I have 20/10 vision for 2010 – and hybrid events are in full view for as far as the eye can see. In 2009, the economy forced several events to migrate from face-to-face to “virtual only”. The virtual option significantly lowers costs for the event host, while being cost and time efficient for exhibitors and attendees. At the same time, however, event constituents (organizer, exhibitor, attendee) tell us that an online experience cannot properly replicate the handshake, the in-person meet-and-greet and the post-event cocktails.
Physical events will regain momentum as the economy recovers – for us, this means that “virtual replaces physical” (2009) becomes “physical adds a virtual component” (2010) [aka the hybrid event]. In 2009, innovative event planners blazed a new trail for the industry via hybrid events. Among the InXpo client base, we had the privilege of working with (and learning from) SAP, Cisco and United Way of Greater Cincinnati– InXpo powered the virtual component of their hybrid events.
Let’s discuss several factors to consider when planning a hybrid event.
When offering a virtual complement to your physical event, it’s natural to worry about cannibalization of the face-to-face venue. And while some amount of attendees will opt for your virtual option in lieu of the physical event, the hybrid events of 2009 resulted in significant audience augmentation – whereby the combined audience (virtual + physical) far exceeded the attendance that could have been generated from a physical-only or virtual-only event.
The virtual option allows event planners to capture audience members whom they otherwise would have missed. Reasons an audience member cannot attend the physical event:
- Travel budget has been cut
- One person [per year] from the team goes to the event – this year, it’s not my turn
- Need to stay in town for my [son’s / daughter’s] graduation
- I’m in Asia Pac and the event is in the U.S.
- The hotel is booked and the rate at other hotels exceed the limit set by my travel policy
All of these “attendance barriers” are addressed by a virtual component – audience members have the opportunity to experience the event from the convenience of their desk, from wherever they happen to be. By offering the virtual component, you provide a convenient option for those who are already inclined to attend (i.e. interested in you event content) – and, you generate awareness to a global audience, drawing interest from potential attendees to your subsequent physical events. As a result, you not only augment the event experience this year, but you generate interest (and attendance leads) for next year.
Physical <-> Virtual Integration Points
Audience augmentation (i.e. extending the overall size of the event attendee base) is clearly a benefit – but, event planners should not stop there. By creating innovative physical<->virtual integration points, you also create audience experience augmentation – for the on-site attendee, imagine visiting a kiosk, where you can interact with a virtual attendee from across the globe. By integrating the virtual audience, you significantly extend the pool of “networkers” far beyond the walls of the convention center. For the virtual attendee, leverage webcams, streaming video (of presentations) and social networking tools to bridge the physical experience online – give the virtual audience a feel and taste for the face-to-face experience.
Some potential integration points:
- Video Wall – allow physical attendees to record a brief video greeting (from a kiosk) – the greetings are then displayed on a video wall within the virtual environment.
- Create opportunities for text and webcam chat between physical and virtual attendees (e.g. session speakers, exhibitors, physical attendees <-> virtual audience).
- During live sessions, have the speaker(s) acknowledge and involve the virtual audience – display the virtual audience’s view on-site, including a real-time view of questions submitted from that audience. Have the speaker answer questions from both the on-site audience and the virtual audience. In addition, have on-site staff assigned to interact with virtual attendees.
- Strategically place displays/monitors throughout the physical event that display activity within the virtual event and in social networks (e.g. Twitter, Facebook).
Strategically Segment Features and Options
As you create multiple options for experiencing your event, keep your priorities in mind. Do you prefer physical attendance over virtual – or, are you comfortable with equal (or more) attendance at virtual compared to physical? If you’re offering guest (free) virtual access, along with a premium (paid) option, do you want to encourage more guest attendees to upgrade to a paid package?
Once you have you priorities set, be strategic in creating your features and options, so that you’re incenting users into the appropriate upgrade paths. If physical attendance is your priority, don’t make the virtual option “too good” – create tangible value in physical attendance (e.g. exclusive content [or opportunities to meet your executives in person], meaningful event “schwag”, good food, post-event entertainment that is fun and generates buzz, etc.).
For a paid virtual option, the free option should provide a taste (whet their appetite), but be sure to place your premium content (the crown jewels) behind a pay wall, incenting guest members to upgrade to gain access. Beyond content, consider certain platform features – whereby access is available to paid members, but restricted from guest users.
Year 2010, Here We Come
At InXpo, we are very much looking forward to the coming year – we expect to see significant innovation in virtual and hybrid events and are excited to work with clients, partners and the industry on blazing new ground.
Also see: Hybrid Event Best Practices