Buzzword: Hybrid – Beware of the pitfalls

Buzzword: Hybrid – Beware of the pitfalls

Almost out of the Covid-19 cover, the next big question arises: What do we do now? And right on the coat tails of that question comes the answer: HYBRID meetings!

Hybrid meetings seem to be the holy grail of meetings and events these days where we all try to recover from an 18-month hibernation. And even though hybrid meeting might be a steppingstone to this recovery right now, you have to be aware of the pitfalls of this seemingly wonder method.

In this blog post, I will give you some pointers as to what to beware of when planning a hybrid meeting.

What is a hybrid event?

In short, a hybrid event is an event where you combine a group of people who are attending the event in person with a group of people attending the event online. The online group can either attend from each their location or gather in (smaller) groups remotely from where the event originates. If they meet in these remote groups and connect to the original event, we call it a multi-hub event.

Even though every event professional these days explain their event as hybrid, I mostly see in-person meetings being streamed for an online audience and then called hybrid. In my opinion, this is not really hybrid – this is streaming, and it is not the same a going hybrid.

I believe that for an event to be a REAL hybrid, you need to offer the same or equal opportunities to both your audiences, and usually that is not possible for just streaming an in-person event. More on that later in this post.

Choose the right event for a hybrid

As always, you shouldn’t have an event if you haven’t decided upon your objective for that event – but that is of course a given, so let us not dwell on that in this blog post.

However, the very next decision you need to make is: “Does my objective match the hybrid format?”. Because not all events are suited for the hybrid format. The more information you want to share, the better the hybrid format works for you. On the other hand, the more interaction you want between your attendees, the less it works.

In principle, it is not impossible to spark interaction between your in-person audience and the online ditto, but it has proven close to impossible in reality. If there is anything the pandemic has shown us, it is that we people crave the connection with others. And when we are in the same room we can hear, feel, smell the other people, which in turn demands our attention. When we are turning our attention to the people close to us, we cannot tend to the remote audience as well … we simply don’t ‘see’ them (who said: “Out of sight, out of mind”, right!).

Furthermore, let us be honest: Would you rather talk to, interact with and ‘feel’ the people in the same room as you or the people you only have a vague recollection of being there? I know what I would choose!

So, I have to say: If you want to design a workshop or other interactive event, don’t go for the hybrid format.

Create a fantastic hybrid event

If you really want to make your event a hybrid, you have to beware of the extra work that goes into designing, planning and executing it. Because it does require something extra from you as an event professional – you are basically having two events at the same time.

Here are three things to remember for a hybrid event:

  • The moderator has to attend to both the online and in-person audience, and that requires a quite experienced person. I have seen a lot of examples of moderators forgetting one of the two audiences and being overly attentive about the online audience is no better than forgetting them completely. Each audience should get equal attention, which is best done with two moderators: One for the in-person audience and one for the online. The same goes for the speakers, by the way.
  • Include a little something for the online audience when the in-person audience is taking their coffee break. As an online attendee, you don’t want to watch a room of people chatting and eating cake while you can only watch from behind your screen. Could you show an interesting video (not only commercials) or have an online networking session while the other audience eats cake?
  • Partner up with a platform that can actually handle a hybrid event. There are many great event tech companies out there who have specialized in making sure you can accommodate both and online and an offline audience. And remember that Q&A’s, comments etc. should be included from both audiences.
Don’t make these mistakes for your hybrid event

If you have decided to do a hybrid event, please don’t make these three mistakes:

  • Overall and first and foremost: Forgetting about the attendee experience for both audiences! If the moderator speaks only to one of the two audiences, it leaves the attendees with a bad experience. If the online audience cannot hear the questions being asked in the room because you have forgotten the microphone, it leaves the attendees with a bad experience. And if the in-person audience realizes that the online audience had a fantastic session with a celebrity while they were eating that infamous cake, it leaves the attendees with a bad experience.
  • Creating a hybrid event for your sake – because it seems to be what all the cool event kids are talking about these days – and not for the sake of your attendees. Does your target audience actually want a hybrid event? Or are they happy with a streaming of your in-person event … maybe even on-demand and not live?
  • Calling it a hybrid event!! The average attendee doesn’t know or care what we event professionals call it. Just remember to market your event as one collected experience with two possibilities of attending – and to explicitly describing that both audiences will get the same experience, or if not (which I definitely don’t recommend): what the difference is.
Definitely not a fan

I guess you can gather from this blog post that I am not a big fan of hybrid events. It is not that I dislike the concept just to be smart, but I have yet to see an example of an amazing hybrid event where both audiences were treated to an equally great experience. And it is not a simple as we make it out to be.

And what happened to ‘just’ having a webinar? Is it already so last year that we won’t be seen offering webinars anymore? Because let us be frank here: We might crave the human connection, but webinars have their own justification in the event landscape. Moreover, they treat their audience completely equal when all attendees are logging on from different offices, living rooms and coffee shops.

I see a big potential in multi-hub events, but that will be a little further down the road when we have proved that we can do hybrid in the form of 1 in-person audience connected with 1 online audience well. The possibility of having several smaller in-person audiences connect online for one event aligns well with the trend we see these days of having smaller events in general in order to rise again after Covid-19. But that is a topic for another blog post.

Final words of advice

To sum up: Hybrid events might be the means to an end post-pandemic, but it takes a lot of work and has a somewhat low success rate if you want to create a great attendee experience for both audiences. And my advice is: Do it right or not at all!

However, if you do it right, you will definitely set yourself apart from all the other hybrid opportunities out there.

Of course, I know that all beginnings are difficult and that our industry will probably get a lot better at this. I just believe that there is an air of relief, glitter, unicorns and rainbows over hybrid events that is not really true. But I look forward to being proven wrong!