Lauren Weatherly is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at global virtual events and meetings company PGi, dedicated to making online events and meetings simple to join and secure to use so people connect wherever they are. She is responsible for developing and leading a results-focused global marketing strategy to drive growth and build brand recognition for the company.
Upsizing Event Attendance: How to Take a Small, Local In-Person Event and Expand It to a Larger Audience as a Hybrid Event
There’s an interesting debate raging at the moment. It’s focused on whether hybrid events are here to stay or if the world will merely return to business as usual and resume in-person events.
It’s an important conversation as the “return to normal” continues running up against new COVID variants, but the decision doesn’t need to be a binary one.
Even as in-person events make a comeback, companies can and should include a virtual component in their events. It’s a relatively easy—and cost-effective—way to “upsize” smaller events into larger ones that reach more people.
There is a sense in the industry that in-person events will return to pre-pandemic levels, possibly as soon as next year. It’s clear that more people are traveling and returning to their routines.
However, considering people have different comfort levels with the state of the world, we cannot say when in-person gatherings will fully return.
Additionally, some international attendees may not be able to travel, given some of the restrictions still in place. But that doesn’t mean these attendees shouldn’t have the opportunity to participate.
The good news is that we don’t need to set a timeline for the return or limit the prospective audience. Hybrid events allow companies and organizations to stage events and empower connections while allowing attendees to engage within their comfort levels.
There is more than one path forward.
The beauty of hybrid events is that there is no one singular approach that works best. Organizers can stage them in a way so that the offering matches their brands—from the overall aesthetics to individual visuals.
However, the basics of event planning remain of utmost importance. That means a focus on the content, the attendee experience and what participants should take away.
Many organizations initially transitioned to virtual events in a bid to salvage their plans for the year. As people have grown more accustomed to interacting virtually, their expectations for event quality have changed.
But the critical point to keep in mind is that the technology for the event is less the centerpiece and more the facilitator for connection. Event organizers should use technology to bring their vision to life; they shouldn’t build a vision around using technology for the sake of it.
At their most basic level, hybrid events can feature a stream of in-person elements. But hybrid events work best when they include some elements geared solely toward virtual attendees.
It could be as simple as offering exclusive content or sessions for virtual attendees.
Hybrid events are inherently more inclusive.
The added benefit of virtual components is they are essentially more inclusive. Consider would-be attendees who have issues ranging from physical limitations to family obligations.
Even if they cannot travel for a gathering, they can participate by the organization extending a virtual offering.
Additionally, some people mistakenly believe hybrid events are exponentially more challenging to stage. While they do require thinking about the event differently, they do not need to be more complicated.
At the moment, hybrid events remain a strategic imperative. But needlessly removing them from the list of event options is short-sighted.
We cannot stop looking forward and looking for opportunities to hold events. Life and business must continue, and “upsizing” an event to include a hybrid component is a powerful way to safely maintain connections.
While we cannot predict the future, keeping a hybrid option also serves as an insurance policy should the world see another shift that makes traveling and hosting an in-person event impossible.