The Virtual Event Evolution: The Future of Hybrid Events
Back in April of 2020, The Mx Group, along with B2B organizations across the globe, faced a stunning level of uncertainty regarding anything that included physical human interaction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By that time in 2020, many companies already made the decision to explore remote working or a hybrid work model. Words and phrases like “pivot,” “new normal” and “unprecedented times” flooded our emails, news coverage and daily activities. From an event planning standpoint, this was a level of disarray not even the most seasoned event planner could have predicted.
Before coming to The Mx Group, I spent many years in the field of event planning, coordination and project management. In 2020, I went from confirming speakers’ agendas, testing A/V equipment, selecting buffet options and rehearsing presentations to rapidly reviewing contracts and calling hotels and conference halls to ask about their forced majeure clause and if I could “tentatively reschedule for something maybe in six months when we are back to normal?” Event planners are the definition of nimble. We create a plan A, plan B, C, D, E, F and perhaps even a G. However, the pandemic required event planners to enter a certain shade of gray that made even the most agile of us wary. Event planners had to step out of the comfort zone of deadlines and schedules of the physical world and boldly jump into a new realm of exploring event platforms that supported online events and virtual conferences.
A Look Back
During this new virtual era, The Mx Group published a series of blog posts addressing strategies for B2B virtual conferences and event marketing tactics. We shared content ideas, best practices and thoughts on how the B2B world could plan and execute online events. Sixteen months later, we are revisiting two blog posts in this series: COVID-19: The Strategy Behind the Best Virtual B2B Events and COVID-19: For Virtual Events, Content Is King. We discovered that some of the advice we offered still holds water today, but with time comes increased knowledge and new adaptations to the virtual landscape with hybrid meetings.
...virtual events are here to stay but are facing their own transformation into hybrid meetings.
In mid-March 2020, Gartner research revealed that 68% of chief marketing officers (CMOs) had canceled or postponed customer-facing marketing events in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of cancellations only continued to grow as travel bans increased, stay-at-home orders were issued and employees began working remotely. The cancellations drove marketers to explore the path of B2B online events to keep up with brand awareness and lead volume. Flash forward to May 2021 when, with the rollout of nationwide vaccines, COVID-19 restrictions started to roll back. Demand Gen reported, “Marketers are eager to get back to business with some semblance of normal. However, this return to normalcy is somewhat paradoxical, because although the industry is growing restless behind its screens, work-related travel isn’t high up on to-do lists.” This means that virtual events are here to stay but are facing their own transformation into hybrid meetings.
The “New Normal”
By now, every organization has realized the benefits of online events. The virtual world offers low overhead and financial savings, the ability to reach a wider audience and more access to talent and experts. The downside is the virtual field is now so inundated with conferences, it is starting to put a strain on people’s schedules and attention spans. As a result, marketers are exploring the idea of a hybrid meeting or conference. According to Aventri, an event management software company, “Almost 89% of event organizers have claimed that even when in-person meetings resume post-pandemic, virtual or hybrid events will remain a critical part of their event strategy.” So, despite the strain and battle for attentions, virtual and hybrid events are here to stay.
of event organizers share that post-pandemic, virtual or hybrid events will remain a critical part of their event strategy.
Connect and Engage
Play to the strengths of each element your hybrid event has to offer. For the physical portions, remember what keeps people engaged for in-person events is something exciting and dynamic. If your audience can easily stream a panel discussion, they are probably going to prefer doing that from the comfort of their home. In-person segments should be exciting with a focus on “in the moment” conversations to help create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out). “Imagine a world where the physical event is shorter, bigger and bolder, giving attendees the sizzle they expect from a live mainstage production … They (the attendees) come for connection and an experience. The in-person portion of the ideal hybrid meeting trims content and presentations and instead focuses on networking and social opportunities interspersed with mainstage content that can’t be replicated elsewhere,” said Tessa Barron, VP of marketing for ON24.
Make sure to give in-person attendees the option to engage digitally with event apps, virtual chat and Q&A sessions. You want to give your attendees the chance to experience your event on their own terms and provide them with multiple options to get in touch with your company — thus more options for you to gather data. Vary the experiences to keep people entertained and engaged. Whether they are virtual or in person, your attendees should leave feeling energized and ready to follow you on your content strategy journey.