Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished. Your virtual events drive engagement sky-high. Your hybrid conferences achieve incredible reach. And you’re a real pro at delivering immersive in-person experiences. Now the big question is how do you choose the best format for your next event?
The decision is complicated. Digital, hybrid and onsite event technologies keep racing forward and presenting more options. There are new types of audiences to consider and a slew of new ways to deliver content.
Sometimes choosing the right format can feel overwhelming, but we’ve created this list of top 10 questions to help you sort through the options and decide on the best format. You’ll also find use cases, tips, and tools for delivering exceptional events of all types and sizes.
Let’s dive in…
Question #1: What’s the purpose of your event?
Is it to build brand awareness, generate revenue, boost networking, launch a product, or something else? Once you’re clear on the aim, it’s easier to determine whether your event should be virtual, in-person or a combination of both. Let’s look at major goals for each format.
In-Person Events are great for networking.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, marketers agreed nothing beats live events for generating leads and closing deals. This format satisfies our need for human interaction. It’s great for building awareness, too, with an event that personifies your brand. Attendees enjoy an engaging, sensory experience. They talk with experts and see, touch and sample products first-hand.
In addition to raising brand recognition and generating leads, organizers traditionally opt for in-person events to achieve goals like these below:
- Drive revenue
- Build pipeline
- Create new partnerships
- Connect more intimately with fans
- Boost collaboration
- Reward and motivate
- Make a big splash with new products and services
- And more
Virtual events deliver content faster at reduced costs to bigger audiences.
But they also do so much more. This format has come a long way since March 2020. In response to the global pandemic, digital gatherings have been transformed to mirror the experience of in-person events.
For example, MeetingPlay’s Virtual Event Platform uses breakthrough technology to engage attendees with lifelike experiences, designed to simulate face-to-face experiences. AI-powered matchmaking tools enhance networking opportunities based on shared interests. These tools promote learning as well, with access to curated content, tailored to attendee preferences.
MeetingPlay’s Virtual Exhibit Hall drives quality leads with customizable graphics, one-on-one appointments, live demos, lead capture, and more. Just like at live events, sponsors and exhibitors can customize the experience for visitors to their booths.
Modern platforms push the envelope to provide immersive digital experiences and help you also achieve the following goals:
- Personalize the attendee journey
- Measure ROI
- Promote inclusivity
- Enhance sustainability programs
- Keep in touch with constituents
- Reduce health risks
Hybrid events deliver on both online and in-person goals.
Hybrid is like an insurance policy for your event. It helps you manage uncertainties.
You’re planning both digital and live experiences, right? If Covid cases spike and people can’t travel, all-in-one hybrid event platforms let you switch to all-virtual with a click of a button.
No wonder Meeting Professionals International calls this format “the breakout star of the meeting industry.” Today, 60 – 70 percent of companies with 2000 or more employees include hybrid events in their portfolios. Considering the benefits of virtual, it’s a safe bet that many more organizations will go hybrid. In other words, they’ll continue to use virtual formats, even after in-person events return in full force.
Question #2: Who’s your audience?
As always, know your attendees and choose the format that best fits their needs.
For example, do some people want to gather in-person, but others prefer to connect online? A hybrid event ensures you don’t leave anyone behind.
Be sure to ask questions throughout the planning process to stay in touch with attendees’ evolving needs.
Let’s say you were planning an in-person sales kick-off with a small virtual component. But as the event draws near, Covid cases surge. Now, most registrants want to participate remotely. With a deep understanding of your audience, you can take the offerings that matter most to in-person attendees and translate them to a virtual environment.
Pro tip: Also understand your audience’s comfort level with new software solutions. People today are more sophisticated about how they use technology and consume content. When you truly know your attendees, you’ll deliver fresh solutions based on what they’ve learned during the past two years.
Question #3: Where is your audience located?
Suppose most attendees live within reasonable traveling distance and want to meet face-to-face. But you also have a large international constituency.
With travel restrictions changing fast from country to country, a hybrid event is likely to be your best bet. Offering a virtual option overcomes safety concerns and logistical hurdles. You’ll make life easier for attendees. What’s more, your chance of increasing attendance is huge, unhindered by geographical limitations.
Pro tip: For international audiences, consider using a platform with capabilities for real-time language translation. And make content available on demand for convenient access by people in different time zones.
Question #4. What size is your event?
Going digital means you can say goodbye to venue capacity limits. This often makes virtual a good option for large-scale events.
But what if key members of your audience want to meet face-to-face?
Many organizers today opt for small in-person gatherings shared with large remote audiences. Using hybrid event software, for example, you can host an event for 200 guests in a ballroom and an unlimited number of attendees online.
Pro tip: Check out small, outdoor-centric hotels in warm climates. Among the advantages, full property buyouts let you better control the environment and enhance health and safety for attendees, partners, and staff.
Small venues, offering personalized touches and unique design, lend themselves well to bespoke experiences that stick in the hearts and minds of guests. Leverage the entire space as a canvas. Then carry the look and feel throughout your event, on the invitations, website, registration page and more.
Question #5: What’s your budget?
Organizations often choose virtual because they’re short on resources like staffing and budget.
Of course, every event is different. But in general, as mentioned, digital gatherings tend to reduce costs. They eliminate expenses for a venue; food and beverage; spokesperson travel; as well as onsite equipment, staffing, signage, health screenings, and more.
By comparison, going hybrid tends to add cost and complexity because you’re creating experiences for two different audiences. That’s why large-scale events can be great fits for hybrid. Their higher registration numbers give you a chance to recoup added costs.
Pro tip: Events well-suited for hybrid include big conferences and trade shows. While smaller events can also work for hybrid, think carefully about the likely return on investment. Then choose an approach that best fits your event budget and goals.
Question #6: How much time do you have to plan your event?
Need to produce an event on the fly? No worries. New tools make high-quality virtual events easier to produce than ever. These solutions cut planning on straightforward gatherings, like internal trainings, seminars, social gatherings, and regional sales meetings.
By contrast, hybrid events require more planning time. This is especially true if you want a customized, branded virtual event platform that brings your online and in-person audiences together in a shared experience.
Pro tip: As a rule of thumb, give yourself six to 10 weeks to build a branded hybrid experience. Of course, development time varies widely based on event needs. The more customized your platform, the longer it can take.
What about meeting face-to-face?
Allow extra planning time for safe in-person experiences in a post-Covid world. You’ll need to analyze risk, find a Covid-safe venue, and develop a comprehensive plan that follows CDC guidelines.
Your plan should explain the event’s policy on:
- Vaccine requirements
- Onsite rapid Covid tests
- Social distancing
- Venue protocols
- Use of outdoor spaces
- Local COVID case levels
- And more
Pro tip: Budget extra time to communicate your plan. Many attendees feel anxious about gathering in groups. Ease their fear by letting them know you’re following CDC guidelines as well as all the latest Federal and local laws. The more people know about your onsite safety procedures, the more confident they’ll feel about coming to your event.
Question #7: What’s your organization’s tolerance for safety?
If you’ve got a live event on the horizon, no doubt you’re feeling the heat to deliver a comfortable, safety-first in-person experience.
Fortunately, tech companies answer the call with innovative solutions that make attendees feel secure, while also empowering them to connect and enjoy.
- Take MeetingPlay’s enhanced mobile event app, for example. It brings like-minded people together, using AI matchmaking. Event goers engage and connect via live chat, Q&A’s, polls, messaging, gamification and more.
- The mobile app raises the bar on safety, too. Event professionals rely on this tool to power contactless check-in, exhibitor lead retrieval, and more, as part of their Covid-safety strategy.
- MeetingPlay’s facial recognition kiosks pitch in as well to create a seamless, touch-free arrival. Working with the mobile app, kiosks let organizers speed up check-in and manage traffic flow.
Pro tip: Leverage contactless check-in to modernize the arrival experience, while reducing shared surfaces. You’ll minimize the risk of spreading of germs, not just from Covid, but also from colds and flu.
Question #8: What exactly is a hybrid event?
Of course, marketing and event profs agree on the broad definition. In simplest form, hybrid involves taking live content and streaming it from a venue to individual attendees watching online.
But it’s not always that simple. You see, this model varies based on many factors, including these below:
- Location: Organizers can create and broadcast TV-quality content from a studio to virtual viewers, who use technology to join the conversation.
- Audience: Hybrid events have different types of participants, too, aside from the traditional in-person and remote ones. There’s also the pod audience… meaning, a group of people who come together in person to engage in a larger, live-streamed event.
- Sessions: Let’s not forget hybrid encompasses all sorts of virtual sessions. There are fireside chats, town halls, roundtables, workshops, and birds-of-a-feather sessions, to name a few.
Pro tip: Keep asking questions; delve beyond the basics. Find out what fun looks like to attendees. What do they consider a “quality connection”? How do they prefer to consume educational content?
No matter the kind of audience or session, the key to doing hybrid well is to understand the “who” and “why” of your event. Get clear about what you need to accomplish and give attendees what they want. This is the key to creating exceptional experiences for hybrid – or any type of – meeting and event.
Question #9: What’s the relationship between events in your portfolio?
Does your virtual event closely follow your annual in-person conference? If so, think about making your online gathering mostly about sharing content. And free up your in-person event to be more about networking and building relationships.
Virtual events have given us tremendous visibility to identify the gaps in our event portfolios. Be intentional about where you plug in the holes to strengthen your program overall. Look beyond stand-alone events; focus on what happens before and afterwards as well.
Pro tip: For instance, host podcasts, produce webinars and share fun digital content between major face-to-face events. Create mini online team challenges, too. Leverage virtual to instill year-round learning, build community, and inspire attendees to achieve business goals.
Question #10: What about mashups?
Choosing a format doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. Your event doesn’t need to be all-virtual, or in-person-only, or traditional hybrid.
Our industry’s pivot to virtual has sparked tremendous innovation. Digital transformation has created entirely new structures for online, hybrid and in-person experiences. Forward-thinking organizers are mixing it up and delighting attendees with exciting new options.
For example, why not enliven a traditional in-person gathering with compelling digital components? Let’s say you recognize top performers in an intimate dinner with senior leadership. Record the celebration and distribute featured snippets the next day. You’ll make top performers feel even more appreciated and lift employee motivation companywide.
There’s a common misconception that the online and in-person parts of a hybrid event must happen at the same time. They don’t. Maybe you have a large international constituency. Why not host a virtual new product launch? Then follow up a week later with small regional gatherings that bring people together face-to-face.
Pro tip: Mix and match formats to achieve event goals. You might find that you can:
- Make life easier for yourself by spacing out virtual and in-person parts of hybrid events
- Reach a larger audience
- Keep attendees engaged
- Reduce costs
- Enhance sustainability
- Promote best Covid-safety practices
Our industry’s switch to digital has spurred incredible innovation in response to attendees’ fast-changing needs. Agile event organizers and tech companies have formed true partnerships, with a goal to deliver extraordinary attendee experiences.
Take advantage of the new tools and strategies before you. Your attendees, your event partners, and your company will thank you.
Care to learn more? MeetingPlay + Aventri is here to help! Contact us today for a demo and discover how we can work with you to customize a virtual, in-person or hybrid experience to achieve – no, surpass – your business goals.