What We Learned From Hosting Hopin Illuminate, Our First Hybrid Show

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Live events are back.

This month, Hopin hosted the first installment of our brand-new event series called Illuminate.

As event organizers begin to imagine what events will look like as the world reopens, our aim was to bring together the brightest minds in events to imagine together.

Illuminate also presented an opportunity to show the future of events—namely, hybrid events—in action.

So we produced an onsite experience in Los Angeles, at the JW Marriott L.A. LIVE—as well as an online experience, hosted on Hopin. Around 50 people attended in-person, while thousands more joined virtually from around the world.

Hosting this first-of-its-kind hybrid show was nerve-wracking—but, also, an absolute blast. From our conversation with Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai to our fundraiser powered by GoFundMe to the real-time attendee networking, Illuminate showcased what is possible within a hybrid format.

If you missed Illuminate, you can catch up with all the event recordings.

In this article, I share the major highlights of Hopin Illuminate—plus, what we learned from hosting this hybrid show, so you can benefit from our experience.

1. Onsite Covid safety

When planning the in-person component of our hybrid event, our foremost priority was the safety of all onsite participants—approximately 100 speakers, attendees, and event staff.

We relied upon—and, leading up to event day, regularly consulted—evolving local and national Covid guidance.

In addition to rigorous Covid testing for event staff, we set up a pre-registration health screening area at our onsite venue, where we did:

  • Proof of vaccine checks
  • Temperature checks
  • Rapid testing for everyone, regardless of vaccine status
  • Contact tracing

Also, we used a color-coded bracelet system, allowing each attendee to communicate their level of comfort with physical contact:

  • Red bracelet: attendee prefers to keep social distance
  • Yellow bracelet: attendee is okay talking, but not touching
  • Green bracelet: attendee is comfortable with physical contact such as handshakes, high fives, and hugs

See our setup in action in this behind-the-scenes featurette:

Takeaway: Taking precautions like these not only help mitigate Covid-related risk at the event, but also make for a better experience for event participants. It instills confidence that the appropriate safety measures are being taken, so attendees can focus on and enjoy the event.

As you plan a hybrid or in-person event, follow Covid guidelines scrupulously, including around testing, temperature checks, and contact tracing.

2. Conversation with Malala Yousafzai

The centerpiece of our programming at Illuminate was our conversation with Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Laureate and advocate for global education equity for girls.

Malala shared her story of overcoming religious fundamentalists, described the work her organization is doing to promote girls’ education, and talked about her own experience as a recent graduate of Oxford University.

(She also offered her take on the infamous question raised by her favorite TV show, Friends: Yes, Rachel and Ross were on a break.)

Watch the full conversation with Malala Yousafzai here.

Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai at Hopin Illuminate

The conversation took place in a hybrid format: Hopin CMO Anthony Kennada moderated the conversation from our onsite venue in Los Angeles, while Malala joined remotely.

In-person attendees watched Malala via an onstage screen, while online attendees viewed her live video stream on the Hopin platform.

Takeaway: By hosting a hybrid session, it becomes easier to attract top-notch speakers. Whereas it can be logistically impractical for in-demand speakers to physically travel to an event, a virtual option allows them to participate remotely. This allows you to elevate the quality of your event content.

3. $10K raised for GoFundMe’s Learning and Education Cause

The session with Malala also discussed—and represented—the idea of using corporate events to drive social impact.

In addition to creating awareness about an issue, events can make awareness actionable by inspiring attendees to take action in the moment.

With Illuminate, Hopin announced a new partnership with GoFundMe—which allows event organizers to host fundraisers and collect donations within a Hopin event.

Onsite and online attendees were able to use the Hopin event platform to donate to a fund that supports teachers and students with the resources they need to succeed in a remote environment. Along with a $5,000 donation match by Hopin, we raised $10,000 for the fund.

With the new GoFundMe integration, event organizers will be able to select a GoFundMe fundraiser, charity, or GoFundMe Cause to add to their Hopin event.

Takeaway: When more consumers expect brands to exercise social responsibility, incorporating a charitable initiative into your event can add resonance to the ideas and themes your event explores, empower attendees to engage in meaningful ways, and demonstrate your organization’s commitment to effecting change.

Given the expanded reach of hybrid events, your organization can magnify impact by inspiring both onsite and online attendees to take action.

4. Insights from event experts at Salesforce, Marriott, Gap, and Gainsight

Through a mix of in-person, virtual, and hybrid sessions, Illuminate explored the latest innovation in events from some of the brightest minds in the industry.

In a fireside chat, Leah McGowen-Hare, VP Trailblazer Community and Trailhead Evangelism at Salesforce, talked about the evolving nature of communities and how brands can build and nurture communities that span the globe.

Both Leah and moderator Rosie Roca, Chief Customer Officer at Hopin, presented from the onsite venue—and their conversation was live streamed on the Hopin event platform, where remote attendees could ask questions.

Rosie Roca (Hopin CCO) and Leah McGowen-Hare (VP of Trailblazer Community and Trailhead Evangelism, Salesforce) on the intersection of in-person and virtual experiences

In a panel discussion, Kathy Mouw, VP Global Sales US & Canada at Marriott; Scott Salkin, Head of Marketing at Gainsight; and Julie Lindsey, Senior Director of Global Events at Gap; discussed how to produce engaging virtual and hybrid events, including the importance of using the right event tech stack, building the right team, types of audience engagement and networking, and more.

The panel itself was hybrid, with Salkin; Mouw; and moderator Kristen Kaighn, Director of Customer Marketing & Community at Hopin, onsite at the Los Angeles venue—while Lindsey joined virtually via a live stream.

Lastly, Casper ter Kuile gave a virtual keynote on the power of ritual, providing a framework for event managers to use when crafting their event strategies.

Watch the fireside chat, panel, and keynote here.

Takeaway: The purpose of hybrid is to provide flexibility for both attendees and presenters. Sessions need not have all speakers in one place—all onsite or all remote. Instead, mixing formats can make it easier for all presenters to participate, while also making for a more dynamic viewing experience.

Also, remote speakers can make remote attendees feel more engaged, by underscoring the idea that they are not merely tuning in to an experience taking place far away—but rather that they are a part of an experience that is not location-bound.

Takeaway: To ensure a smooth run of show, we held dry-runs with our event MCs, moderators, and presenters. With any event, it is essential to do run-throughs before you go live. But because a hybrid show can have more moving parts, it is especially important to give your on-screen talent and event team the ability to practice and prepare.

5. Engagement for both onsite and online attendees

Audience participation is at the heart of a successful event.

With Illuminate, our goal was to allow both onsite and online attendees to engage with the content, presenters, and other attendees. In addition, we wanted to ensure that remote attendees didn’t feel like passive spectators, but, instead, to help make them feel integrated with the full show experience.

To do this, we set up:

  • Video networking, by which attendees could meet one-on-one in virtual rooms. Online attendees were able to meet with other online attendees; online attendees were able to reach out to onsite attendees, and vice versa; and onsite attendees were able to connect with other onsite attendees via the Hopin platform.
  • Q&A, by which in-person and remote attendees could submit questions for moderators and speakers
  • Exclusive Q&A session, through which a small group of onsite and virtual attendees were able to virtually meet with Malala
  • Contest, in which one Illuminate attendee was randomly selected for a $1,000 Airbnb gift card
  • Onsite and virtual photo booths powered by Snapbar, with all photos hosted online
  • Event chat, where all attendees could submit ideas, feedback, and other comments

6. Integrated event data and efficient onsite check-in

Instead of managing two discrete platforms and data sets for our onsite versus online attendees, we unified registration for all attendees in one place.

Both onsite and online event attendees were able to register for Illuminate on the Hopin event platform.

By claiming an onsite ticket, in-person attendees received a QR code, which they used to check in at our physical venue using self-serve kiosks and claim their badge—all enabled by Hopin’s onsite event capabilities. (Onsite attendees were also able to use the kiosks to sign digital release forms.)

Not only did this setup allow for a quick check-in, it also helped us minimize person-to-person contact at the event, given Covid considerations.

Self Serve Check-In Kiosk
Self-serve kiosks at the physical event venue in Los Angeles

Takeaway: Lead generation for post-event nurture remains a valuable part of event marketing. When hosting hybrid events, it’s best to use a solution like Hopin that allows you to centralize all attendee data on one platform—both to make follow-up as seamless as possible but also so you have a more comprehensive view into your audience analytics.

7. Hopin Free plan and Attendify acquisition

In addition to our new partnership with GoFundMe, Hopin CEO Johnny Boufarhat announced two big items in his keynote: the launch of Hopin's new Free plan and our acquisition of event marketing platform Attendify.

The Free plan gives everyone the ability to create immersive, interactive events on Hopin for free. It is ideal for hosting small webinars, internal meetings, meetups, personal events, and more.

With the Free plan, event managers will be able to host events on Hopin, including:

  • Unlimited events every month
  • Up to 100 event attendees per event
  • Runtime of up 2 hours per event

Yet Hopin is no longer just a virtual event solution.

Instead, it is an all-in-one event management platform, for virtual, hybrid, and in-person events. Our product vision is to provide the essential tools the organizers need to plan, produce, and promote events—all in one place.

Hopin’s acquisition of Attendify expands our event marketing offering to help organizers drive greater attendance and audience engagement. 

Coming later this year, we will debut an Audience CRM, a comprehensive data platform that provides a 360-degree view into all event engagement, and Campaign Manager, email communication tools to drive registration, attendance, and participation.

Watch Hopin CEO Johnny Boufarhat's keynote:

8. Hybrid placements for exhibitors

The success of an event depends upon selecting the right partners.

To bring Illuminate to life—this first-of-its-kind hybrid show—we relied upon the partnership of Marriott, Catapult, Encore, and GoFundMe, as well as event sponsors Prezi, Sendoso, Snapbar, KUDO, and HubSpot.

Hosting Illuminate in a hybrid format also gave us new ways to provide value for our partners, sponsors, and exhibitors.

For example, G2, the product review site, set up a physical booth onsite at our LA venue—as well as a virtual booth on the Hopin platform. We hosted 16 booths on the Hopin event platform, where exhibitors had the ability to feature on-demand videos, host live video Q&As, share contact info, and more.

Takeaway: Hybrid placement allows exhibitors to benefit from the expanded reach that a hybrid event provides, such that they can engage both onsite and online attendees. At the same time, a hybrid approach gives them flexibility: They can participate just in-person, just virtually, or in both environments.

9. Closed captions and translations

The animating idea of virtual and hybrid events is access. People should be able to participate in the events and communities they care most about, no matter where in the world they happen to be.

In the same way, event content should be accessible to all attendees. One way in which Illuminate expanded accessibility was through live closed captions on all event programming—plus, live translations into eight languages.

Bonus: Behind-the-scenes live stream

Finally, to give online attendees a glimpse of the onsite environment, we included a live stream from the back of the physical venue—which provided a view of both the onstage happenings as well as the AV team.

Fun elements like this can help close the gap between onsite and virtual attendance, allowing everyone to feel closer to the action.

On the Hopin event platform, a behind-the-scenes live stream of the onsite event venue

Conclusion: Conceive of your events as shows

While a lot has been written about hybrid events, Hopin Illuminate provides an example of what hybrid can look like in practice.

For Illuminate, we leaned into the inherent advantages of hybrid, empowering speakers, sponsors, and attendees to join in-person or virtually. Our programming included live and pre-recorded elements. And, most importantly, we produced onsite and online experiences that were not secondhand or subordinate to the other.

Crucially, we also thought of our hybrid event as a show—a mental model that encouraged us to emphasize engagement and entertainment. Particularly when the world has grown weary of dull video conferencing, events present an opportunity to break the monotony and recapture an audience's attention and interest.

As you begin planning and hosting your own hybrid events, be sure to share your experiences with us. We look forward to seeing your ideas come to life.

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