5 Tips to Ensure Your Next Hybrid Event Is a Success

December 21, 2021

Brittany Palmer

Brittany Palmer is Founder and CEO of Boston-based Beeyonder, a platform that enables people everywhere to travel the world virtually with interactive groups and private, live and pre-recorded experiences.

Hybrid events are not a fad, they’re a trend that has emerged out of the toughest crisis the MICE industry has ever seen. According to a recent eventsforce report, nearly 60% of association meeting planners are organizing hybrid events in Q4 2021 or for Q1 2022. 

As the macro environment around COVID-19 and international travel restrictions remain fluid, it’s clear that the pendulum might have swung too heavily towards live, in-person events in Q4 2021. A more likely outcome will see the events industry settle into a happy medium, where the hybrid model maintains popularity. 

There has never been a better time to be planning hybrid events. Event tech platforms have proliferated over the past 18 months and investment into companies like Hopin have enabled teams to double-down on product development while quickly achieving unicorn status.

Regarding the adoption of event tech platforms by conference organizers, MeetingPlay CEO Joe Schwinger recently said during IMEX, “You went from being Blockbuster to being Netflix in 18 months. Don’t go back to being Blockbuster again.”

The drawbacks to hybrid events for virtual attendees and event organizers are, by now, well understood. No chance for serendipitous run-ins at the bar. Demanding the same dollars for sponsorship packages can be challenging. 

But in the end, it comes down to maintaining engagement in an ever-increasingly noisy digital landscape. Keeping virtual attendees engaged in a hybrid format equates to positive attendance and revenue growth.   

Here are 5 ways for conference and event planners to drive engagement for their next hybrid event:

  1. Be mindful of your separate audiences. 

It’s not about having equal experiences for live and virtual audiences. It’s about providing relevant experiences to virtual and in-person audiences, respectfully. Designing a custom conference track for virtual attendees can take a lot of effort. However, being mindful of your virtual audience from the start can be as simple as providing access to a virtual-only chat room. Or holding an exclusive virtual roundtable with a notable industry figure. Relatively low-effort gestures such as these can make the difference between keeping your virtual audience engaged or losing it to a Twitter feed.

  1. Don’t be afraid to separate your content from your trade show.

World Travel Market (WTM), one of the largest travel industry trade shows in the world, recently held their virtual conference sessions one week and their live trade show portion of the event the following week. This format works well for events where there is a live content element plus a b2b trade show portion. Scheduling event programming sequentially, versus concurrently, should be considered by organizations who are light on resources, as it works to cut down on “day of” logistics. While not exactly a pure hybrid model, it deserves attention and consideration for some organizations and associations. 

  1. Reimagine the networking session.

Programming breaks for networking come naturally for in-person events but require extra thoughtfulness to ensure virtual attendees return. In a typical hybrid conference setting, once the content breaks for a networking session, the virtual attendee’s screen might as well go dark. For many, instead of staying engaged, a massive sense of FOMO sets in. But what if instead, virtual attendees were treated to a virtual concert, tour, or exclusive programming only available in the digital realm? Super Forum, an annual event from Higher Logic, a human-focused engagement platform, did just that by incorporating a virtual tour of Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. 

  1. Consider your attendee personas.

Maybe you’ve held hybrid events in the past, or perhaps you’re planning one for the very first time. Either way, you likely have some history of the types of professionals who attend your events overall. These personas are even more important in a hybrid world. For example, if a company typically sends only their executive team to in-person conferences, perhaps hybrid events create an opportunity to open up attendance to a wider swath of employees. Ensuring that the content is engaging for both the C-suite and middle management is paramount to ensuring a successful event. 

  1. Ask the right questions.

Post event follow up is as important as the actual upfront planning. Consider a separate survey or other feedback-gathering process to glean unique insights from live and virtual attendees, respectively. If you’re able to track attendee behavior on your event planning app, reach out individually to those virtual attendees who were particularly engaged, or not, to understand how to improve future events.  

No one truly knows what lies ahead for the meetings and events industry. However, all the trends point to a hybrid future, where vastly improved technology provides event managers with new tools to design valuable experiences that keep live, as well as virtual, attendees motivated and engaged. 

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.