After a year of remote everything, event managers and marketers have become familiar with virtual events (also known as online events) and their unique advantages.
These are events that take place online and allow organizers to reach and engage a much larger audience, dramatically reduce cost, and more effectively collect attendee data.
For all the benefits of virtual events, though, there is still great value to hosting in-person events—including fostering connections through person-to-person contact and driving deeper engagement.
Instead of picking one approach—and foregoing the advantages of the other—consider hosting a hybrid event. A hybrid event gives you the best of both worlds—the benefits of a virtual event and an in-person event.
In this article, we explain what a hybrid event is, the value of hosting a hybrid event, how to host a hybrid event, and hybrid event use cases.
What is the definition of a hybrid event?
A hybrid event combines in-person and virtual elements in a way that unlocks a live dialogue between and among presenters and attendees—whether they join in person or online.
Let’s break that down. There are three key components that make an event hybrid:
- The event has both in-person and online elements.
- All attendees (in-person and online) can interact with presenters and other attendees.
- The event is at least partly live.
Take a conference, for example.
A hybrid conference includes an in-person experience at a physical venue like a hotel and an online experience hosted on a virtual event platform like Hopin.
Using the virtual event platform, both online and in-person attendees can communicate with each other and with presenters (via moderators) using video, chat, etc.
The real-time interactive component is what transforms mere spectatorship into active participation—so attendees can shape the conversation, make connections, and engage more meaningfully with the conference.
In other words, a hybrid event is more than just a live stream or recording of an onsite event.
What is the difference between a hybrid event and a virtual event?
A virtual event takes place entirely online. There is no physical venue. Instead, the event is hosted within a virtual venue (i.e., on an event website or platform). Generally, event content takes the form of video—both live video streams and recorded video. All presenters and attendees join remotely.
In contrast, a hybrid event takes place both online and in real life. It involves both a virtual venue as well as a physical one, and presenters and attendees can join either remotely or in-person. A virtual event platform like Hopin acts as a bridge between the online and in-person experiences—allowing all attendees to communicate with each other and with the presenters.
What is the value of hosting a hybrid event?
A hybrid event gives you the best of both worlds—the advantages of an in-person event and a virtual event.
Most often, a hybrid event will take the form of adding an online layer to an in-person event. In these cases, hybrid is a way to tap into the benefits of virtual events, without having to host a fully virtual event.
Reasons to host a hybrid event include:
- Scale: A key advantage of online events is the ability to expand attendance. (For example, when the Atlantic shifted its annual in-person festival to virtual, its attendance grew 13x, to nearly 40,000 people.)
Adding an online layer to a physical event (i.e., making it hybrid) allows you to reach and engage a much larger audience for your brand, while maintaining the engagement power and human connection of an in-person event.
- Revenue: In addition to in-person attendees, you can monetize your online audience through online ticket sales, or use the hybrid event as a vehicle for lead generation. The expanded audience and new experiential layer also creates more opportunities to grow sponsorship revenue.
- Cost-efficiency and greater ROI: Generally, virtual events are lower cost (in terms of time, money, and effort) than in-person events—both for event organizers and attendees (who can avoid the cost of travel and accommodations).
A hybrid event lets you expand your event without dramatically increasing cost. For instance, doubling or tripling your in-person audience would require securing a larger event space, hiring additional staff, etc.
By comparison, you can double or triple an online audience at very low marginal cost. By unlocking new revenue opportunities and minimizing the cost to expand your event, a hybrid approach can increase the return (in profit, brand equity, etc.) on an event.
- Participation and networking: A primary advantage of hybrid events is that it allows all attendees—in-person and online—to communicate with each other and with presenters.
A virtual event platform like Hopin acts as a bridge between the in-person and online experiences—such that (1) online attendees can connect with other online attendees, (2) online attendees can reach out to in-person attendees, and vice versa, and (3) in-person attendees can find and connect with other in-person attendees via the online platform.
Hybrid events also enable all attendees to communicate with presenters—through video, chat, Q&A, and other interactive levers. Moderators can then screen audience questions and contributions for presenters to address.
Simply, hybrid events open up a multi-directional flow of ideas and information that enhances the audience experience—by making event content more relevant and helping foster connections.
- Access: Instead of limiting your event to people who are in—or have the resources and availability to travel to—a specific location, hybrid events open your event up to presenters and audience from different geographies. This helps enrich event content and conversations with a diversity of perspectives.
An online option also helps fulfill an accessibility imperative—making events more welcoming of individuals with disabilities or other physical/health barriers.
- Event data: Another benefit of virtual events is the ability to access online analytics on how your attendees engage with your event. This information can help you better understand your target audience and optimize your marketing efforts (including future events).
Adding an online layer to your in-person event can give you access to audience data for your remote audience—but, also, your in-person audience (e.g., when in-person attendees use the virtual event platform to communicate with attendees or presenters).
Other benefits of hybrid events include sustainability (comparatively smaller environmental footprint), community-building (nurturing your audience in between events), and flexibility.
When to host a hybrid event
Rule of thumb: If you are planning an in-person event or meeting, consider a hybrid approach.
To be sure, not every event should be hybrid.
Since virtual events are less costly to plan and execute (in terms of time, money, and effort), there are situations when a fully online event may be preferable. Think webinars, many internal meetings, certain recruiting events, and other smaller-scale occasions.
In situations like these, it may be overkill or impractical to stand up a separate, in-person component. (There’s a reason you picked a virtual approach to begin with.)
On the flip side, when you are already organizing an in-person event or meeting, it is a smaller step to add an online layer—and thereby hybridize your event.
Indeed, many of the advantages of hybrid—scale, ROI, analytics—are advantages relative to the typical in-person event.
Which in-person events might benefit from a hybrid option? The following are some circumstances that favor a hybrid event:
- You have a potentially large online audience for your event and you are interested in attracting that audience.
- A purpose of your event is to generate revenue and you can monetize a large online audience via ticket sales or sponsorships.
- A purpose of your event is to drive business leads.
- A purpose of your event is to grow brand awareness.
- You want to repurpose your event content after the event to generate awareness, drive sign-ups, or nurture your audience via organic and paid channels.
Just as there are dozens of instances when you might host an in-person or an online event, there are many use cases for hybrid events, including:
- Marketing (large conferences, summits, expos, trade shows, product launches, panels)
- Entertainment (festivals, competitions, award shows)
- Hybrid teams and internal communications (hybrid offsites/onsites, quarterly kickoffs, sales kickoffs, trainings, workshops/continuing education)
- Recruitment (career fairs, info sessions, panels, networking)
- Nonprofits/NGOs (galas, fundraisers)
- Member-only associations/groups (conventions, meetings, networking mixers)
- Social gatherings (weddings, milestone parties)
How to host a hybrid event
The simplest way to host a hybrid event is as follows:
- Live stream in-person event content (e.g., keynote, panels) to a virtual event platform.
- In-person and online attendees participate (e.g., ask questions, share ideas, network) via the online platform.
- Presenters answer audience questions in real time with the help of moderators.
This minimum viable approach allows you to realize the main advantages of a hybrid event:
- Reaching and engaging a broader, online audience
- Providing in-person and online attendees ways to interact with presenters and other attendees
- Capturing valuable data and insights on the content that resonates with your target audience
- And accomplishing all this at limited additional expense (in terms of time, money, and effort)
To be sure, hosting a hybrid event may involve more work than hosting only an in-person event. However, the return on a hybrid event (i.e., increased audience size, greater lead volume, higher revenue) generally justifies the added investment.
The basic approach outlined above is the entry point to hybrid. There are literally countless ways to expand and elevate a hybrid experience, such as:
- Producing professional live streams with on-screen graphics, multi-cam split-screens, title and end rolls, etc., such as with StreamYard
- Adding high-quality pre-recorded video segments to your live stream
- Broadcasting exclusive/bonus content for your online audience, such as behind-the-scenes video
- Setting up various online ticketing tiers
- Surfacing online audience feedback (e.g. live video, comments and questions, poll results) onstage to an IRL audience
- Driving specific, directed engagement through gamification
- Including augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) experiential content
- Designing virtual environments for presenters or performers
With a bit of creativity, you can craft highly original, deeply engaging hybrid event programs by combining a variety of elements.
A core element of all successful hybrid events, however, is a virtual event platform. That's because a virtual event platform is the bridge between your in-person and online experiences.
Remember, hybrid involves more than just live streaming a physical event to an online audience. Rather, it’s about unlocking interaction between and among all participants—those joining in-person and remotely.
A virtual event platform like Hopin is how you create opportunities for interaction, how you enable a multi-directional flow of ideas and information.
- For one, an event platform acts as a single online destination for your event—a place both in-person and online participants can go to access event information and content.
- Within that single destination, an event platform also provides multiple, differentiated virtual spaces that mirror the diversified programs of in-person events (e.g., main stages for keynotes, breakout areas for panels, private rooms for one-on-one networking).
- Above all, an event platform like Hopin allows all participants to engage with one another—no matter if they join in real life or remotely—via chat and polls, video Q&A, direct messaging, one-on-one video networking, etc.
Just as finding a physical venue is key to hosting an in-person event, selecting an online venue is fundamental to hosting a hybrid event.
The virtual event platform is your online venue.
Conclusion: The future of events is hybrid
During the pandemic, virtual events became a necessity.
Yet through our enforced experience with online gathering, event professionals came to recognize the real advantages of online events—scale, participation, cost-efficiency, greater ROI, etc.
As we plan for a post-pandemic future (fingers tightly crossed), it would be foolish to give up the tangible benefits of online events in a mad rush to return to a status quo ante of 100% in-person events.
Hybrid offers a new status quo—one that applies the lessons we've learned over the last 14 months—combining the best of in-person and virtual to create connected events. These are events that deliver greater value to all stakeholders alike: organizations, sponsors, and participants.
Over the coming months, the contours of hybrid or connected events will take shape as more organizations experiment with this new approach. But one thing is practically certain: The future of events is hybrid.