The onset of the global pandemic pushed much professional and social activity to the digital sphere and there have been many technological innovations to facilitate this. Virtual communication is not only convenient but cost-effective. It makes sense that it would stay with us outside of the lockdown period.
Neuroscientist and marketing speaker, David Meerman Scott explains that ‘the physical events industry will bounce back’ due to the human need for social interaction. “More organizations will realize they can offer a hybrid — a live event plus the option to participate virtually,” said Scott. “I think a lot of events will go to a dual model.”
Technology leaders now have a responsibility to take from what has been a year and a half of uncertainty and produce something socially and practically beneficial for the events industry.
But what do hybrid events look like in practice? How do we combine these technological advancements with our need for human contact?
Hybrid events, at the most basic level, are nothing new- it simply describes a physical event with a virtual component. Think of your favourite award show and how artists that are unable to attend an event sometimes live stream their acceptance speech. Here are two models for hybrid business events.
Traditional Hybrid Model
Whether you’re streaming a keynote speaker or an interactive panel, live video is a staple feature of online events. We have all, for whatever reason over lockdown, tried software that provides high-quality mass streaming. This method guarantees high ROI which allows further investment towards streaming production value, ultimately refining the overall experience.
One option for implementing this feature into hybrid events is to simply stream the main features of the function to individuals unable to attend. This is an excellent way to maximise reach for those restricted by distance or health reasons. Apple special events are an excellent example, allowing high-quality streaming of product unveilings and announcements for at-home viewers.
The Hub-and-Spoke Model
An alternative method is the ‘hub-and-spoke- model proposed by the CEO of Bizbash, David Adler. Such an event would host, for instance, 1000 attendees in 20 satellite hubs connected by virtual conduits. These satellite events would centre around the main hub containing the key event speakers or attractions. This enables the intimacy and networking opportunities that in-person events facilitate without compromising overall scale.
As opposed to personalising the experience for each attendee at home, this model proposes a far more realistic means of immersive attendance while prioritising safety. Adler proposes digitising a room with presentation tools using spatial technology. Software such as Magic Leaf could deliver virtual branding and content. He also suggests using emotional recognition technology, so the speaker is informed of crowd response.
These measures heighten engagement, brand awareness and allow the speaker to be receptive to audience reaction. It far exceeds the interactivity of traditional streaming events and almost matches the level of hospitality of in-person ones.
Despite the fact that there are only two types of hybrid events so far, there are a number of ways to work within these models. The overarching key to a successful hybrid event is catering to the significantly diminished participation-motivation of the online attendee.
The Attention Disparity
Online attendees undoubtedly have a shorter attention span than physical attendees. It is, therefore, important to tailor your event to both groups.
Pre-recorded events ensure that your online attendee can view your content according to their schedule and attention span, avoiding spending hours in front of the computer screen. Semi-live virtual events ensure that you can condense content to suit consumption by a viewer without having to compromise interactivity. This model could include pre-recorded content followed by a live Q&A session conducted by the speaker to address questions raised during the talk.
To take this one step further, your event could include a virtual host who addresses your attendees virtual experience specifically. Heighten interaction by offering interviews and panels with industry leaders. Use customised registration paths to ensure that virtual attendees experience an event that is unique to their in-person counterparts while feeling the same level of inclusivity and engagement.
Pre-recorded events are also beneficial for international attendees. An economic alternative to hosting the same live event multiples times is to offer an on-demand version that can be viewed by those in different time zones at their convenience.
A virtual attendee is less motivated to attend an event or less committed to engaging during one if they cannot benefit to the same degree as an in-person attendee, namely through networking. This issue can be resolved through the use of an events app which allows your attendee a holistic view of the entire event, allowing them to select the areas with which they engage as opposed to being spoon-fed content.
Such an app could group attendees together in BOF sessions which ensure that those with common interests are able to converse and share ideas. More private groupings can be conducted through AI-driven networking algorithms which connect like-minded attendees. This ensures your virtual attendees derive the same advantages from your event as in-person ones. Moreover, it is important that the virtual platform is shared between both virtual and in-person attendees so as to ensure the two groups are not cut off from each other and are able to network indiscriminately.
Many events organisers plan their events in a game-like structure in order to heighten interactivity and overall experience-merit. This is a great way to integrate online and physical levels of interactivity.
A Gamified App Experience
Augment the value of your online attendees’ experience using affordances to enhance engagement through gamification. Game-like components such as problem-solving tasks, point systems, and prizes maintain high-level interest in your event whereas otherwise concentration may be depleted following the main exhibit, or during breaks. Through gamification, an event planner can achieve higher participation and attendance levels, and the promotion of learning and networking.
The application of gamification to events and its effectiveness can be encapsulated in the acronym SAPS which describes the factors that drive behaviours and the way they are applied to push event objectives. This stands for, Status: referring to rank deployed by a rewards system. Access: the ease with which online events can create experiences enables access to bespoke experiences such as VIP treatment or important private meetings. Power: increased control, such as the ability to moderate other players. Stuff: gadgets and prizes can be motivating as well as a substantial reminder of a win.
The most productive method of ensuring event gamification is through an app. This allows greater attendee cohesiveness; online attendees interact with and compete against in-person ones. Points can be gained for checking into activities, completing surveys, and visiting booths. Attendees are essentially more motivated to participate. The ease of sharing between platforms can mean that your app is a marketing tool too, why not reward your guests for sharing pictures and promoting your event on social media?
Examples of Gamification
Gamification plays on inherent human impulses and motivations to fulfil events action which, in turn, encourage social activities. Here are some examples of this method in action:
YourMembership gamified their event according to the Harry Potter universe, utilising a public leader board which displayed individual and team rankings based on the completion of events activities. The event organisers tapped into the playful nature of the theme to enhance teamwork and competition and facilitate participation.
The Incentive Research Foundation’s annual invitational was designed to ‘gamify happiness’. Attendees were encouraged through positive reinforcement to perform individual and synergetic happiness-related tasks. Such tasks included sending positive notes to another participant and sharing a photo of your ‘happy place’. Attendees commented that this structure allowed them to derive a greater sense of value from their actions and build more meaningful connections with other participants. The event organiser’s ability to tap into ‘happiness’ and then associate it with the people in the event ultimately developed a strong sense of community, which is especially fruitful in a company event such as this.
It is clear that hybrid events are not a thing of science fiction. They have not only been tried and tested but are extremely achievable if executed correctly. The key is to ensure that your online participants achieve the same value as those attending in-person which means tailoring your content to their needs. Gamification is an excellent strategy for both types of attendees and heightens the overall satisfaction gained from the experience.
Hybrid events are a cost-effective way to double or even triple the size of your event. Incentivised discounts for online attendees and a highly interactive rewards-based experience can boost registration. The ease of an events app can augment connectivity, both between your attendees and the public viewing it on social media.
With the prevalence of sophisticated technologies, a fully immersive virtual experience is highly plausible in the near future. The incorporation of VR and AI-driven events interfaces allow the possibility of an experience that mimics in-person attendance.