In-person, virtual or hybrid events? A framework for determining the right mix

03/18/2022

By Tod Szewczyk, EVP, Digital Engagement

Creating an engaging event has always required navigating a challenging array of options, but that’s been made even more complex with the widespread adoption of virtual events, the re-emergence of in-person gatherings, and the potential to combine both. Today, organizations are grappling with how to make the right decision about which format makes sense. Should it be in-person, virtual, or a mixture of the two with a hybrid approach? And how should that decision be made?

Clearly, safety has been the number one consideration when making a choice between in-person and virtual attendee participation. And that may continue to be a factor going forward. But even when there are no longer any safety concerns, there is still validity to considering a virtual or hybrid approach.

Who is your target audience?

There are many features and benefits of a virtual or hybrid approach that can help increase the return on your investment. First, there’s the potential to increase the reach of your event. Is the number of potential attendees finite? Or is there the possibility of reaching a larger group of people? If the answer is yes, then incorporating a virtual experience may make sense. The ability to engage and influence a broader audience through a virtual approach is one of the biggest benefits our clients realized during the pandemic.

Second, be sensitive to the preferences of your target audience. There may be individuals who simply don’t want to participate in a in-person group experience out of concerns for their safety or out of a preference for remote participation given the convenience and efficiency it provides. As people have acclimated to conducting business and social interactions using technology, there’s an increasing level of comfort and personal preference for engaging that way.

Understanding who your audience is, where they’re coming from and how they want to engage should help inform your decision about taking the event online or in-person. The best option for your organization may well be to let each audience member make that decision for themselves by offering a hybrid event.

Once you’ve evaluated reach and attendee preference, you’re ready to look at the strategic purpose of the event. What are the outcomes you want to achieve? What do you want your attendees to think, feel and do as a result of the experience? By first defining the outcomes, you’re in a better position to define the right engagement strategy and the right mix of an in-person, virtual or hybrid approach.

What are your event objectives?

Form follows function. This tenet of architectural design applies to event design too.  In the same way that a building’s design should reflect its use, the design of an event should work in service to the type of engagement that’s needed to achieve the right outcomes.

Think about your objectives and what kind of engagement is needed to achieve them across the spectrum from rational to emotional and self-directed to collaborative. 


 

Objectives that require a high degree of collaboration and emotional investment may be better served through an in-person event experience. (See the upper right quadrant above.) Conversely, if the outcomes rely on more individualized and rationally driven engagement, than a virtual experience may make more sense. (See the lower left quadrant.)

In general, in-person experiences provide greater opportunity to foster networking and teambuilding. Virtual experiences provide greater opportunities for personalized learning and engagement.

What is the best way to convey your story?

Your organization’s story drives the narrative arc of the event and determines much of the content. The way you tell that story, however, differs significantly between an in-person event and a virtual one — and those two need to feel seamless and complimentary for a hybrid event.

Think about the story arc and the messages you need to convey. Then, deliver that content in a format that will be most effective based on the channel of communication. In a hybrid experience, decide if the best solution is a live stream of the in-person event or on-demand content, or some combination. And pay as much attention to the environmental experience in both the physical and the virtual settings. Virtual engagement can be fostered through gamification, personalization, or group networking functions. While the options for telling your story are endless, the medium may be different depending on the way the attendee is engaging.

What technology should you consider for your virtual or hybrid event?

At a minimum, you should build a seamless registration system linked to an online hub that serves as a home base for both your in-person and virtual audiences. This hub becomes a place for all attendees to access content, connect with one another and continue a dialogue with your organization post-event. In addition, this hub can serve as a portal for any live streams of the in-person experience. Using the right virtual event platform that seamlessly integrates into your online hub is critical, as maintaining engagement requires a frictionless technology experience.

Implementing a successful in-person, virtual or hybrid event requires a thoughtful audience strategy, carefully crafted experience design and the right technology stack. Partnering with an agency like August Jackson can help you develop the right approach, craft a compelling experience and deploy the most appropriate technology solution to help you achieve your objectives.