect to also increase its budget. In addition to the cost of bringing people into a room (drinks, snacks, furnishing, service staff, etc.), it is essential to consider all the technological requirements (equipment, technical assistance and support, webcasting platform, etc.).
MANAGING TWO AUDIENCES
Another challenge is to not exclude one of the two audiences from an evening’s proceedings. Events must be made to be dynamic and relevant to all, from start to finish. Of course, entertaining an audience in front of a camera or on a stage is not the same as doing it in person. A middle ground must be found by applying techniques that are adapted to the reality of hybrid events.
For a hybrid event to be relevant, it must be interactive. It must include audience participation. Although this is sometimes easier to accomplish in person, the recent wave of virtual events has shown us that it is every bit as possible to do so in virtual format (networking, surveys, public comments, etc.). The two audiences now need to be brought together to ensure interaction between them, and thus generate a certain level of fusion and synergy. We could consider games, audience voting, various technological tools…
In a previous article, we talked about the differences in priorities between in-person and virtual events. With in-person get-togethers, priorities are, in order: content, networking and entertainment. For virtual events, the aim is to generate meaningful interactions, followed by entertainment, and finally relevant content. Now, for hybrid events, we need to find a happy medium between these two worlds that can satisfy all audiences.
MAKING RYTHMS AND TEMPORALITIES COMPATIBLE
- Duration of the event. With an in-person setting, an event can last several hours, whereas in a virtual environment, it becomes difficult to maintain the audience’s attention through their screens for more than two hours.
- Fluidity. In a virtual environment, it is important to fill in the blanks between speakers so that listeners do not have to sit in front of empty screens.
- Speed of speech. It is important to avoid pauses in participants’ speech, since people behind a screen could think it is a technical issue.
This raises concerns about event pacing. How can we ensure that an event’s pacing is interesting for both audiences? We have to think of an event’s pace as a compromise between the pacing of a TV program and that of a speaker.
It is important to find a room that can be adapted to accommodate all technical equipment (control room, technical team, etc.), while also being configurable in such a way that it is able to render a beautiful finished product on-screen (camera locations, flow, etc.).
Hybrid events require many audiovisual considerations. It is necessary to think about these events in terms of the people in the room (background music, event visuals, microphones for hosts, etc.), but also in terms of virtual platforms (transmitting sound in a way that is interesting for the home audience). This is a major challenge for hybrid events. It is necessary to think long and hard about this and to discuss it with professionals – to ensure that events are accessible, certainly, but above all that they are enjoyable for everyone. Being adequately prepared ahead of time will help avoid technical disasters.
IN CONCLUSION, A PRACTICAL EXAMPLE
Hybrid events are a great opportunity if we take into account all the concepts detailed in this article, which can represent great challenges within an organisation.
A good example of a hybrid event is the “Tout le Monde Ensemble” gala, which was held during a period of more relaxed government health measures, on December 28th, 2020. As you might have noticed, although the celebration was broadcast on television, the hosts, Jean-Philippe Dion, Marie-Lyne Joncas, Pierre-Yves Lord, and Véronique Cloutier, catered to both an in-person audience and a virtual audience through screens, with which the hosts could interact – they were not mere spectators. While this is not a perfect example, given the gala’s more televisual than event-based nature, Tout le Monde Ensemble does serve to illustrate the concept toward which the industry is slowly shifting: that of hybrid events.
© Illustration : Stephanie Heendrickxen