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Event experiences in 2021: the shift to hybrid & blended events

Fig. — 
May 5, 2021
It has been tough, and the hunger for human contact and genuine connections is very real. Working from home is now the norm, instead of the exception, and in-person events have become impossible. Commercially-valuable PR and marketing events have had to adapt and become online-only experiences with a sharp refocus on slick digital storytelling.

While before we would be concerned with booking travel and accommodation to attend a conference, we’re now laser-focused on remembering to wear underwear, put the cat and kids in a different room, and turn our mics off.

Is this a long-term change, or can we expect a return to the old normal? Have our expectations and working methods changed for good? And what does this mean for our event marketing strategy in the near future?

Online events: the benefits and downsides.

Yes, the learning curve has been steep but businesses and marketers are getting used to creating engaging online experiences. There are some big pluses for an online event – including bigger potential audiences and lower costs. You can get a stadium-level attendance without needing to scale up the investment or venue.

The audiences can be much larger with online events because you capture interest from more delegates (who otherwise might decline an invitation due to traveling distances or other restrictions), plus they can watch later using on-demand access.

There is, however, the challenge of making sure your audience is engaged and delighted with the online experience – you don’t want them walking out halfway or checking emails during your main presentation!

So, if you want your online audience to stay focused, keep your messaging concise and interesting. Include interactive elements like Live Polls, Q&As and live streamed interactions with the audience to make sure they feel like ‘participants’, and not just a ‘spectator’.

Some companies lead the pack and use powerful technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented (AR), or Audio-visual (AV) experiences. These give each audience member an immersive and engaging experience that will delight and amaze.

The beauty of the online experience is the ability to create carefully tailored micro-experiences that target specific groups. This kind of targeting is simply not possible for in-person events - unless your budget is unlimited.

Using targeted, personalized micro-experiences and other digital touch points like this in the lead-up to your main event will increase social engagement and emotional investment. Leveraging these experiences with your event marketing strategy will see remarkable positive returns in a budget-friendly way.

"The beauty of the online experience is the ability to create carefully tailored micro-experiences that target specific groups. This kind of targeting is simply for in-person events - unless your budget is unlimited." not possible

Show me something special.

Online events have exploded in the last year – so you have serious competition when it comes to grabbing the attention of your audience. Your experience needs to offer something special – because potential attendees will need to sacrifice something else in their full agenda to attend.

Your online event needs to be a digital storytelling spectacular, with messages that resonate, and digital content that inspires.

Bonus points if you can create an experience that fosters genuine interaction and conversation – people want a human connection, and they miss that. If you can offer this they will come.

Without a live component, the content needs to be truly something. You should aim to offer an experience that people would pay for, with a strong ‘Wow!’ factor.

Apple does this well. Their presentations are a show - not just a product release, and the excitement is palpable, even for people watching online. Using slick brand visuals and emotive, throbbing music, you are already in love with their brand at the 45 second mark. When Tim Cook (CEO) steps onto the screen you are actually excited to hear about what new and amazing things are on offer. They are a fantastic example of digital storytelling done well – but don’t just copy what they do – make sure your online digital experience tells your unique story.

A top ‘pro’ tip is to use a strong brand visual as a part of the immersive experience, to make sure it is both memorable and linked to your brand in their memory afterwards!

Tim Cook - Apple Event 2021

Do ‘offline’ events have a future?

While people have become accustomed to online events, they still crave a visceral, sensory, real-life experience. They want a cup of coffee and a casual chat with industry colleagues. They want to see something in-person, in real-life, and have a story to tell about it afterwards.

‘Offline’ events will return, but they need to offer much more than they did before.

You can capitalize on their habituation to virtual events by offering attendees virtual, added-value features that will impress and delight. We’re talking about using the same tricks and technologies used in online digital storytelling, to create a physical experience with added impact. This can also be combined with an online event, which has strong synergies for both audiences.

Blended or Hybrid events like this combine the real-life human connection of the physical event, with the ability to reach a wider audience through online participation too. You have all the benefits of the online event, plus the physical experience which adds excitement and the possibilities for rich interaction for online participants.

So, while offline events will still be ‘a thing’, they have to include digital, virtual features to have any impact. They have to become Blended or Hybrid experiences.

Digital storytelling with teeth.

A Hybrid or Blended event has a big advantage over either online-only or offline-only experiences, but only if the concept, design and execution is good.

No, not good – AMAZING!
You need two major strengths – a powerfully engaging physical event, and a well-crafted online event. These also need to connect seamlessly, so online attendees can interact with the physical experience, and vice versa.

In-person delegates can be chosen more selectively, enabling a more intimate and personal experience. Your online attendees will pick up on this too, and the human connection will feel more real.

Also, think about how your schedules meet up for these different parts – what do your online participants do while the offline participants mingle and drink coffee? How can you keep them entertained and engaged the whole time?

For physical attendees, you can capitalize on your powerful digital storytelling assets with immersive experiences using AR, MR and AV technology.

You can leverage a variety of physical assets to impress and involve your physical audience, such as Hyro’s full-functionality Virtual Studio solution, or the more budget-friendly Stream IX, which can neatly fit in the corner of a room.

As these solutions are powered by the Hyro storytelling software, it is easy to create customized interactive experiences. You can easily incorporate focused breakout sessions that involve both in-person and online delegates, and online participants can interact or enjoy any augmented or mixed-reality experiences with the use of lightweight VR goggles (sent to them in advance, of course).

The key is to use technology to enable equal participation of delegates, and to ensure an active experience instead of a passive one.

There are lots of ways to do this; think about how you can connect these two spheres with streamed live chats, virtual mingling, or by challenging each other to a brand-inspired video game. The possibilities are endless.

Hyro Virtual Studio

Time to get engaged?

As demonstrated by Apple, the key to success with a blended/hybrid event is compelling, well-crafted visual story-telling. It needs to grab the audience and keep their attention. Keep in mind - you have stiff competition from other distractions for the online participants.

So it has to be good.

Interactivity keeps audiences engaged – both offline and online – but it is extra important for online participants, and can be more entertaining for online attendees who watch later ‘on-demand’ due to schedule conflicts or other reasons.

Scaling down an offline event means you can get a better return on investment from your budget by focusing on high-quality, engaging online and virtual content with enduring value. It will be a part of the story people tell about the event.

Audio-visual (AV) technology is your best tool for this. It can create a multi-sensory, immersive experience for physical and digital event participants. You can also target your different audiences by easily creating different versions of your digital experience, using Hyro’s powerful storytelling software.

So when we look at all the factors, Hybrid events make good business sense, as well as being more engaging experiences. You aren’t limited to venue capacity, or the travel budgets of potential delegates, and you’re more reachable with people able to attend online or on demand.

A re-focus of the event budget on a strong digital component is the smartest move you can make, as this has lasting impact – long after the event is over.

What’s your story?

Whether you want to organize a trade show, product release, sales kick-off, or a global town hall; hybrid and blended events can help you grow your business and increase your exposure and relevance.

Need help to create tailored content for your hybrid event? Just contact us to request a demo, and see for yourself how the Hyro storytelling software can unlock a world of digital content creation and collaboration for hybrid and blended events.

Written by:

Joost Rueck

Managing Director
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