According to the Omnipress 2023 Conference Industry Report, 47% of respondents held a hybrid event in 2022, and a majority plan to do the same in 2023. But they may be re-thinking how their hybrid event is delivered. Meeting planners recognize the benefits of going hybrid, but also understand it takes additional resources they may no longer have. In response, some event professionals are moving to a more practical hybrid-lite conference format.
The benefit of hybrid conferences
Over the past several years, we’ve learned that in-person conferences offer important personal connections that are nearly impossible to replicate in a virtual environment. At the same time, virtual events allowed many organizations to reach a wider audience of attendees than ever.
To harness the best of both worlds, some organizations have adopted hybrid events as a more permanent event strategy. Not only do they maximize the reach of their event, respondents to the 2023 Conference Industry Report also feel hybrid is a “fresh approach to what had been a formulaic event,” and that it “addresses changing adult learning preferences.”
Three Ways to Deliver a Hybrid Event
At its core, a hybrid event delivers content to both an in-person and online audience. Exactly how this is done varies from a very simple format to one that is extremely complex.
A synchronous conference is one where sessions are delivered live to both in-person and virtual attendees together as once audience using livestreaming technology.
Pros: Virtual attendees have access to a more complete event experience (or, as much as practically possible).
Cons: It’s perhaps the most complex and potentially most expensive way to conduct a hybrid event.
Typically, these events require more extensive A/V and other resources–like dedicated facilitators for virtual attendees–to really make them work well. These events may also include additional programming just for virtual attendees to compensate for those on-site activities they can’t easily join, like social events.
Also known as “live now, virtual later,” in-person sessions are delivered live to the on-site audience, recorded as they happen on-site, and made available as on-demand content to a virtual audience after the event.
Pros: Potentially more practical and cost-efficient to execute than a synchronous event.
Cons: It still requires significant A/V resources to appropriately capture live sessions.
MPI—an association for event industry professionals—recommends using this “live now, virtual later” approach, as a more practical alternative to a synchronous in-person/virtual conference. But it may not be a suitable option for all organizations. It’s important to have a proper A/V setup to ensure that both the speaker and their presentation (slides, videos, etc.) are all recorded together, and that the sound is sufficient.
Your recorded content may also require some post-production work to make it easier for the virtual audience to follow along.
And depending upon the size of the event program, organizations may need to limit which sessions are made available to a virtual audience simply because it’s cost-prohibitive to do so for every breakout room available. Or, some speaker contracts may not allow their presentations to be recorded.
Synchronous + Asynchronous conference
In this scenario, the conference is delivered live to an in-person audience. For the virtual audience, some sessions are delivered through livestream and some are recorded and made available only as on-demand content.
While this approach may decrease the potential for issues with livestreaming, it does still require a heavy investment of A/V resources to record sessions on-site.
Hybrid-Lite Event: smaller in scale, but delivering big benefits
“Hybrid-Lite” events are a more practical and affordable way to deliver an exceptional on-site experience while opening up your conference content to a wider audience.
Instead of recording an on-site conference session as it’s happening, speakers pre-record their presentations before the conference using their recording tool of choice.
Some of the benefits of this hybrid-light conference format include:
- Reduces the expense and logistics of on-site A/V
- Reduces the need for additional on-site resources to help moderate and facilitate the virtual audience
- It’s easier on the virtual attendees because they can view sessions at their convenience, when there are fewer distractions
- It increases the value of the conference for your on-site attendees by providing access to sessions they couldn’t attend but wanted to
- It allows you to start building a year-over-year library of event content that becomes a valuable member resource
Things to consider with a hybrid-lite format:
- Make sure your speakers are on board with the concept. As you’re sourcing your speakers, gather their preferences and set expectations early on. As part of the submission process ask whether they’re willing to present in-person, virtually, or both. Make sure they know they’ll need to provide a recording if selected, with a clear due date.
- Make sure your selected speakers can provide a recording. This additional step of pre-recording their presentation should be accounted for in your speaker agreement, along with any distribution terms. For instance, will their recording be available only to attendees, or can you sell access to a wider audience? And for how long? You may not be able to record your high-profile keynote speakers, but this can work to your benefit to provide extra value to in-person attendees.
- Think about to whom you want to grant access to the on-demand content, and how. Will all attendees (virtual and in-person) have access to all content? Will some sessions be viewable for virtual attendees only? Do you want to open an additional level of paid access to organization members or the general public?
We’ve learned how important it is to include virtual access to nearly everything—from simple team meetings to global conferences—if we want to increase participation. Gathering in-person isn’t possible or practical for everyone at all times, so providing flexibility to join at their convenience is going to become a standard practice moving forward. For the annual conference, this means allowing both virtual and in-person attendees the same opportunity to learn. But it doesn’t have to mean delivering the same event experience to both audiences. It can be just as beneficial and valuable to craft a simpler and more achievable version of the hybrid event.