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A New Way to Think About Hybrid Events

August 9, 2021
Don Neal

Any frequent reader of this blog knows that I have a firm POV that there is no such thing as a hybrid event. There are in-person events, digital events, and omnichannel events delivered on a platform over a duration of time (days, weeks, months, years).

Ok, so there are no hybrid events; now what? Let’s unpack what’s next by opening the aperture on this issue and answer the question I continue to hear that sounds like this: “What should we do now, given the uncertainly we face for our event in Q4 and into 2022?”

Let’s start by looking outside of the event space for a minute at three comparable examples. First, dating. Today, about 40 percent of relationships start online, 35 percent of marriages begin online, and divorce rates are lower for marriages that start online. Identifying someone compatible, vetting them in advance, and testing the waters before a first date seems to be working (see the connection to how your audiences could meet digitally before your next event and decide who they want to meet when they arrive). Digital introductions, connections, and community building are key jobs a digital event can accomplish.

Next let’s look at new movie releases. Do you prefer to go to the theater to watch a new film or to stay in the comfort of your own home? We each decide if a live movie at the theater is preferred (reclining seats, a big screen, popcorn, a shared experience, DolbyMax sound, and trailers of what’s to come). Yes, streaming cannibalizes some theater ticket sales, but many, many more people view the film when it’s available everywhere. The opening weekend of the new Marvel film Black Widow brought in $158 million in global box office sales and $60 million via Disney+ steaming. Give your audience a choice, and they will attend in larger numbers. Yes, the film is the same, and you will need to tailor the content, but it’s not as hard as you may think.

And finally, consider education, specifically online learning versus the campus experience. Khan Academy is an efficient, successful, and low-cost model delivering content and building comprehension at your own pace, and it’s free for users. Last year, more than 70 million people participated. This is digital learning at its finest. However, school systems and in-person learning environments blend and integrate the Khan Academy platform into their teaching model. A virtuous circle of interactive, blended, omnichannel teaching and learning. This model is perfect for any event that delivers education, certification, and accreditation in a fashion that takes the best of digital learning and combines it with a live, in-person “classroom” experience at your event. You don’t have to reinvent the model.

None of these examples are hybrid. There is no such thing as hybrid dating, movie viewing, or education. These are each examples of thoughtful, customer-focused options that are designed with intention, clear economic models, and integrated experiences that are viable equivalents for you to consider as you start planning your next event.

Most of you will need a digital delivery element for your event for the next several years, if not permanently. And you must have an in-person experience if you hope to maintain your dominance as the convener of your community. Humans need to be in physical proximity to one another to learn, build relationships, sell, buy, or advance their career or professional standing. This we know from Abraham Maslow: belonging is hardwired into our DNA.

So, where to from here? Decide that you are NOT doing a hybrid event but a contiguous blend of a digital experience designed like an interactive TV show meets Khan Academy meets game show with watchable content, programmed day-parts, and a high entertainment factor. And design your in-person event to be the best of what is possible when you don’t have to cram everything you used to into a multi-day event now that you have a digital event to do what it does best.

We have entered a new era that offers a “cake and eat it too” opportunity for organizations and leaders who embrace the future that is already on our doorstep.

If you want to learn more about how to do this, I can point you in the right direction. Here’s to the future!