Hybrid-Lite: A More Practical Hybrid Event Option to Consider

After spending the past year and a half attending virtual versions of our favorite conferences, we’ve come to terms with a very important dichotomy around events:

While in-person events offer important personal connections that are nearly impossible to replicate in a virtual environment, the virtual event format allowed many organizations to reach a wider audience of attendees than ever.

To harness the best of both worlds, some organizations are looking to hybrid events as a solution—not just for the now, but as a more permanent event strategy.

Hybrid Event: Two words, multiple definitions

At its core, a hybrid event is simply one where session content is being delivered to both an in-person audience and an audience who consumes the content online. Exactly how this is done can vary greatly, from a very simple format to one that is extremely complex. This means there is no one, universal definition of what “going hybrid” means.

Some organizations view the hybrid event model as one where both virtual and in-person attendees share the same live conference experience. The conference itself is held in a centralized location, with both on-site and remote participants joining sessions simultaneously.

While this does provide your virtual attendees access to the complete event experience (or, as much as practically possible), it’s also the most complex and potentially most expensive way to conduct a hybrid event.

Typically, these events require a high production value and additional resources—from an event emcee to dedicated virtual participant facilitators—to really make them work well. These events may also include special programming just for virtual attendees to compensate for on-site activities they can’t easily join, like networking breaks and social events.

One of the sessions at this year’s ASAE Annual Meeting profiled an organization that created a very successful global hybrid event that followed this shared-experience model. And while the details of the event are truly amazing, the session presenters even admitted that to get it done, it was an all-hands-on-deck scenario for all association staff, with other strategic priorities being put on temporary hold.

While it definitely paid off for them, not every organization can afford to go to these extremes for their annual conference.

The idea of live now, virtual later is gaining traction

Meeting planners recognize the benefits of offering both an on-site and virtual conference experience but acknowledge they may not have the time, resources, or budget to achieve this more conventionally. In a recent article, MPI—an association for event industry professionals—calls this practice of producing content for two audiences simultaneously “expensive and sometimes impractical.”

Instead, MPI recommends a “live now, virtual later” approach, where the on-site sessions are recorded and made available to a virtual audience after the event.

While this is a more practical approach, it still requires a high-caliber A/V setup to ensure both the speaker and their presentation slides, video, etc., are all captured appropriately and that the sound is sufficient. It may also require some post-production work to make it easier for the virtual audience to follow along with the content.

Hybrid-Lite: A hybrid event approach that is smaller in scale, but delivers big benefits

“Hybrid-Lite” events provide a way to deliver an exceptional on-site experience while at the same time opening up your conference content to a wider audience after the fact, in a way that is practical and affordable. We’re calling it “hybrid-lite.”

Instead of trying to record an on-site conference session as it’s happening, have your selected speakers pre-record their presentation before the conference, and post those videos to a virtual event platform for on-demand viewing by your remote attendees. Your speakers can use their recording tool of choice. Or, to make it even easier, you can use an abstract management system with a built-in video capture and recording tool, like CATALYST, to give your speakers a centralized place to both record and submit their video presentations.

Some of the benefits of this hybrid-light conference format include:

  1. You don’t need to worry about the expense and logistics of on-site A/V to capture sound and video for a presentation that is being delivered in front of a live audience.
  2. You need fewer resources, as the virtual audience will be engaging with the session content on their own time (which also helps if you’re working with a global audience in multiple time zones).
  3. It can be easier for virtual attendees to view conference sessions in an on-demand format. At an in-person conference, we are physically removed from most day-to-day distractions, and we are less accessible to clients and co-workers. As a virtual attendee, it’s much harder to create that separation, and we often end up missing sessions or portions of sessions when they are delivered live. Plus, it removes any potential bandwidth issues that may occur while live streaming content for an entire day.
  4. You can still incorporate special content and engagement opportunities for your virtual participants that increase the value of the event, such as a series of scheduled online discussion groups around a specific conference topic or presentation. Think of it as a virtual book group.
  5. You end up increasing the value of the conference for your on-site attendees as well. Most of us can’t physically attend all the sessions we’re interested in on-site. By having an on-demand version of each session that is more robust than simply posting the presenter’s PowerPoint presentation, your in-person attendees actually get more conference for their money.
  6. This on-demand offering of event content can serve as a way to start building a year-over-year library of event content that becomes a valuable member resource.
  7. It increases value for your sponsors, who gain exposure in the virtual event platform with a wider audience, and for a longer period of time.

Things to consider with a hybrid-lite format:

  1. Make sure your speakers are on board with the concept. As you’re sourcing your speakers, you’ll want to be sure to gather their preferences and set expectations early on. As part of the submission process be sure to ask whether they’re willing to present in-person, virtually, or both. Also, make sure they know upfront that if selected they’ll be asked to also record and submit their presentation ahead of the conference, with a clear deadline.
  2. 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, as should any distribution terms. For instance, can the recording be made available only to attendees, or will you be allowed to sell access to a wider audience? As such, understand that you may not be able to record every session, like a noteworthy keynote speaker. This can work to your benefit, as a high-profile speaker that is only accessible to in-person attendees may help boost on-site attendance.
  3. 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? Having this structure mapped out ahead of time will make it easier to source and set up your virtual event platform as the content hub, while ensuring the appropriate access controls are in place.

Over the past year, 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.

3 Reasons to Use Your Virtual Event Platform as an Online Library of Conference Content

2020 is going to be remembered for many things, not least of which will be the sudden surge in demand for products that became much more relevant during the global pandemic. From food delivery services to hand sanitizer, hair scissors, floor clings, and webcams, COVID-19 caused an almost overnight disruption to how we live and work. The meetings industry was no exception.

While gathering restrictions caused organizations to cancel or postpone their in-person conferences, meeting planners jumped on the opportunity to find alternative ways to deliver their events. Google reports that online searches for virtual event platforms increased by 1,977% in just one month!

At the time, these platforms were being used as a substitute to the live event experience—either to deliver livestream or on-demand session content. But as meetings begin to re-emerge as in-person events, is there still a need for a virtual event platform? Absolutely!

Rather than focusing so heavily on delivering a live or time-based event experience, the next generation of virtual event platforms will allow meeting planners to offer an evergreen library of on-demand or asynchronous conference content that delivers more value for the organization.

Goodbye “One-and-Done” Model of Conference Content

It wasn’t that long ago that attending a conference in person was the only way to access the educational content. While most organizations have been providing some form of online information, education, and other resources for at least the past two decades, conferences typically followed a “one-and-done” philosophy. Session presentations and other educational content may have been posted online after the event, but only for a short time. After that, the focus would shift to promoting content for the upcoming event.

It wasn’t until recently that more organizations have started recognizing that the value of this content extends well beyond the event—whether being held in-person or virtually, live or on-demand.

Transform Your Virtual Event Platform into a Year-Round Event Library

Conferences, by their very nature, are time-based. Regardless of how your event is being delivered—whether live or asynchronous—the content is typically going to be accessed by attendees within a specific window of time. If meeting planners can extend this window, they can increase the overall value of the event for attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors while potentially increasing revenue for the organization.

This is where the concept of an online library of conference content comes in.

Instead of using a virtual event platform to deliver a live or asynchronous event to virtual attendees, it can serve as a centralized place to deliver evergreen educational content to all stakeholders—conference participants, organization members, and industry members—long after the conference ends.

Here are just some of the benefits of providing a year-round library of conference content:

1. Creates additional value for registered attendees

One of the downsides of having concurrent sessions at a live event is that an attendee can’t physically attend all sessions they may be interested in. Using your virtual event platform to provide this same content after the event means your attendees have access to more content than ever before, for the same registration fee.

The amount of content you can feature at a live event is also restricted to what you can fit within the confines of the venue and the schedule. But if you use your virtual event platform as an on-demand library, the amount of content you feature is virtually limitless. You can add bonus content that is only available online to complement the live conference, such as short videos on a popular micro-topic, educational presentations from sponsors or exhibitors, and follow-up Q&A sessions with speakers.

Offering continued access throughout the year also supports deeper learning, as content can be accessed for as long and as often as necessary.

2. Increases value for sponsors and exhibitors

When you provide a year-round library of conference content, the exposure your sponsors and exhibitors pay for doesn’t have to end when the conference does. Because users will continue to access the platform for on-demand content, you’re also increasing the opportunity for year-round brand visibility.

You can also provide additional opportunities that may not be possible at the live event, such as bonus on-demand educational videos or pre-recorded webinars created by your sponsors.

3. Provides an additional source of revenue

Access to your library of conference content doesn’t need to be limited to registered attendees. Consider creating a paid subscription tier for members and/or the general public as a new source of non-dues revenue for your organization.

Expand from Single Event to a Multi-Year, Multi-Event Resource

If you are considering keeping your event content online and accessible on a year-round basis, here’s, even more, to think about: this library doesn’t have to be limited to a single event. Some virtual event platforms offer the ability to feature content from your entire roster of annual events, and across multiple years, all from one, centralized hub. You can even set controls to limit access by year or event, so you protect the value of that content.

4 Ways to Use Video to Enhance Your Virtual Event

Many conference organizers have historically relied on third-party tools such as an abstract management system to collect, review, select, and schedule papers and presentations for an in-person event. What’s not as widely known is this same software can also be used in non-traditional ways to better support your virtual or hybrid event.

If your abstract management system features a built-in video recording and submission tool, like our CATALYST abstract management software does, you can easily collect pre-recorded session videos to be included in your event schedule. What’s more, these same video capture capabilities can be leveraged in other ways to enhance the event experience for your speakers, attendees, and sponsors.

Here are four ways meeting planners are using video that go beyond just capturing session content:

1. Audition your virtual speakers

Giving a presentation to a virtual audience requires a very special skill set. Understanding how to present the material in a way that is engaging without being able to use movement can be challenging. Some presenters really rely on audience feedback—eye contact, smiles, laughs, nods—to maintain their energy level and enthusiasm.

To ensure that your speakers are not only presenting relevant, high-quality content, but that they can carry a 30-to-60-minute virtual presentation, consider having them use your abstract management tool to record and provide a short audition video as part of your initial submission process, and include them in your review criteria. You can even provide the ability for your reviewers to leave feedback for submitters so they can make improvements before the final presentation.

2. Perform a presentation test-run before the event

Ask your selected speakers to create a test recording of a short portion of their presentation in your abstract management system to confirm their A/V setup is sufficient. Items to check include quality and sharpness of their camera, whether the audio works and is loud enough, lighting, and background. That way, they can address any potential issues well ahead of the event.

3. Gather videos for event marketing

At some point between when your speakers are selected and when you prepare content for your virtual event platform, you’ll need to collect additional information from your speakers such as headshots and bios. This is also a perfect opportunity to have your speakers and session leaders use your abstract management software to record and submit short intro videos that can be used on your website and social media channels to promote the event.

4. Gather videos from sponsors and exhibitors

Your sponsors and exhibitors want as much opportunity as possible to get their message in front of attendees. Pre-recorded videos are great to feature on your virtual event platform and to promote premier sponsors and exhibitors on your website and social media channels. But not all sponsors and exhibitors will have a pre-produced video. If this is the case, a company representative can easily use your abstract management system’s built-in video recording and submission tool to record a short message that is personalized to your attendees. It’s an easy, low-cost solution that provides increased exposure and value.

While the format of events has changed, the need to source high-quality content hasn’t. But in a virtual setting, that definition of “quality” extends beyond the subject matter. The presentation style of the speaker and the technical quality matter too. Pre-recorded videos can help you minimize issues for your virtual attendees before the event begins. They can also provide opportunities to create a better experience for your speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors.

Virtual Events: Practical Advice from an Attendee

Over the past few weeks, the conversation among meeting planners has shifted from whether to go virtual to how to go virtual with their conference.

  • How do you schedule your event?
  • How do you deliver the content?
  • How do you connect attendees?

These questions have meeting planners considering whether to design their virtual conference as a live (livestream) event, or to provide attendees with on-demand access to content. Or, a little of both.

Ultimately, we’re all trying to figure out how to replicate the best parts of an in-person event within a virtual environment. Hint: you can’t replicate it, but you can reinvent it.

Reinventing your in-person conference as a virtual event

To have a successful virtual conference, you need to truly understand what the life of a virtual participant looks like right now so you know what you can—and can’t—expect of them.

Normally, we don’t make our blog posts quite so personal. But this time, I’m going to get a little personal and share the first-hand wisdom I’ve gathered over the past week while my husband attended a three-day, all-day virtual event. Spoiler alert: while he absolutely loved the content and discussions with his peers, some of the logistics were both painful and funny (after the fact, of course).

A personal account of a virtual event experience

Typically at a conference, we’re more focused on the professional backgrounds of our attendees. But with so much of the population working from home, we must take into consideration their personal lives as well. Here’s what happened in my situation.

Both my husband and I work full time and have both been working from home since mid-March. We are lucky that we have the tools and tech that allow us to work effectively: multiple monitors, great bandwidth, dedicated working spaces. We also have two tween/teen children who, although self-sufficient, are starting to become emotionally spent from the new limitations that have been placed on their lives. We also have two large dogs who are continually confused by why we are all home and why we are not paying more attention to them.

So what did attending a 3-day live virtual event look like in our household?

First, technology was not kind to us

Do you have any idea what having one person participate in a live video event all day does to the bandwidth in the house? The effects were immediate and dramatic. I had to take my Microsoft Teams meetings from the app on my phone, not my computer, with the wi-fi turned off. The kids were booted out of their online schoolwork and from their Facetime sessions with friends. Admittedly, much cursing occurred.

My husband, who was both an attendee and a speaker at this event, was in the middle of his presentation when one of the primary internet service providers in our area had two routers fail. He wasn’t prepped for any backup plan ahead of time, so he was scrambling to get the live streaming app downloaded to his phone. 30 minutes later he was back online, with just enough time to give an abrupt wrap-up. Things happen. They really do. To prove this point further, this is the same week that, back at the Omnipress offices where only a small staff remains on-site, a squirrel took out the power and internet for several hours. No joke. And while this had no effect on my husband, it only illustrates that technology will fail at some point, for someone. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Tuning in (and tuning out) from a busy household

When you attend an in-person conference you’re away from the office, away from home, and away from the usual daily distractions, minus an urgent email here and there. With a virtual event, however, there is no mental or physical separation from work and home. You can’t delegate your spouse to deal with a vomiting dog, a kiddo who is frustrated with their math exercise, an impromptu 8th-grade graduation parade through the neighborhood (horns blazing, of course), or the UPS driver making his third delivery to your house that day, because she’s also on an important call!

The bottom line: it’s unrealistic to think that your attendees can dedicate significant amounts of focused, uninterrupted time to your event. As hard as they may try, life gets in the way.

A virtual group conversation is harder to navigate

Networking can sometimes be awkward, at best. Recently I’ve done several virtual happy hours with close friends and I find those to be more difficult and challenging than meeting up in person. Screens freeze up intermittently or people accidentally talk over each other which affects how naturally the conversation flows. But we manage because we know each other so well.

Now try doing the same thing with a group of strangers, especially if you’re more of an introvert, like my husband. Oh, he can fake his way through “forced” social events with the best of them, but he certainly doesn’t prefer it.

His event had several different networking opportunities built into the agenda. Some were unstructured happy hours and some were scheduled in-between sessions (ouch!). Others consisted of smaller collaboration groups, which he felt were the most beneficial and effective to establish a genuine connection with a group of people who rallied around a common set of challenges. It also helped when the virtual networking events were scheduled earlier in the day when his brain was fresh and he could absorb more of the educational content.

What did we take away from this experience?

I’ve lived in the association event space for more than a decade, so when I heard my husband was going to be participating in a three-day virtual event, I watched more closely than most spouses probably would. Putting on both my event planner and attendee hat, here’s the most important thing I learned:

An event that combines both live and pre-recorded content provides the best attendee experienceand the most room to get creative!

1. Making your content available on-demand is crucial

Give your attendees a way to access session content anytime. This not only helps to reinforce learning, but it also serves as a safety net if technology fails or life happens. Make sure all your presentations—even the live ones—are recorded and available in a way that is easy to search for and navigate, along with all related session materials. This also takes some of the pressure off your speakers and their tech.

2. If you’re going to livestream, be selective

While presenting sessions live creates a sense of excitement and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), it doesn’t work for all attendees, especially those in different time zones. And it’s definitely difficult to manage as an  all-day event. Save the live streaming for the most popular portions of your conference, such as a keynote session.

3. There are many effective ways to craft a successful live/recorded blended event

As one example, you can “fake” a live experience by releasing pre-recorded content on a timed basis and hyping up the countdown on your event marketing channels. Follow this release with live, small-group discussion sessions around that content to create a sense of urgency for participants to view the content.

This also helps to create those more structured and deliberate networking conversations among attendees that tend to be more meaningful. This blended approach also makes it easier to program natural breaks in the agenda for your attendees to address everything else that’s currently happening in the background of their lives.

How Should You Serve-Up Your On-Demand Event Content?

Join us for a live, 30-minute webinar on Thursday, May 28th, where we’ll take a tour of the Omnipress Virtual Conference & Event Platform. It’s a simple and cost-effective way to serve-up on-demand content for your conference. And yes, it will be recorded and available on-demand in case you can’t join us!

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