Hybrid Events: Increase Your Audience Reach and Engagement

We live our lives divided between two worlds. In one, birds sing, conversations occur, and friends greet one another with handshakes and “hellos.” In the other, Twitter alerts, chats are typed messages, and a friend’s greeting is a “like.”

Dividing time between these worlds is an everyday part of life. We’re so accustomed to it, we don’t give it a second thought. In fact, it’s so natural that other everyday activities have adapted. For example, for a significant portion of consumers, browsing at Target takes place entirely on a device; the only time spent at the store is a quick trip to pick up their newly purchased items.

Event planners were quick to adapt to these two worlds. Knowing that an audience’s attention could easily be pulled away by the device in the hands, that device has now become an important part of a live event.

There are other ways the virtual world is frequently incorporated in an event, such as augmented reality, events apps, and RFID wearables. One of the latest trends is to literally split an event between these worlds with hybrid events.

What Are Hybrid Events?

A hybrid event is a live activation that provides engaging content to two separate audiences: those attending in-person and those attending virtually. With a hybrid event, the virtual components are not an afterthought, nor are they an adaption from the live content (at least, not entirely). Instead, the virtual content is explicitly designed to engage an online audience. That’s not to say that the live and virtual content can’t coexist, just that equal attention is given to creating an entertaining and captivating atmosphere for both audiences.

Hybrid events empower marketers to reach beyond their typical audience for an event. With a hybrid event, a potential audience member could be anywhere in the world. There are several reasons for someone interested in an event not to attend, and one of the biggest reasons is difficulty traveling to the location. However, providing a virtual component to your event removes these location barriers. It may be the exact motivation someone needs to check out your content.

Also, don’t worry; you’re in-person crowd will still show up. You are not poaching potential in-person attendees.

The Online Component Does Not Threaten Your In-Person Attendance

Many event planners fear that holding a virtual event will cause physical attendance to decrease. However, that turns out not to be true.

A survey by Digitell, Inc. interviewed over 100 professionals who attended the virtual portions of a hybrid event. The vast majority of respondents, 83 percent, were never planning to attend the event in person. In fact, the only reason most people engaged with the event was because they could do so from the comfort of their home. There is effectively no overlap between the audience who attends an event and those who join in virtually. However, once someone attends an event virtually, they are much more likely to go to the following year’s show in person.


For example, when the Professional Convention Management (PCMA) noticed that attendance for its annual convention had fallen off, the group decided to add a virtual component to its annual conference. It was a controversial move, but ultimately the group decided to provide members with a chance to livestream elements of the conference.

The decision turned out to be the correct one; however, it did impact in-person attendance – by improving it. Since the organization added a virtual component in 2010, in-person attendance for its annual event has increased yearly. PCMA found that “An average of 23 percent of virtual attendees convert to physical attendees within the next 24 months.”

In addition, PCMA sells recordings of its livestreamed content. The profit from these recordings has earned $1 million for the organization.

Preparing for a Hybrid Event

A significant amount of preparation is required for any live event. This is undoubtedly true for a hybrid event, but the effort is worth it.

It is essential to consider the journey of the online audience. During a live event, it is common to have down periods. In fact, it is necessary to allow people to grab a coffee or do a quick bit of networking. For the online audience, however, any downtime is just an excuse for attendees to logoff and not return.

Selecting a dedicated moderator will help to keep the online audience engaged. While content is not being presented, the moderator can quickly answer any questions that arise, organize and host Q&A sessions following educational sessions or speeches, and conduct polls to gauge the audience’s satisfaction. A moderator will also be able to troubleshoot (or notify those who can troubleshoot) should any technical issues occur.

You need to determine the goal of your virtual component. What experience do you want the virtual audience to have? Do you want to entertain, educate, motivate, or some combination of the three? Do you want the virtual audience’s attention to be entirely focused on your brand (for example, a product launch), or should brand identification be incidental to the knowledge you’re presenting (through educational sessions, etc.)? Do you want the audience to be able to communicate with one another? If so, how do you plan to moderate these discussions?

You also need your speakers and presenters to be prepared to speak on camera. Presenters should follow the same rules as anyone appearing on TV, including no large jewelry, shiny fabrics, or striped or heavily patterned clothing. The reason is that, when broadcast, the stripes or a pattern can appear to run together, creating a distracting visual phenomenon known as the moiré effect.


Measuring Engagement

All online audience engagement provides valuable data for marketers and content creators. Every virtual interaction can be tracked, recorded, and scrutinized. What sessions generated the most discussion? What questions were asked the most? Was viewership consistent throughout a presentation, or did attendance waver? What were the poll results? How was the engagement with the polls (more responses mean better engagement)? What were the demographics for your online audience? Does this match or differ from your in-person audience? What does this tell you about your marketing possibilities?

All of this data will help you refine and streamline your event marketing strategies.

A hybrid event provides event planners with an unparalleled opportunity to expand the range of their content. By reaching out to new, interested audiences who would not or could not attend in person, you are opening up fresh opportunities for your event and attendees, and the data you gather will ensure that your event is continuously evolving and improving to keep pace with the desires of your target market. Plus, the virtual content can be recorded and reused, which will keep your event alive and active throughout the year.