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360° Key Takeaways Hybrid: Creating Experiences & Generating Profits

Posted on 10/29/2021

Session led by Nicole Nichols, Associate Director of Marketing & Events at The New York Academy of Medicine on the journey to profitability.

What is a hybrid event?

“I see hybrid events as an enhancement to live events,” says Nicole Nichols. “It is an experience. The core of an event is the experience that you are giving someone when they walk through the front door. You are inviting someone to take part in that experience with you. It is never just an event”. 

I see hybrid events as an enhancement to live events

– Nicole Nichols

Nichols likens hybrid events to grocery shopping. “Think about when you go to the grocery store. Are you just going to go to the local one, just one block away? Or will you get into your car and go to the big supermarket, where you know they will have everything? It’s that same experience when you go shopping for anything. Think about what it’s like when you step into that space. When you step into that space, it is about the opportunities. It’s not just about dollars and cents. Dollars will come when you speak to your audience and their needs, wants and expectations.”.

According to Nichols, at the center of hybrid events is the retention numbers and business leads. It’s about building a relationship and fostering that good relationship. 

We have seen in the events industry the peaks and valleys, and for now, it is plateauing, but hybrid is 100% a part of any events strategy.

8 Things to consider when planning a hybrid event

1. The playing field is saturated. 

Right now, it is all about the hybrid experience, so think about what is going to make you stand out from the rest? What are the touchpoints that will get you that result that you desire? Creativity and engagement are two critical touchpoints to consider.

2. What is the add-on value that your event will bring?

Approach hybrid event attendees from the same place that you approach potential sponsors or potential clients and ask yourself: what is that value add for them as you invite them into your space? What does that look like? Why would they or should they come on board? Remember, it is a journey that you are building out for them.

3. Find out what your partners’/sponsors’ expectations are.

Have open communication with your partners and sponsors and hear what their needs are. Find out what they are looking for. “Because if you can’t speak to their needs, then maybe I am not the one for you, and that’s okay. We’re not one size fits all,” says Nichols. “Think about how you can become a partner in their journey because we are all on this journey together.”

360° partners and sponsors

4. Hybrid is an add-on.

Think of hybrid as another tool in a toolkit of events. It falls under the umbrella of what we do in the events world. Due to the current climate of the last almost two years, technology has been elevated, introducing new opportunities.

5. Which metrics will measure the success of your hybrid event?

“When people see that you are listening to them and that they are a partner in what is being produced, that will bring profitability,” reiterates Nichols.

Think about what success will look like? 

How can you quantify the success of an event? What are those numbers? Are they dollars? Attendee numbers? Sponsorships? Reviews?

All of these conversations are part of that journey to profitability.

6. Your event is never really finished.

“I don’t think an event is ever finished because what you want is a longer shelflife,” says Nichols. “You want your event to live on past the initial date/time of the event, and that’s what hybrid brings. It extends the life of your event through on-demand and other offerings, like networking and speakers. It is an opportunity for people to engage at a level that they haven’t thought about. It is incumbent of us in the industry to open up to that. 

7. Resistance towards hybrid

“There is a missed opportunity if you don’t crack the door open to the mindset that this is the world that we are living in now,” explains Nichols. “There is a need that if you don’t answer, business-wise, strategically, you’re missing out.” Having these conversations out in the open and truthfully, if they are uncertain of hybrid, it is your duty to walk them through it. It’s part of your job as an event professional. 

8. Keep your clients/partners/sponsors up-to-date with the events industry.

As much as people may know their audience better than anyone, let them know what is happening in the industry. “They know their business, we know this business, and we need to speak that language,” remarks Nichols.

Hybrid FAQ

How do we profit from hybrid when you are creating two events?

Creating a hybrid event is creating two events in one. With the hybrid component, you should think, “how do I bring this person into my living room?” and “how do I make them feel included in this experience?” 

For the online attendees, you can send them something in the mail, like a snack pack during the networking sessions or one of the afternoon breaks. This is an example of creating an inclusive atmosphere that you build for them.

“For virtual audiences, you have seconds to capture someone’s attention… And seconds to lose it.”

– Nicole Nichols

“So, you have to optimize every second that you have with those attendees to engage them and keep them engaged.” 

You don’t want your virtual attendees to feel like an afterthought, like they are there, but they are really not there.

And when we are all so busy working from home, people are making time in their schedules to be in this space. 

Event prof tip: have your keynote speaker refer to the virtual audience by simply waving at them. That wave will go so far, and they will remember that.

What is the worst mistake you can make building a hybrid event?

“The worst mistake you can make is to not know the platform that you are utilizing, for both attendees – live and virtual. It’s the worst not to know how to direct attendees which way to go,” says Nichols.

Do you have suggestions for keeping your audience engaged online?

Acknowledge your virtual audience. That acknowledgment throughout the program will lend itself to a significant return at the end. 

In this climate, we’ve all attended our share of hybrid and online events. Some of them are fantastic, and with others, the attendees become disengaged because they don’t feel like their presence is recognized. “When we’re asking people to give their time to us, we have to capitalize on that time, and we have to add value to that time that they are giving us,” explains Nichols.

How do you measure ROI from the two separate fronts of online and in-person?

Nichols’s advice to measure ROI is with the number of clicks.

Take a look at:

  • What are your attendees clicking? 
  • What rooms are they going into? 
  • What breakouts are they interested in, if you have breakouts? 
  • What sessions are they attending? 
  • Are they checking out the vendors? 
  • Are they going to the networking sessions?
  • Where are they going? 

Event prof tip: You also have to ensure that the platform you’re using can provide that information for you. That’s key. 

What are the core challenges with a multi-hub hybrid event?

It takes a lot of hands for what event planners do on a regular day in a live event. Now, we’re talking about bringing two events together. That’s a lot. It would be best to have a strong team – your production, AV, tech team, someone handling the speakers. 

Hybrid events are the same as a live event but enhanced, so it’s almost like times ten, and there’s a lot of room for error if you’re not checking those boxes.

When producing these types of events, it’s also ensuring that the client has the tools they need. Something can always go wrong, and you have to know how to pivot and adapt in those situations.

What about safety protocols at hybrid events?

It’s critical to do your due diligence. Even with a hybrid event, your virtual attendees want to see that you are safe and have that at the forefront of your mind. A virtual attendee still wants to see that because if this event is so engaging, they might want to go to the live event next time.

We, now, need to consider people’s safety. We are out and about, and people are getting back to it, but we still have guidelines and restrictions that we still have to adhere to.

How do you choose a venue for a hybrid event?

The space and how it speaks to your brand are essential. Think about how the venue speaks to the message you’re trying to get across. You have traditional venues and modern venues, but how does that speak to your organization? How does that speak to the content that you are bringing into the space? 

Think about the technology in the space. Can we bring in technology? What technology already exists in this space? What are those enhancements that exist? Is the space flexible? Is the space adaptable to us doing different things?

What is the biggest challenge of organizing a hybrid event?

The biggest challenge is getting your stakeholders on board. To plan the event, we know how to do what we do, but getting stakeholders on board and explaining to them that this will be profitable, expand our reach and attract a bigger audience is complicated.

Try to explain that we will touch a new demographic we have never connected with at our live events before. We can get into this arena now that hybrid is here and let event professionals be strategic about it. 

Event prof tip: be intentional about what you are putting out there.

How can you bring networking – in person and virtual – together?

Features like InEvent’s networking roulette make it fun. Introduce a VIP experience exclusive to virtual attendees. Organize a virtual 1:1 with a speaker, where your attendee can choose a speaker of their choice. If they know that they are getting something unique, that speaks volumes. 

Event prof tip: Remember, fun engages people.

Networking roulette

How do you believe the future of hybrid events will be?

Hybrid isn’t going away. Just like, on the flip side, live events aren’t going away. 

Hybrid speaks to a group who need to be remote, who need that flexibility to do multiple things in a space and a time while being engaged, as we saw in the comments at 360°.

It’s up to event professionals to speak that language to our clients and explain that this is another avenue; it’s not a replacement.

– Nicole Nichols

Hybrid is an enhancement to the event umbrella that we’re sitting under.

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