The Best of Both Worlds – Hybrid Meetings

By Christina Bauders, CMP, Senior Operations Executive

As we hopefully enter the tail end of the Coronavirus pandemic crisis, meeting planners are looking forward to rebuilding an events industry that has been left in disarray and in shambles. That future will all but certainly include hybrid meetings.

With the industry relying solely on virtual events in 2020, event attendees will likely expect continued virtual options. Many of us have witnessed firsthand how virtual events provide the opportunity to expand audiences, in addition to providing schedule flexibility. Additionally, virtual events allow for continued safety and the convenience of participating from home—professional top, pajama bottoms and all.

The 2019 conference season was in-person—2020, virtual.  The future holds a “hybrid” model as the norm and this modality will look different depending on clients’ needs and outcomes. Not all hybrid events are created equal—and experienced meeting and event professionals know that well.

For example, a hybrid meeting may include a live event that is simply being streamed for people to watch and attend remotely, whether it be during the event or after the fact. On the other hand, hybrid events may look like a myriad of in-person events with online alternatives.

A cornerstone of hybrid events is the flexibility they offer. There is no blueprint for how these events should look or how they should function, but meeting planners and conference attendees can get creative in the visual and participatory experience.  

There are two basic limiting factors that come with a hybrid model: cost and staff time. While flexible, a hybrid event platform could potentially lead to drastic cost and staff time overruns.  The potential for these overruns can be mitigated with comprehensive and advanced planning.  This process begins with envisioning the experience you would like to offer your in-person and virtual attendees and then diligently researching the most cost-effective options to offer those. You should be prepared to find some options will not work within a given budget, but if the experience has been properly envisioned, a creative team can find other alternatives. An approach that places value on streamlining processes is also highly recommended as this can save both time and money.

For example, if you are streaming limited content from your live event to your virtual platform, ensure that all those sessions are in the same meeting room. This way, you avoid the cost of having recording equipment throughout all your concurrent education sessions. Fully leverage the resources and experience of your venues, as they have likely created unique streaming opportunities in their meeting spaces. Another way to help offset costs is to offer innovative ways for sponsors to interact with attendees. Creating packages that allow sponsors to benefit from the in-person networking with the online convenience will expand their exposure, helping them meet their goals and objectives and provide an ROI that is crucial for them.

Planning hybrid meetings can be intimidating and laborious. However, they appear to be what the industry market will demand in the future and will also help to expand, rebuild and evolve the events industry in a post-COVID landscape.   Only time will tell what further trends we will see in world of hybrid event planning, but you can be sure that the age-old partnership team composed of planner, attendee, sponsor and venue, is what will serve as the vanguard to a new industry era.

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