5 Theses on the Future of Hybrid and Digital Events
The event industry has changed fundamentally since the beginning of the pandemic. Events have become more accessible to all utilizing digital formats. As venues begin to reopen, hybrid concepts are becoming more and more commonplace. But what does “hybrid” mean when it comes to events? What is the future of events going to look like? Here, we share five different theses on the future of hybrid and digital events, based on our learnings from producing many of these kinds of events over the past few years.
1- Hybrid is more than just adding a livestream. (more value, no add-on)
One of the easiest ways to “go hybrid” involves livestreaming your in-person event for a remote audience. Many organizers used this strategy at the beginning of the pandemic to make their events more accessible. However, we recommend against this. An event should be an experience and one where your audience is engaged. When you have a livestream of your in-person event, your remote attendees will always be on the outside. Organizers should always ensure their event concept is designed for their participants. A single video link or live feed does not create a similar experience.
Audiences attending at home require event concepts tailored to a remote viewing experience. These may include shorter sessions, more interactivity, and importantly, the chance to utilize different types of technology (such as mobile phones or tablets). For example, if you want to share your in-person experience with at-home viewers, be sure to include different camera perspectives and angles to help enliven the viewing experience.
The hybrid event concept should be examined from the attendee’s experience in mind, whether they are participating in-person or remotely. Designing from this experience is most important. Our next thesis examines how we bring their experience together.
2- Digital platforms become the connector for all participants.
When it comes to bringing your in-person and remote attendees together– your event platform plays a critical role. If your event is entirely virtual, your event platform serves as your digital venue, facilitating all aspects of your attendee’s experience. In the example of a hybrid event, where your participants are split between remote attendees and those on-site, your event platform becomes the central place, or possibly “town square” that can orient and connect your participants.
Used in this way, you will want to ensure that the platform you choose provides value to both types of attendees. Use your platform to integrate networking and matchmaking tools, meeting requests, and engagement opportunities– these can include asking questions during sessions or taking part in surveys. A well-designed platform removes barriers to allow all participants, no matter their location, to take part in the same place. It is important for organizers to consider how the online platform can support your in-person attendees, and not be a distraction during the event. Some events, such as Web Summit, require the download of the event platform app as a condition for entry, and where all event information is communicated. No matter how you incorporate your event technology, be sure that whatever option you choose has meaningful ways to bring your attendees together.
3- Digital matchmaking is the biggest lever for lead generation.
What’s the most important reason why people come to conferences, congresses and trade fairs? To be connected with the right people! And with a digital platform, you can maximize the likelihood your attendees connect with exactly the right stakeholders. The right digital tools help increase efficiency when it comes to making those introductions, by facilitating meeting requests with ease. Everyone who has a digital profile on your platform can define exactly what they are looking for, so you can quickly identify who is the right individual to target.
Some tools incorporate AI matchmaking algorithms to further increase the efficiency of making connections. These smart technologies help identify who might be the right match for each attendee to target, and some make those connections automatically for your participants. This certainly does not exist at an in-person trade fair, where your connections may be limited to those participants who come up to your booth. Digital matchmaking is a game changer when it comes to building modern events, where the entire goal is to connect with just the right person. While some may argue that online events limit the amount of “serendipity” that attendees may experience, meeting one another for example in a coffee line or in an elevator, it should be considered another feature that only adds to your event. It does not replace chance encounters. It augments them– and makes them more likely. This brings us to our fourth thesis:
4- Event dates are decoupled in terms of time. (not just the 9-17 program)
Physical events have a clearly defined time frame, and there are only certain hours you can expect your participants to be active.
Digital events have largely eliminated the time restrictions for events, as well as creating times for opportunity before and after the times that many in-person events are active. Many trade fairs have considerably increased the ROI and sales numbers of their shows by opening up hybrid and online platforms before the show begins, finding that sales start to take place far in advance of the event. These digital venues become new marketplaces, creating a quiet place for prospective buyers and vendors to come together without the chaos surrounding a busy exhibition hall.
As a participant, one can begin setting up meetings and connections well in advance of the show. Attendees can build their event schedule around future availability, possibly joining in at a later time to accommodate for meetings. After the event, selected program content and results will be online, and can be made available long after the event is over.
In this way, individual events develop in the direction of communities that organizers can activate throughout the year.
And now our final thesis:
5- Digital events promote the elimination of intermediaries
This might be the most significant, and important change to the events industry through technology. These new platforms increase the accessibility of events to a wider spectrum of prospective organizers. We’ve seen this in other areas too, banking without a bank, and music releases without a record label, here the events industry is no different.
Digitalization means that mediators between suppliers and buyers are no longer necessary. There are fewer barriers than ever before for organizations to go directly to consumers. It means there’s no longer any time to wait until the trade show takes place on its regular calendar. By going directly to consumers, it gives suppliers greater choice than ever before. It shifts the power to the brands themselves. Events can be a great way for brands to connect directly with their stakeholders, exactly where they are.
This thesis may be controversial, as it creates a disruption in how the events industry has traditionally operated. But we see this change well underway. For brands, it is important to keep up and stay ahead of the competition.
Events and experiences are integral connectors between people and information. They’ve undergone considerable change, but with increased digitalization, are able to make an even more significant impact.
And if you have any questions– please feel free to reach out to me– here. I’d be more than happy to answer them.
PIRATEx Head of New Business