I wasn’t always an event producer.

I spent 11 years in the oil & gas industry, working up to 250 meters under water as a saturation diver.

In 2017, I made the move to venture capital, joining a leading UK-based VC firm as an investor associate. Since then, I have reviewed hundreds of startup pitch decks and traveled to over 20 European cities, meeting with ambitious founders.

In 2019, I turned my focus to the innovation ecosystem of Central and Eastern Europe, with the aim of bringing this vibrant region to the attention of the international VC community. That year, alongside my business partner, I also acquired Wolves Summit—one of the leading tech startup conferences in Europe.

Two years and a global pandemic later, the Wolves Summit team has helped us deliver on the goal of raising our region’s profile.

With over 13 editions under its belt, Wolves Summit has convened 24,000 attendees, facilitated thousands of corporate/investor startup engagements, and delivered 400+ hours of immersive educational content and expert Q&A sessions, all in an exciting and unique format.

In this article, I will share our experience producing events during the pandemic and key learnings about bringing to life excellent virtual and hybrid events.

Producing events in the age of Covid

Nothing motivates quite like necessity.

In March 2020, when the Covid situation in Poland deteriorated to such an extent that the government banned all mass gatherings, we were left with an unenviable choice: cancel our 11th edition of the Wolves Summit conference (just eight days away) or rise to meet the moment with ingenuity and focus. 

Thankfully, I have a team that is (almost) as crazy as I am, so we chose the latter.

Within a week, we managed to transform a physical conference of 1,000+ to a virtual event.

We had our first demo with Hopin CEO Johnny Boufarhat the weekend before the event. (It’s fair to say we had an intensive onboarding session.) Ultimately, that collaboration with Hopin helped us become one of the first events to make a successful pivot to virtual—and we received overwhelmingly positive feedback from partners and participants.

Soon after, Hopin and Wolves Summit embarked on a new collaboration, through which we supported Hopin customers with A/V and production requirements. This marked the start of our digital events agency, Wolves Digital.

Since then, we have produced 37 external events for organizations such as Panasonic, MIT Enterprise Forum, Accelpoint’s AccelUp Demo Day, British Embassy, European Innovation Council, GTR Ventures, SEKTOR 3.0, Vienna Energy Forum, and others.

These have ranged from exclusive events of up to 100 attendees to more than 1,500. We have paired a global perspective with industry-specific insights covering three continents, 10 countries, and 20+ sectors. Our average attendee survey score is 4.8 out of 5.

3 key learnings from hosting hybrid events during Covid

Producing a virtual event—everything from promoting the event, to facilitating remote participation, to managing bandwidth issues, etc.—requires a different set of skills than managing a physical event.

Here are three key take-aways from our experience hosting virtual and hybrid events:

1. Focus on participant experience

A major value proposition of conferences is the opportunity to meet face-to-face with people you might not otherwise meet and find partners with whom to collaborate on new business and projects.

By far, this is the most difficult feature of physical events to replicate in an online environment.

There were many virtual event platforms to choose from, but, ultimately, we selected Hopin. Specifically, its video networking feature created an environment where event attendees could meet 1-on-1 and make connections.

When planning events, we want our participants—presenters, exhibitors, and attendees—to have a great experience, so here are a few things we do:

  • Consider ways to promote audience engagement in real time, so our attendees feel involved with the event. We do this through Q&A sessions with speakers, polls, chat, etc.
  • Before the event, hold dry-runs to ensure a smooth run-of-show and transitions, as well as detailed briefings so all presenters know what to expect
  • Include a backstage producer, who can handle live customer service and support issues (comments and questions like “Will the presentation be available after the event?” and “I can’t hear the speakers.”)
  • Play videos with music in between sessions or in our waiting room until the show begins. Details like these elevate what the typical video conference into a full-fledged experience

2. Build the right event team

To run both virtual and in-person events at the same time, we had to develop a new set of muscles.

We are lucky to have a broad range of skills within our core team, encompassing everything from UX design of our virtual events to stage construction for our hybrid events.

Above all, the most important characteristic of any events organization team member is attitude.

From speakers not showing up on time to technical breakdowns onstage to screaming kids in the background during a virtual keynotes, there are innumerable scenarios when things don’t go according to plan.

What should remain constant, though, is a proactive and calm attitude for all team members. As the saying goes, “Hire for attitude, train for skill.”

3. Keep evolving

Event production demands flexibility.

The industry is evolving so fast that it is imperative to stay on top of the latest innovation in order to produce events that consistently meet audience expectations and deliver real value to organizers.

This is especially the case now, as we emerge from the depths of the pandemic, and hybrid events become more relevant. It will be up to event producers like us to help shape and define what hybrid can be—from content to engagement to sponsorships, and beyond.

One way we stay ahead of the curve is by working with Hopin to test and, where relevant, implement new features. Examples of these include Hopin Canvas, the event page builder tool; and the multistage functionality.

3 main advantages of going hybrid

As we think about post-pandemic gatherings, it is clear that hybrid events will become more and more prominent.

These kinds of events combine elements of traditional in-person events and online events, in a way that capitalizes on the key advantages of both.

In our experience, these have been the three key benefits of hybrid events for Wolves Summit:

1. Reaching a wider, more diverse, and inclusive international audience

Virtual and hybrid events have enabled us to go global and engage with presenters and attendees that previously were beyond our reach.

Wolves Summit saw a 30% increase in attendance with our virtual events—with participants joining from 66 countries.

We want to reach the global tech community—and want people to be able to take part—regardless of where they are in the world. 

Remote participation removes the barriers of time and travel, which often preclude people from joining events in-person. In addition, we have experimented with adjusting virtual ticket costs, so everyone can afford to participate.

2. Collaborating with a variety of partners

Hybrid formats have allowed us to partner with other organizations and curate a more wide-ranging program of content themes and topics.

Because hybrid affords two ways to engage attendees—onsite and virtually—and because it offers greater scale via online reach, it provides an attractive opportunity for organizations looking to generate brand awareness and build audience.

Some of our partners have asked to run their own dedicated stage or content block, while others have worked with us to host their startup competitions. Most recently, UiPath selected Wolves Summit to host and co-organize their Automation Awards in October 2021.

Moreover, we are now planning to launch a brand-new event concept: a one-week festival of live tech events taking place through Central and Eastern Europe. It will connect the entire tech and innovation ecosystems both within Central and Eastern Europe and beyond, help bring the tech community together, shape the future of the industry, and create business opportunities that help maintain and grow the region’s tech sector.

Scheduled to take place in June 2022, the first edition is designed as a hybrid festival—and will be structured as a crowd-sourced event festival, whereby over 50+ events may be run under its umbrella, including networking events, conferences, hackathons, and tradeshows.

3. Gaining data-driven insights into our event audience

Reliable data is at the core of any organization’s ability to make effective decisions.

Using Hopin’s data analytics features, we are able to answer key questions that we wouldn’t be able to in a 100% physical environment: Is our audience engaged? What was the attendance rate for different sessions? When did attendees bounce from a session?

Event analytics available on the Hopin platform help to shape and improve the way we run our sessions, determine the topics we want to focus on, and eliminate what is not performing.

For example, in the early days of the pandemic, we tried to keep our sessions to around 45 minutes. However, as the pandemic wore on, people got tired of staring at their screens for too long. As we’ve run more events, we have started to adjust to shorter, punchier sessions of 15 to 20 minutes.

The analytics report that we export from Hopin also helps us strengthen our relationships with existing partners—as well as acquire new sponsors. We are able to provide a detailed view of our audience demographics, interests, content preferences, and more. This is very valuable to any organization who wants to ensure their brand gets featured in front of the right audience and to determine ROI.

The future of events is hybrid

As Wolves Summit looks ahead to the future—and as we gear up for our 14th edition in October 2021, as a hybrid event—we and our participants are eager to meet again in person.

Hybrid provides an opportunity for us to bring people together in physical space, while maintaining the very real advantages of scale that come with virtual events. Very simply, hybrid gives us the best of both worlds.