Welcome to our series on how to make hybrid events successful.

How to Make Hybrid Simple

Every day I am bombarded with emails about my hybrid strategy. How to do it. What equipment is needed. It’s hard and costly. It feels like the industry is collectively forcing us into a corner.

And here’s the secret – no one really wants hybrid.

Planners don’t want to manage two events at the same time. Organizations don’t want to expend the additional costs and resources to put on two events at the same time. And audiences don’t really want hybrid options.

Here’s what we’ve learned after 12 months, almost 100 interviews, and more than 10,000 hours of executing digital events:

People Consume Digital Events Differently

Even those with the best of intentions aren’t taking time away from their jobs or studies to attend an 8-hour day of content. At best, the truly dedicated loyalists are consuming four hours of content a day, max.

And the majority of people are picking and choosing the one-hour sessions they wish to attend and ignoring the rest.

Trust us, your audience does not want eight+ hours of livestreamed sessions over the course of a week. Digital events are not the same as live and we should stop pretending that they are.

We learned quickly at the start of this that you shouldn’t just take your in-person schedule and replicate it online for your virtual event. So why go backwards and try to do this with a hybrid model?

What your audience does want is flexibility in offerings and to be included in the audience. In an age of whenever/wherever access, I want to be able to see that rock star speaker and a few relevant sessions, and it doesn’t necessarily matter if it is live – what matters is I can easily find it and I can see it at a time that works for me.

That is why we have developed the Model for the New Era of Events, to help you create your new event design strategy.
Digital Events Do a Different Job than In-Person

There are things that digital does really well, like focused content, testing, and shopping; and there are things that in-person does really well like relationship building, pathcrossing, and hands-on demos or workshops.

Events should not be a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, where things are just mashed together to satisfy a quickly forgotten need.

The best events are a carefully crafted pre fixe menu, where the dishes have been selected to complement and enhance each other to create a lasting impression and experience that pulls the audience back again and again.

So, evaluate the jobs that your audience needs done, and then ensure you match your content delivery to those needs. Your digital audience is there for content, so serve up the content in a way that makes sense for them: easy to consume, in a way that’s comfortable for them. (See more on our 360 Live Media Digital Component Formula in our next section– or catch a sneak peek here).

Taking all of this into account, 360 Live Media has created the Model for the New Era of Events, based on five foundational concepts:
1. Digital components for whenever/wherever access
2. Audience-driven channel design
3. Focal point networking
4. Neighborhooding
5. Sponsor amplification

These five concepts are a simple framework that any organization can use to future-proof their events, while also serving as an easy-to-execute formula that simplifies your approach to digital extensions.

Catch a two-minute overview here.

Expand Your Event with the Digital Component Formula

It’s time to stop wasting time agonizing over how to do hybrid. It’s expensive, it’s complicated, and your audience doesn’t want it.  

Digital does a different job than in-person, it offers a different value proposition, and it carries with it different expectations. After 12 months, almost 100 interviews, and more than 10,000 hours of executing digital events, here is what we’ve learned:

  • Digital audiences pick one to two sessions from a broader live schedule.
  • Single track is preferred.
  • Shorter and more specific sessions do better.
  • The main value to consuming digital content live is the opportunity to connect with a speaker for Q&A.
  • Moment in time sessions, like plenaries or keynotes, need high production value to keep interest.
  • No one consumes more than four hours of content in a single day.
  • On demand access is like a gift.
  • There are expanded audiences who want to access your content in new ways.

We at 360 Live Media propose that instead of worrying about how to make the event hybrid, use the model for the New Era of Events and stick to the Digital Component Formula for the digital component of your event.

Let’s break it down.

  • Plan to have two rooms at your venue set to livestream content with proper audio, lighting, camera, and internet capability.

Room 1: General Session Room

  • The general session room is streamed out, the in-person audience experiences it as always, and the digital audience can watch and have an interactive chat with each other.
  • If taking questions, use a Q&A app that allows for questions to be sourced from in-person or digitally.
  • Work with your production team to add graphics, lower thirds, and interstitials to the content that is being streamed out. (Bonus, if you aren’t already doing this, it will immediately improve the in-person experience as well).
  • Be sure you are capturing the speaker from multiple camera angles and add screens or monitors to the room for your live audience in the back to enjoy the feed if their live view isn’t as great.
  • The session should be both livestreamed and recorded, and available on demand after the event.

Room 2: Single Track Live Studio Room

  • The Live Studio Room can be smaller and more controlled. There should be space for the professional production equipment and a small live audience around 25 people. (Bonus sponsorship or VIP opportunity).
  • Work with your production team to add graphics, lower thirds, and interstitials to the content that is being streamed out. The production team can also add commercials to the start of the session as people are filing into the room at the in-person venue.
  • Have a host for the room that can help ensure the digital audience stays engaged.
  • Ensure your speakers are trained for hybrid delivery.
  • This is one track, so how do you determine what goes in there? This is where the audience-driven channel design comes into play. Learn more about that in our next post or catch a sneak peek here.

Everything Else

  • Don’t worry about streaming anything outside of these two rooms. Instead, use a simple webcam / microphone setup, or use a recording tool like Camtasia to capture just the presentations with audio. These can then be posted as part of your on-demand library for whenever/wherever access.  
A Final Note: Production Matters

We were all very forgiving in 2020 as everyone did the best that they could to provide for our audiences. However, just like we no longer watch television in black and white, audiences have the expectation that their digital content is fully produced, in full living color.

Pay attention to your own personal response to the digital content you are consuming. The self-recorded, low audio, postage stamp speaker with eye charts for slides are even more disengaging online than they are in-person. You expect your in-person speakers to show up prepared for an onstage presentation, and you should expect no less from your digital speakers. “Onstage” means something different in the digital environment, and we have a ton of tips to offer here:

Of course, more production does mean more budget, which is another argument for being choosy about what is offered digitally. As a rule, 360 Live Media recommends that general session-level sessions should always be professionally produced and streamed, using an AV production partner.

That’s it! Just two rooms needed for your digital component.

In our next post, we will explore new ways of collecting and organizing content that will increase your organizational value to your audiences.

Want more? Listen in on our design session, where we unpack this concept here.    

Extend Your Reach with Audience-Driven Channel Design

What if events were designed for audiences, instead of for topics?

In today’s world, most events are topic driven. The event takes place at a certain place and time, and its focus is around a particular topic. Papers and speakers are sourced around that topic; slotted and scheduled; and then we sit back and hold our collective breath that someone shows up.

In many cases, we’ve lost the reason that we were holding the event in the first place. What was once something that was organized because it was relevant to a group of people to gather around is now just the thing that happens because it has always happened, and we are reliant on the revenue.

This moment in time presents an opportunity to step back, look at our events, and restructure them to make them more valuable to our current audiences and position them to attract new audiences.

How to do this? Design the events around the audience needs.

One benefit of digital events is the amount of data that is available. Like never before, we can see viewing patterns, trends, and details that can give us valuable information on how, and when, our audiences want to consume our events. And while this is great for showing ROI, it can be even better used to design forward and build the events around what the audiences want.

But we can take it a step further with channel design. Any event has about five to seven types of people that participate. By understanding the wants, needs, and motivations of these individual groups, you can create targeted sessions, webinars, events, articles, and organize them into channels to appeal to them.

And, in places where the audience wants and needs overlap, you can easily see the opportunity to bring people together in a larger way.

Let’s imagine you have five audiences, and you understand their motivations:

You could look at this chart and create a targeted event or channel that appeals directly to each individual audience. You could also see that there are areas of overlap in the motivations, and some adjacencies in the wants. Then, use the overlapping areas to design the next event, and in the areas where there is no cross, create individual offerings to keep the audience engaged beyond just attending the event.

By designing around audience motivations, and creating track-like channels at your events, instead of around topics, you create something that is more appealing and engaging. And by adding in additional channels outside of your events, like podcasts, articles, and webinars that are targeted to motivations, you create a new stickiness for your organization.

This isn’t a new concept; television has run this way for years. Shows are developed to attract specific demographics that are desirable to advertisers. And it is understanding the audience that makes this successful.  

How do you get started? The organizations with existing audience research will be the most successful. And this is more than your post-event survey, this is a true look at the behavioral and attitudinal motivations that drive your audience. This provides a rich look at the audiences, and the opportunity, that can drive your event design, and impact your overall organization.

In lieu of this, you can start by asking key questions in your registration about what people are looking for and what they hope to accomplish. Combining this with the data from your digital events will help to give you a jump start on designing the appropriate channels.

In our next post, we will look at the best ways to connect people with meaning and intention. Catch a sneak peek here!

Want more? Listen in on our design session, where we unpack this concept here.    

Creating Better Networking at Events Through Neighborhooding

Everyone is excited about the return to in-person events, and the opportunity to network again. It seems like everyone we talk to is treating this as a magical solution to the missed connections of 2020 – just get everyone back in the same room and the problem will solve itself.

What we’ve forgotten is that networking at in-person events is not that great.

In-person, it was mostly luck that allowed you to meet people. You happened to sit next to them at a general session or be put in a breakout with them during a workshop. You happened across them getting coffee in a hallway or stood next to them in a bar line. And yes, these moments of serendipity are important and one of the primary value propositions for the in-person event.

But we can do so much better.  

We can create intentional moments of opportunity for people to meet each other. We can design events in a way that purposefully host moments of collision, so that the right people meet each other at the right time, in the right way, to drive impact.

Neighborhood design is the practice of creating communities through intentional design. Neighborhoods can be built from multiple components, put together in ways that encourage pathcrossing, discovery, and a feeling of community and safety. This concept translates directly to events.

Imagine if we built events with the same level of intention. What if content was grouped not by individual topic, or where there happened to be an open room, but by macro challenge to be addressed? If your event venue has four halls, each hall could be dedicated to a particular challenge your industry is interested in, and now you’ve upped the opportunity for people from different sectors, who are interested in the same problems, to cross paths in the hallways. Now those highly valuable hallway conversations are happening with more frequency, and your event is taking on a new level of stickiness with your audience.

What if the exhibit hall was grouped not by who paid the most, or by products, but also by problems to be solved? Now the attendees have a renewed sense of discovery and can more easily find solutions that they didn’t even know they needed. And your vendors are primed for better conversations and can more easily target leads. If a particular vendor offers more than one solution, perhaps they will want to buy more than one booth in multiple neighborhoods.

This repositions the show floor as a place of solutions instead of swag. The exhibitors and sponsors are at the event because they offer ways to make the attendees better at their jobs. The attendee value proposition changes from browsing, to actively looking for things to make their lives easier, their careers stronger.

This improves the stickiness of the event. In just a few hours, your audience can accelerate their work for the next year by meeting everyone they know they need to meet, and easily discover things they didn’t even know they were looking for.

One thing we know about the New Era of Events is that audiences are going to be even more selective than previously about what they attend in-person. Travel and training budgets may never recover to pre-2020 levels and we already know that employers are questioning sending their people to events where a lot of the content can be obtained digitally. The in-person event needs to take on a new level of FOMO, a new stickiness. Those who simply go back to the receptions and exhibitor happy hours will fall behind the organizations who embrace this new model of connecting people with meaning and intention.  

In our next section, we will unpack how to make networking even more powerful and useful. Catch a sneak peek here!

Want more? Listen in on our design session, where we unpack this concept here.    

How to Create Next-Level Networking at Your Events

The magic of networking is when two or more people connect around a common interest or question. It goes beyond just being in the same place at the same time.

When there is a focal point, that is the moment that it switches from small talk to real networking, and a connection is born.

2020 showed us again and again that the most successful networking opportunities were small groups of people gathered around a focused topic or challenge. These moments were so strong that they couldn’t be contained by a screen. Zoom fatigue melted away and the time seemed to fly by as we worked with groups to develop white papers, solve puzzles, or just answer some simple icebreaker questions.

As we moved into this year, we noticed something interesting. Whenever there was an open-ended opportunity for gathering, people didn’t show up. Even when it was targeted to like-minded individuals who had things in common, only a handful of people would come to these sessions. Being our curious selves, we decided to experiment.

We found that when the leader of the small group sent out a personal message that detailed what the session was about and what would be accomplished, people were more likely to 1) show up, and 2) come back on a daily basis.  

When there was no information beyond the general category of the group, like Young Professionals, or Event Designers, a much smaller group was attracted, and those who did engage only came once.

It was a good reminder for us of how important it is to have intention in connection. And when we go back to in-person events, it is something that organizations need to double down on.

We regularly interview event attendees across different sectors as part of our event redesign work. And most of the people we’ve talked to this year have shared that they will be more selective about what events they attend in-person going forward. Budgets are reduced, approval is harder to get, and there is an impression that they can get a large part of the experience remotely. After all, that’s what last year showed us.

In order to continue to attract people to your events they must become indispensable and irresistible. People have to be there for their professional ambitions, and they want to be there for their personal sense of FOMO. The value proposition for your event has to be stronger than it ever has to survive and thrive.

Focal Point Networking is a great way to increase the stickiness and attractiveness of your event. It’s next-level networking.

More than just putting similar people in the same room together, it adds a layer of intentionality that help people find and feel the connections they have been craving. And when your event is the place that provides the best sense of community and belonging, your event becomes the one they can’t miss.

Focal Point Networking can take many forms:

  • Daily Aha Session – Come and share your best lightbulb moments from the day
  • Outcome Breakout – Work together to create a white paper or insight article that lives on beyond the events
  • Mixology Session – Don’t just stand in the bar line, learn how to make a signature drink
  • Escape Room / Scavenger Hunt – Work with new friends to solve a mystery or puzzle

And of course, there are many more options. The key is, as always, to understand your audiences wants and needs, and design for these.

Of all the event-related lessons that we take from the pandemic, we hope that we don’t lose this sense of connecting people in small groups. The idea of encountering a massive reception again without a focal point is not only unappealing, but it will also actually be harmful to the in-person event value proposition.

Those groups that understand their audiences - and create the focused opportunities to connect that they are looking for - will be the ones that are the most successful.

In our next section, we will explore what sponsorship looks like in the New Era of Events. Catch a sneak peek here!

Want more? Listen in on our design session, where we unpack this concept here.    

Increase Your Revenue with Sponsorship Amplification

Let’s face it, sponsors and exhibitors have been getting a raw deal at events for years. In general, they are separated from the overall event, off in their own hall, and largely treated like a checkbook to pay for the event, or a place for attendees to shop for swag. This was really exposed in the last year as the trade show failed to translate to online events.

Those attendees who know how to work an exhibit hall often find it to be one of the most valuable pieces of an event. Here, all in one place, is a cornucopia of solutions designed to make you better at your job. By simply walking down an aisle you can discover new products, new locations, courses, equipment, ingredients, research, and a whole host of things that you didn’t even know existed.

However, the show floor is largely not positioned this way for most events. Instead, it is either an afterthought for those not directly involved in purchasing, or a necessary evil for those who are, turning the floor into a minefield for them to navigate as they are attacked in all directions.

The pandemic showed how broken this model is, so why would we return to it?

Let’s use this opportunity to reinvent what sponsorship and exhibiting means to our events. It starts by looking at shopping. Essentially, that is what we are all doing on the show floor, shopping for new products. What does modern shopping entail? Discovery, deals, whenever/wherever access, reviews, and recommendations.

The attendee experience is greatly improved when sponsorship becomes an opportunity for them to discover products and services that make them better. When they don’t have to walk down aisles, reluctant to engage in small talk, but instead are pointed to solutions that matter directly to them. When they don’t have to wait for the floor to open to explore product offerings but can do some from their comfort of their couch. And, when there is an incentive for being there in-person like a show special or discount.

The sponsor experience is greatly improved when they know that their dollars are getting them valuable leads and data. And when the small guys can finally compete on a level playing field with the big guys because data-driven recommendations help them to surface to relevant leads.

The digital tools of 2020 should not just be put back on the shelf as we move to in-person but rather should be leveraged further to deliver an enhanced experience. Just like helping people connect makes your event stickier, having your event become the place where they easily find things they didn’t even know they were looking for increases the value of participating. And the special deals from being onsite can elevate the value proposition for being there in-person.  

Furthermore, creating a digital inventory can double, or even triple your sponsorship options, which can lead to increased revenue. Not everyone can afford to travel to the event and set up a booth, but it’s hard to turn down a spotlighted company page and increased brand reach. Now you have an answer for those companies who tell you they don’t have the budget to participate, and these tools also offer analytics to help you show them the ROI and lead to increase participation in the future.

Finally, when attendees see that the show floor goes beyond just collecting cheap pens and instead is a place of discovery meant to make them more successful, you will drive traffic to the booths. Add in neighborhooding with pop-up education and focal point networking, and now you have a highly valuable gathering place for all parties, as well as creating a can’t-miss opportunity for your event.  

Why does this New Era of Events matter? Because this might be our last chance.

This is it. This is our moonshot moment to take the crisis we were handed and become better from it. Events can shape our future. We can connect the right people in meaningful ways to generate the outcomes that will help to solve global challenges. As planners, we never wore one hat – we’ve always known that our jobs were larger than room sets and receptions. We’ve always held more power than we realized in being able to create moments of inspiration and connection.

From this past year, the one thing we at 360 Live Media really miss is that moment, when you are standing in the back of the room, looking out over a sea of people who are seated in a format you designed, captivated by a speaker that you booked, and you know they will leave the room transformed somehow, because of the pieces you put together. This is the time to take everything we knew before and combine it with everything we learned since December 2019 and build the New Era of Events together.

Want more? Listen in on our design session, where we unpack this concept here.