Hybrid events offer the perfect blend of in-person and virtual experiences, ensuring wider reach, increased engagement, and adaptability to changing circumstances. If you are wondering if a hybrid event is better suited for your next conference, this comprehensive guide will provide valuable insights into the relevance and benefits of hybrid events in 2023, along with step-by-step planning considerations to ensure your event's success. Get ready to unlock new possibilities and deliver memorable experiences for all attendees.
What Is A Hybrid Event?
According to CVENT, a hybrid event refers to a unique type of gathering that “attracts both in-person attendees and virtual attendees.” It allows participants to attend either physically at a designated venue or remotely from their own locations via online platforms. The main purpose of a hybrid event is to engage a broader audience, provide flexibility, and enhance the overall event experience by offering a seamless blend of traditional face-to-face interactions and modern digital engagement.
Virtual vs Hybrid Events
Understanding different event formats is essential when trying to grasp the concept of a ’hybrid event’ because it allows event planners to appreciate the contrast and combination of in-person and virtual elements, leading to a better understanding of how hybrid events are delivered.
A virtual event is entirely online and participants attend remotely from their devices, such as computers or smartphones. It involves a digital event setup with interactive features like live streaming, webinars, virtual booths, and chat functionalities. The audience can be geographically diverse and will suit an event that’s targeting wider reach, knowledge sharing, networking or lead generation.
In 2021, ICC Belfast teamed up with international keynote speaker David Meade to host a six-part digital event series, The Virtual Delegate. Streamed live on LinkedIn and YouTube, the virtual event took a deep dive into how organisations can maximise virtual, hybrid and in-person events to engage their people and clients.
Meetings industry heavyweights based across three continents in destinations including New Zealand, UAE and Israel joined David virtually in Belfast to share their thoughts and to speak candidly about their industry successes, as well as the mistakes they had to make along the way to reach that point.
An internal hybrid event combines both in-person and virtual elements, specifically designed for an organisation's internal audience. It caters to employees, team members, stakeholders, or partners and aims to offer better communication, collaboration, training, or team building among a specific group. The in-person attendees may consist of employees present at a physical venue, while remote employees or stakeholders join virtually through online platforms. Internal hybrid events offer the flexibility to engage a diverse internal audience, whether they work on-site or remotely, promoting unity and a sense of belonging within the organisation.
Explore these example internal hybrid events that demonstrate the power of blending in-person and virtual meetings:
Training workshops - Conducting in-person training sessions while offering virtual attendance options for employees in other locations.
Team building events - Organising team building activities on-site and facilitating virtual participation for remote team members.
Town hall meetings - Hosting town hall sessions at the office and extending access to virtual attendees for questions and answers alongside feedback.
Product launch events - Introducing new products or services with an on-site launch event while streaming the event for remote employees.
External hybrid events
An external hybrid event is one that combines both in-person and virtual elements, catering to an external audience beyond an organisation's internal members. It allows external participants, such as clients, delegates, stakeholders, or industry professionals, to join either physically at a designated venue or remotely via virtual platforms, providing wider outreach and engagement opportunities.
Explore these example internal hybrid events that could enable your organisations to connect with global audiences, expand reach, and create impactful experiences that transcend geographical limitations:
Industry conferences - Hosting conferences that allow both physical attendance and virtual participation for attendees from other regions.
Trade shows - Organising trade shows where exhibitors and visitors can interact in person, while providing virtual access for those unable to attend in person.
Webinars and seminars - Conducting webinars and seminars that enable both on site and remote participation, attracting a diverse audience.
Networking events - Arranging networking events that combine in-person discussions with virtual meeting spaces for broader networking opportunities.
When To Host A Hybrid Event?
Hybrid events are particularly suitable for conferences that benefit from a blend of in-person and virtual experiences, catering to diverse audiences and offering enhanced engagement for attendees. They have emerged as a transformative approach to modern events, embracing the best of both worlds and opening up exciting opportunities to reach global audiences, enhance engagement, and offering inclusive experiences. According to leading global event agency, BCD Meetings & Events, offering hybrid solutions creates unique experiences for delegates because it provides them with “muti-faceted options” for interacting with content.
However, navigating technical complexities, ensuring seamless integration, and striking a balance between virtual and physical interactions require careful planning and execution.
Advantages of hybrid events
Hybrid events provide a versatile and inclusive platform that combines the best of both physical and virtual experiences, delivering numerous benefits to organisers, participants, and the environment.
Increased event attendance - Hybrid events allow participants to choose between attending in person or remotely, leading to higher overall attendance rates. This benefits event hosts by expanding their audience reach, attracting more attendees who might not have been able to join their physical event due to travel constraints or other reasons.
Higher engagement rates - With interactive virtual features like live Q&A, polls, and networking tools, hybrid events can boost engagement levels among both in-person and online audiences. This benefits event hosts by creating a more immersive and participatory experiences, increasing attendees' satisfaction and creating meaningful connections with the event content.
Environmental benefits - By reducing the need for extensive travel and physical resources, hybrid events have a smaller carbon footprint compared to traditional in-person events. Event hosts can take pride in their efforts to contribute to sustainability and environmental responsibility, aligning their brand with conscious practices.
Higher return on investment (RoI) - Hybrid events offer cost savings by accommodating both in-person and virtual attendees without the need for larger physical venues and additional logistical expenses. The wider audience reach and increased engagement also contribute to a higher return on investment for event hosts, providing a greater value proposition for exhibitors, and yielding potential leads and business opportunities.
Challenges of hybrid events
Hosts of a hybrid event must consider each important factor carefully to ensure a seamless and inclusive experience for both in-person and virtual attendees:
Synchronising online and in-person - Careful planning is essential to synchronise the event schedule and content delivery for both audience types. Event organisers should ensure that sessions, presentations, and interactive elements are well-timed and balanced, allowing both groups to participate fully.
Catering to different time zones – For international conferences, recognising the diverse time zones of virtual attendees is crucial for engagement. When scheduling sessions, hosts should try to accommodate different time zones and provide on-demand access to recorded content to accommodate those unable to attend live.
Ticketing strategies for different audiences - Hosts need to create ticketing strategies that cater to both in-person and virtual audiences. This could involve offering different ticket tiers, providing discounts for virtual attendees, and considering access levels based on ticket types.
Choosing the right venue and online platform - Selecting an appropriate physical venue that meets safety and accessibility requirements is crucial for in-person attendees. Additionally, the online platform for virtual participation should be user-friendly, reliable, and capable of supporting the event's interactive features and networking opportunities.
The team at ICC Belfast delivered its first fully hybrid large-scale event for the European Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (EABCT) in 2021 for their 50th anniversary Annual Congress.
150 remote presenters were able to share their research and insights in addition to those on-site, with simultaneous live sessions streamed from multiple spaces throughout the venue over the four event days. High-quality live streams were viewed by almost 1,500 remote delegates who were able to engage with the event the same way as those on-site using ICC Belfast’s hybrid delegate platform.
According to the 2023 C&IT State of the Industry survey, a significant number of event planners foresee the longevity of hybrid events, particularly amid an ongoing cost of living crisis. They believe that the hybrid format will persist as a preferred event model in the foreseeable future.
Planning a successful hybrid event in 2023 involves a comprehensive and well organised approach that caters to both in-person and virtual audiences. Unlike traditional ’in-person’ event planning, hybrid events require careful consideration of technical aspects, content delivery for both formats, synchronisation of schedules, and inclusive strategies for global delegates. This approach ensures a successful and engaging event that offers wider reach, higher flexibility, and a balance between physical interactions and modern digital engagement.
Check out our comprehensive event planning checklist which offers you a step-by-step guide to planning a successful event.
1. Establish goals and objectives
In the hybrid event planning process, the first step is to define clear and measurable goals as well as specific objectives for the event. This involves determining the overarching purpose of the event, what event organisers want to achieve, and the outcomes that are expected. Establishing these goals is crucial as it provides a solid foundation for decision-making and ensures that all aspects of the hybrid event are aligned with the intended outcomes. This step is especially important for hybrid events compared to regular in-person events because the integration of in-person and virtual components requires careful planning to engage both physical and online audiences effectively.
Example hybrid event goal:
At the STATSports hybrid product launch, event goals included launching a new software product, increasing brand awareness and attracting a global audience of potential customers and industry professionals.
Example hybrid event objectives from STATSports:
Increase online product demo views by 30% during the hybrid event, showcasing the software's features to virtual attendees.
Facilitate at least 500 virtual one-on-one meetings between the software development team and prospective clients to foster lead generation.
Generate a minimum of 200 social media mentions with the event hashtag to create buzz and expand brand reach during and after the hybrid event.
2. Set the budget
Hybrid event budgets can be calculated by considering various factors including technology expenses, production fees, marketing and other operational costs. It is crucial to consider the budget early in the process, especially for hybrid events, as they often require additional expenses for virtual platform subscriptions, live streaming equipment, internet connectivity, and technical support. By addressing the budget early on, event planners can make informed decisions, allocate resources effectively, and ensure a seamless hybrid experience that aligns with their goals and audience expectations.
Here are three practical tips to help you establish a comprehensive and realistic budget:
Differentiate in-person and virtual costs - Identify and separate the costs associated with the in-person and virtual aspects of the event. This will help you allocate resources effectively and understand the financial impact of each component. Consider factors such as venue expenses, audio-visual equipment, staffing for the physical event, as well as virtual platform subscriptions, live streaming equipment, and technical support for the online audience.
Plan for contingencies - Hybrid events can present unforeseen challenges, so it's crucial to allocate a portion of the budget for contingencies. Unforeseen technical issues, last-minute changes, or additional requirements may arise during the planning process. Having a contingency fund will ensure you can handle these situations without compromising the quality of the event.
Evaluate ticketing strategies -
Explore tiered ticketing options for both in-person and virtual attendees. Offering different ticket packages can help generate revenue and cater to varying budgets and attendee preferences.
If you are an event organiser seeking guidance on how to create an overall event budget why not check out our easy to follow, step-by-step process in developing a well-structured budget, along with a free event budget template.
In the hybrid event planning process it is important to consider audience personas, which are fictional representations of the different types of attendees expected at the event. Each persona embodies specific characteristics, preferences, and needs that help event organisers understand their diverse audience. These personas are crucial to consider when planning a hybrid event because they provide valuable insights into the expectations and engagement preferences of both in-person and virtual participants. Tailoring the event experience to cater to these personas ensures a more personalised and engaging event, leading to increased attendee satisfaction and successful outcomes.
Hybrid audiences should be split into two broad groups: in-person delegates and online delegates. In-person delegates include anyone who is physically present at the event venue, while online delegates will participate remotely through virtual platforms. It's important to note that each group may consist of multiple personas with varying interests, preferences, and backgrounds.
Example in-person audience profile:
Attendance motivation - In-person attendees are often motivated by the desire for face-to-face interactions, networking opportunities, and experiencing the event's physical atmosphere.
Commitment to travel - They are typically more committed to travel, willing to make arrangements to attend the event at the designated venue.
Lifestyle factors - In-person attendees might be more likely to have flexible schedules or be local to the event location, enabling them to participate on-site.
Time zones - Time zone considerations are less of a concern for this group since they are attending the event in the same geographical region as the event's time zone.
Example online audience profile:
Attendance motivation - Online attendees are driven by convenience, accessibility, and the ability to participate from any location with an internet connection.
Commitment to travel - They may prefer to avoid the logistical challenges and costs associated with travel, making virtual participation more appealing.
Lifestyle factors - Online attendees might have busy schedules, work obligations, or geographic constraints that make virtual attendance a more practical option.
Time zones - Time zone differences are a significant consideration for online attendees, as the event schedule must be accommodating to participants joining from various parts of the world.
4. Decide on a date
Event organisers must carefully select the hybrid event date, considering several key factors. Common considerations include the availability of key speakers and participants, industry-specific events, and the scheduling preferences of both in-person and online audiences. One significant advantage of hybrid events is the increased flexibility in choosing dates since the event can accommodate both in-person attendees' travel availability and the varying time zones of online participants. This flexibility allows event planners to optimise attendance and engagement, ensuring a more inclusive and convenient experience for all attendees.
5. Find a hybrid venue and online platform
Event organisers must carefully select a suitable in-person venue and an appropriate online hosting platform. These practical elements are essential to nail down simultaneously as they go hand in hand to ensure a cohesive and seamless event experience. The chosen in-person venue should have the necessary technology and infrastructure to support the virtual components, while the online hosting platform must complement the event's physical setup.
Outlined below are the top three things to look for in terms of the physical venue or an online platform.
Technology infrastructure - The in-person venue should have a robust technology infrastructure, including high-speed internet connectivity, audio-visual equipment, and reliable live streaming capabilities to support seamless virtual interactions.
Space flexibility - A versatile space that can accommodate both in-person attendees and any necessary virtual production setups is crucial. This includes designated areas for virtual presenters, production teams, and equipment.
Hybrid-friendly layout - A layout that promotes engagement and interaction among in-person attendees and includes areas for virtual attendees to connect virtually, fostering a cohesive experience between both audience groups.
Interactive features - The online hosting platform should offer interactive features like live chat, Q&A sessions, virtual networking lounges, and polling to facilitate engagement and participation for virtual attendees.
User-friendly interface - An intuitive and easy-to-navigate platform ensures virtual attendees can access event content and interact seamlessly without technical difficulties.
Scalability and reliability - The platform should be scalable to handle high attendee numbers and reliable to prevent downtime or disruptions during the event, ensuring a smooth virtual experience for all participants.
ICC Belfast is an award-winning, hybrid-by-design convention centre that combines cutting-edge technology with flexible spaces to deliver a seamless blend of in-person and virtual event experiences. Equipped with state-of-the-art technology infrastructure, our venue ensures smooth live streaming, engaging virtual interactions, and high-speed internet connectivity. Our hybrid-friendly layout caters to the needs of both in-person and virtual attendees, fostering meaningful connections and enhancing audience engagement.
Event organisers should focus on crafting a comprehensive programme that caters to both in-person and online audiences. Consider both audiences when organising the daily schedule to ensure that all participants have access to relevant content and interactive sessions. Overlapping schedules enable shared experiences, such as keynote presentations, panel discussions, or live entertainment, fostering a sense of unity and engagement between both groups.
Key program considerations for both online and in-person attendees:
Content delivery - Ensure a balanced mix of live presentations, on-demand content, and interactive elements to engage both in-person and online audiences effectively.
Synchronised programming - Offer simultaneous experiences for both groups, with overlapping sessions and shared events to create a cohesive and unified event atmosphere.
Accessible materials - Make event materials and resources available to both audiences, ensuring that virtual attendees can access presentation slides, handouts, and other relevant content.
Hybrid-friendly sessions - Design sessions that cater to both in-person and virtual attendees, enabling them to interact and collaborate seamlessly across different formats.
Flexibility and breaks - Allow sufficient breaks in the schedule to accommodate the needs of both groups, considering the potential for technical troubleshooting and to prevent attendee fatigue.
Inclusive social activities - Plan social activities that facilitate networking and relationship-building for both in-person and virtual attendees, enhancing the overall event experience.
Consistent event messaging - Ensure consistent messaging and branding throughout the event to maintain a cohesive experience for all participants, regardless of their attendance mode.
7. Promoting the hybrid event
Promotion is essential for all types of events as it raises awareness, attracts delegates, and communicates the event's value proposition. For hybrid events, promotion is important in highlighting the benefits of attending in-person and virtually, emphasising the flexibility and inclusivity of the event format. Marketing efforts need to target both in-person and online audiences, utilising various channels to engage a diverse range of participants and create a seamless and memorable event experience for all.
Leverage social media - Utilise various social media platforms to create engaging content, including event teasers, speaker highlights, and behind-the-scenes glimpses. Encourage attendees to share their excitement and experiences using event-specific hashtags to amplify reach.
Email marketing campaigns - Develop targeted email campaigns to reach potential attendees. Personalise the messages based on the audience's preferences, highlighting the benefits of attending both in-person and virtually, and provide clear calls-to-action for registration.
Virtual event platforms - Use the virtual event platform to promote the event to online participants. Set up a user-friendly event landing page, offer previews of the virtual experience, and provide access to event resources and materials to entice attendees.
Printed collateral - Distribute printed materials such as flyers, posters, and brochures at physical locations and industry events. Highlight the hybrid event's unique value proposition, and include QR codes or links to the event website for easy registration.
Networking events - Attend in-person networking events, trade shows, or conferences to build connections and promote the hybrid event to relevant industry professionals. Share event details during speaking engagements or networking opportunities to pique interest.
Media coverage - Reach out to industry-specific media outlets to secure coverage and feature articles about the upcoming hybrid event. Press releases can significantly increase event visibility and attract a diverse audience.
By combining these online and offline promotion strategies, event organisers can effectively reach a broader audience, engage potential attendees through different channels, and create a buzz around their hybrid event.
If you are looking for effective ways to promote your upcoming event, check out our event promotion guide which delves into the fundamental aspects of event promotion and explores the underlying principles and concepts that drive its success.
In the days leading up to the hybrid event, conducting a trial run becomes essential to avoid potential technical issues on the event day. A trial run provides a valuable opportunity to test the technology, equipment, and virtual platforms, ensuring they function smoothly and seamlessly. By simulating the event's flow and interactions, event organisers can identify and address any technical challenges or glitches in advance, minimising disruptions during the actual event. This step is crucial for delivering a flawless and professional experience for both in-person and online attendees, ultimately contributing to the overall success and satisfaction of the hybrid event.
Best practice hosting tips for hybrid events:
Assign two hosts - Assigning two hosts, one for the in-person audience and another for the online attendees, ensures that both groups feel equally engaged and included throughout the event. This dynamic duo can manage interactions, introduce speakers, and offer seamless communication between both audience types.
Ensure speakers engage with both audiences - Instruct speakers to acknowledge and address both in-person and virtual attendees during their presentations. Encourage them to use the virtual platform's interactive features to conduct live Q&A sessions and polls, ensuring active participation from both audiences.
Facilitate networking online and offline - Provide opportunities for networking and connection-building between both in-person and virtual participants. Virtual attendees can be integrated into networking sessions through virtual breakout rooms or dedicated virtual networking areas.
Incorporate interactive sessions - Include interactive elements throughout the event to encourage participation and create an immersive experience. Utilise live polls, quizzes, group discussions, and virtual team building activities to keep both online and in-person attendees engaged, making the event memorable and enjoyable for all.
9. Post event tasks including measuring success
Hybrid events are well-suited to measuring success due to the wealth of data generated from both in-person and virtual interactions. Event organisers can assess attendance rates, engagement levels, content popularity, and networking interactions for both audience types, gaining a comprehensive understanding of the event's impact. Leveraging these insights, event organisers can identify areas of improvement, assess ROI, and strategize for future hybrid events, ensuring continuous improvement and delivering exceptional experiences for all participants.
Measuring success online vs. in-Person
Analyse data sources - Analyse data from both virtual and in-person platforms, including attendance rates, engagement metrics, and session feedback, to assess the event's success for each audience group separately.
Assess goals and objectives - Evaluate whether the event achieved its predefined goals and objectives for both online and in-person audiences. This assessment will help determine if the event successfully met the needs and expectations of key stakeholders.
Gather testimonials - Collect testimonials from both online and in-person attendees to understand the impact of the event on their professional growth, networking opportunities, and overall experience.
Following up with feedback forms
Prompt delivery - Send feedback forms to both in-person and virtual attendees shortly after the event, maximising response rates and capturing thoughts while the event experience is fresh in attendee minds.
Tailor questions - Customise feedback forms to address specific aspects of both audiences’ experience, understanding the unique challenges and opportunities faced by both in-person and virtual participants.
Sharing event highlights
Create engaging content - Curate highlights of key moments, insightful sessions, and memorable networking interactions from both in-person and virtual aspects of the event to create engaging content.
Share content on various channels - Share event highlights on social media, event websites, and post-event newsletters, reaching both in-person and virtual attendees to relive the event's best moments and generate excitement for future conferences.
Hybrid Event Checklist
Discover the key steps to host a successful hybrid event in 2023 with ICC Belfast’s comprehensive hybrid event checklist. Download this printable resource to ensure you cover all aspects of planning, from setting goals and selecting the right venue to engaging both in-person and online audiences effectively.
I would have no reservations in recommending ICC Belfast to any other event organisers, the level of support and attention to detail we have seen with this venue and the team working within it has been truly phenomenal.”
Hosting Hybrid Events At ICC Belfast
Ready to take your event to the next level? Plan your next hybrid event with ICC Belfast and experience a seamless blend of in-person and virtual interactions, cutting-edge technology, and world-class service. Bringing your next hybrid event to ICC Belfast will unlock a world of possibilities including reaching a global audience, enhancing engagement, and creating impactful experiences.