Live and virtual attendees deserve equal consideration for total success
In our previous hybrid articles we looked at how the events landscape might evolve over 2021, then shared advice on planning a hybrid event. This covered the importance of setting your programme and budget early on, nailing down the technical side and building in flexibility at every stage so you can handle unexpected changes.
Now you’ve checked off preliminary hybrid event essentials, what’s next?
You’ve agreed on budget, selected the venue and chosen a virtual event platform. Now it’s time to work out exactly what kind of experience you want to offer your two audiences: live and virtual. And the way you design for each audience can be critical to their response, and therefore whether you have enough live audience to make it work well.
Networking, creative thinking and teamwork are easier, so too recognising achievement.
What do your different audiences want – and why?
Live events used to be the norm, so most of us are familiar with the reasons why they’re so worthwhile. But let’s take a fresh look at them, with our post-pandemic spectacles on:
What are the benefits of live events for DELEGATES?
- At heart, we love and are stimulated by being together. Networking, creative thinking and teamwork are easier, so too recognising achievement.
- Being at an event also gives us a break from the routine, and a space without day-to-day distractions, allowing us to engage more.
What are the benefits of live events for BUSINESSES?
- Face-to-face communication is a very effective way to share your message.
- Focus exclusively on your business for a few days.
- Employees enjoy the chance to learn something new in a live setting with their peers and take it back to work.
- Expand opportunities from sharing ideas to market to potential clients.
Networking, creative thinking and teamwork are easier, so too recognising achievement.
Face-to-face communication is a very effective way to share your message.
What are the benefits of virtual events for DELEGATES?
- The opportunity to reduce travel, less time away from family and work, and sleeping in our own bed!
- Virtual can be set up to give attendees flexibility to view sessions at times to suit.
- Plus, there’s benefit for the environment, as well as savings on travel and hotel costs.
What are the benefits of virtual events for BUSINESSES?
- Less impact on productivity.
- If you’re running the event, you can expect greater reach and increased attendee numbers.
- Virtual events allow you to harvest analytics giving an accurate picture of who attends each session.
- Furthermore, organisers can add in-session pop-ups to ask, ‘Are you still watching?’ (like Netflix does!) to check attendees are still present.
- The analytics available also help employers award more accurate Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points if relevant.
- Travel time saved may benefit productivity, and virtual’s accessibility makes a bigger audience possible.
How to manage cost, value and ensuring live and virtual audiences a good time
Live and virtual attendees CAN’T have the same experience. So how do you offer them equal value?
This is key. We recommend the same (or close) registration fees (if applicable) for live and virtual attendees, whilst emphasising the importance of ensuring the same value for money for both audiences.
Why the same? Because when it comes to calculating fee structure, your budget needs to provide for virtual platform costs, in addition to venue hire, increased planning time and the technical services both require to get the functionality you want.
Whichever option the attendee chooses, all will be justified in expecting the same value for their money. So, let’s take a look at each audience for ways to get the balance of value right.
If you’re running the event, you can expect greater reach and increased attendee numbers.
Make the virtual environment visually interesting, and simulate an arrival area with branding and information.
The Virtual Attendee Experience
- Make them welcome: making the virtual attendee feel that they’ve truly “arrived” at the event has real value; budget permitting, make the virtual environment visually interesting, and simulate an arrival area with branding and information.
- Go the whole hog and create a fully immersive experience, like a live TV show with full access to all live content. This could involve a dedicated presenter in a studio with cameras, walking through the event facilitating speaker presentations and guest interviews.
- Content quality: research suggests their priority is to hear significant content (on an on-demand basis if possible). Costs are of course a key consideration in what you decide to do. You could opt to only stream key plenary sessions for those attending remotely. Perhaps take it further and stream all plenary and breakout sessions, as well as offer some networking opportunities.
- Interactivity: vital that they can submit burning questions by some means, live text real time or in advance.
- Catering: (if its practical to do so) match the value of missing yummy food and seeing people in the flesh, with food/coffee vouchers or snack boxes for virtual attendees.
- Sponsor ROI: we also see that they may not miss interacting with exhibits so consider that sponsors may need brand profile distributed smartly throughout an attendee’s platform visit and their best representation may come through sponsored workshops of value to virtual attendees.
- Pricing considerations: if you are charging for your event, whatever tiered pricing structure is applied to a live audience, should also be available to a virtual one.
- Breakout Sessions: if these are presentation-based, you can stream sessions to virtual attendees. Simple. But the limitations on engaging with the live audience may mean that holding dedicated breakout session for virtual delegates is the best way forward.
Match the value of missing yummy food and seeing people in the flesh, with food/coffee vouchers
The space you need to book may be greater than you’d have done before but if people have space to be together, the rewards will be brilliant!
The Live Attendee Experience
We’ve talked a lot about what you can do for online delegates, but let’s not forget that those who come in person will find their experience rather changed from pre-Covid days. Yes, they’ll have access to the full event programme as usual, but everything else will probably look quite different.
Venues spent 2020 and early 2021 preparing for the moment they can welcome real, live people back through the doors, to ensure everyone’s safety. Now that they’re re-opening, they’re likely to use social distancing, along with other measures. So the space you need to book may be greater than you’d have done before but if people have space to be together, the rewards will be brilliant!
These are the kind of changes to expect, or if guidance has changed, some you may still wish to adopt for people’s comfort for as long as it takes:
- Staggered registration – at large events, attendees may be asked to register at appointed times. Pre-registration is encouraged as much as possible
- Sanitisation stations and temperature checks
- No cloakrooms – personal belongings to be carried around
- Managed queues and clear signage throughout
- 1m or 2m social distancing in plenary and breakout sessions
- One-way systems to move around the venue and for entry and exit where possible
- Staggered movement between sessions to limit crowds
- At exhibitions, pre-booked time slots rather than just wandering up to stands and plenty of space at stands and in gangways.
- Staggered lunch times for crowd control or bigger areas than before
- Individual packed lunches and single serve options
- Curtailed ‘coffee chat’ networking opportunities
After the event: learn and plan
It can be challenging to assess the quality of an attendee’s experience at a live event, in terms of whether or not it successfully hits the required goals.
This is where a hybrid event (featuring a virtual element) offers undeniable benefits. You know exactly who attended, when, for how long, what they watched and much more. This provides solid data you can share with sponsors to justify ROI and, just as importantly, gives you valuable insights you can apply to improve future hybrid events.
Find your happy hybrid
The possibilities for your hybrid event are exciting once you have considered how it should be configured. So start with both audiences in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful hybrid event!
We’ve talked a lot about what you can do for online delegates, but let’s not forget that those who come in person will find their experience rather changed from pre-Covid days.