Hybrid networking events are the best of both worlds, the excitement, engagement, and participation of an in-person event with the convenience, interactivity, and cost savings of a virtual event.
The best hybrid events integrate online activities before, during, and after the main in-person event. This type of program results in increased attendance, greater engagement, and higher levels of participant satisfaction.
By avoiding audience fragmentation (offline participants who could not attend the in-person portion), these programs also generate incremental revenue by encouraging audience members to make follow-up donations or submit additional entries into prize drawings when they cannot join their network for the live experience because they are busy at work or otherwise unavailable.
They can also be ideal for companies that need to support a global audience.
This article will provide leaders of networking events with guidance on hosting a successful hybrid event.
Hybrids have evolved from being just an online version of the in-person meetings into new and compelling formats that combine virtual and face-to-face components into a cohesive program that brings together a massive, distributed network for truly unique engagement experiences.
For those planning these types of hybrid programs, it is essential to remember why you are holding your meeting in the first place – networking! Keeping participants engaged in person or online by video conferencing is key for any successful networking event or meeting.
How to host a hybrid networking event
Hybrids offer the perfect opportunity to do exactly that while still leveraging technology to reduce costs with innovative ways to capture attention and drive interaction. So, how to host a hybrid networking event.
Set a Budget
It is vital to determine a budget upfront and stick to it as with any meeting. One of the main drivers for choosing a hybrid event format is significantly reducing or eliminating travel expenses compared to an in-person event.
There are several ways that you can offset these savings, including:
- Asking attendees to contribute towards their internet connection fees.
- Designing an engaging program that keeps people engaged online as well as offline.
- Offering discounts for those who would like to register for both components at once or purchase additional items such as webinars or interactive videos.
You can use some help of a professional hybrid event management platform to make the setting of a budget and a good program much easier.
By carefully assessing your resources and priorities, you can develop a hybrid event program that delivers maximum impact while sticking to your budgetary constraints.
Create a Balanced Agenda
When designing the agenda for your hybrid event, it is crucial to strike a balance between virtual and face-to-face components.
While some networking events run entirely online (webinars or interactive videos), most hold some sort of in-person component that brings the audience together physically – either on-site at venues across the country or around the globe through video conferencing.
For example, you may choose to hold an in-person orientation immediately before your webinar/virtual program begins, which would allow attendees who are unable to attend live due to time zone issues an opportunity to catch up on what they have missed once they log in later.
When determining how much time should be allocated for each type of activity, consider the value of each engagement. Some networking events have found that keeping in-person activities to a minimum allows maximum virtual participation.
In contrast, others find that holding at least one face-to-face session brings greater engagement and connection between attendees.
Create Event Buzz
Creating a buzz around your hybrid event is essential in building excitement among your audience, both online and offline, and throughout both components of your program. The best way to generate this buzz is by communicating with attendees before the event begins about what they can expect from the in-person component.
You could do this by launching an email marketing campaign or an advertising campaign focused on driving in-person participants to register for your event’s in-person portion.
Once you start getting closer to the date of your event, make sure to follow up with those who have registered for the in-person component and let them know precisely where they need to go on the day of the event.
By engaging attendees before the start of both components, you can build a team invested in having a great experience throughout the entire duration of your hybrid networking program.
Host Speakers On-Site
Having speakers or moderators participate on-site at your event or launch ensures maximum engagement from virtual and in-person participants and encourages ongoing conversation between those present. These individuals can be thought leaders from within your organisation or respected industry experts as outside speakers.
To ensure as much participation as possible from those online, extend an open invitation to all virtual participants to have their voices heard. You can do this by creating a hashtag for the event, having Twitter chats during the webinar/virtual sessions, or encouraging in-person attendees to interact with online participants throughout the day.
Connect the Online & In-Person Audience
Defining clear guidelines about how in-person and remote attendees are expected to interact is critical in building online and offline connections. It ensures that you give equal attention to both components of your program while helping people feel engaged immediately, whether they are joining in person or virtually.
There are several ways that you can give equal attention to both groups, including:
- Holding in-person activities that require active participation from online audiences.
- Dedicating a portion of in-person time to introducing and encouraging discussion from remote participants.
- Asking online audiences to participate in an activity that those on-site will observe.
Regardless, when connecting the two audiences, you’ll see greater engagement overall and more networking opportunities between on-site and off attendees.
Use Social Media to Encourage Engagement
Social media is a must-have component in any event planner’s toolkit when hosting a hybrid event, especially since social media transcends geographical boundaries.
Not only can you use it as a way to promote your event before, during, and afterward throughout all channels (including your website), but you can also utilise it within each component of your program (in-person and virtual).
Within the in-person component, use hashtags to encourage attendees to share their thoughts on social media and contribute to other online conversations already taking place.
By extending this open invitation for your in-person audience to share their thoughts on social media, you can expand your event’s digital footprint before, during, and after the event has taken place. To further engage those participating virtually, utilise Twitter chats or live video streaming with Q&A portions of the session.
Create a Video Library
Creating a video library is a beneficial tactic for any event planner who wants to use their online content beyond the parameters of their hybrid program.
Digital videos are easily consumable by audiences anywhere at any time, both on-site and off, so providing them in a way that is easily accessible will keep your event’s virtual footprint going well after the main program is over.
Analyse the Success of Your Hybrid Event
Every successful program must have a proper analysis phase to adjust and improve future events.
Whether you choose to perform this by yourself or with the help of an outside company, examining your hybrid event from start to finish will give you valuable insight into what went right, what didn’t go as planned, and what changes need to be made next time around.
Utilising tools such as surveys both on-site and off can provide great insight into how each component was experienced, while tracking social media analytics can give a glimpse into overall engagement throughout all channels.
Follow Up With Both Virtual & In-Person Attendees
Following up is an integral part of any event’s success, which holds true for a hybrid program. You should follow up with both in-person and virtual attendees to keep the conversation going, provide additional content if needed, and further build your relationship with those who took part in your event.
To do this, you can send out email surveys and thank you notes to gather more data on how they experienced each component of your program or even ask them what other types of content they’d like to see from you after your event is over.
Regardless, continuing the conversation will ensure that connections made through your hybrid program continue long after it has taken place!
Bringing in an online audience to enhance the experience of your in-person event is simple and can bring significant results when done correctly.
Utilising the tactics outlined above will give you a head start on hosting a successful hybrid event that actively recruits, connects, and engages both in-person and virtual attendees, something that’s welcomed by all!