No more hybrid event excuses - your next event can be hybrid, and it isn't hard

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed September 9, 2022 Audio mode
Summary:
Hybrid events aren't that hard - but they are misunderstood. There is still time to add a hybrid component to your next event. Here's a framework to consider, and an argument for how hybrid events fit into a new, community-driven strategy.

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I'll concede it: my last hybrid event post was scorching - Tech events at a crossroads - go hybrid and include people, or go on-the-ground and exclude them.

But now, it's time to get practical. Event planners are too intimidated by hybrid events. Yes, a full-on hybrid event is an ambitious undertaking. But:

  • You can build up to ambitious hybrid events, starting smaller.
  • There is time to add a hybrid element to your next event.

And:

  • We've learned enough to know the big mistakes to avoid (more on those in a sec).

Why do event planners avoid hybrid? Because they have the wrong framework. A hybrid event mindset does not require adding another massive layer of logistics to your biggest event of the year. A hybrid event mindset means flipping the script: events don't drive community. Now, community drives events. Our job is to cultivate a year-round community around your solutions - a community that informs our customer success initiatives, and inspires developers and business users alike. Community has also shifted - it's now fused with learning content, structured around the "skills journeys" of your key community members. Events plug right into that model - but they don't drive it.

Yes, you might still have a large annual event - but attendance may not be what it was. Those large annual events were often followed by one large exhale. Then we returned to work, and lost the momentum. Keeping that thread going throughout the year - via regional peer groups/events and imaginative online events - is what it's about now.

A three part hybrid event framework

But what about large-scale events this year? Some vendors have canceled theirs; many others are proceeding. A winning hybrid structure for large-scale events is emerging:

1. On-the-ground component - proceeds as it always has, except no more three-hour keynotes. Don't make those who endure the tribulations of "air travel" sit on their behinds for three hours. On-the-ground events need re-invention also, but that's for another time.

2. Streaming keynotes - this should never require a login to view. The goal with the streaming keynotes are: expand your reach, and never have technical malfunctions. Open/public keynotes accomplish both (example: you can have a backup stream running on Twitch, Twitter, and/or YouTube).

3. VIP hybrid track - you can require sign up, and perhaps even charge for this. Ideally, this VIP track is for those who want to interact with peers, product executives and developer advocates. If you're just getting started with hybrid, the interaction may be more limited, but might also include access to recordings you can't get otherwise, etc.

Refining the hybrid event structure

About this three part structure:

  • Software vendors should not hide the virtual registration option in a valiant attempt to compel in-person registration. Make the options clearly available. There aren't fence-sitters regarding events. Some really want to be at your event, some don't (Currently, Microsoft Engage does a good job of allowing whatever registration you want).
  • Following on the community-drives-event guideline, registering for the event should start by populating fields with your existing community profile - or creating a community profile. Community members should not have to fill out an event registration from scratch, or worse yet, create a new login (ugh!).
  • Notice I did not say you can't ask for registration to view the keynote. You can certainly ask - but as the event gets close, make clear the keynote will be streaming publicly. If you can't get people to sign up for your hybrid offering for reasons other than the keynote, your hybrid offering isn't good enough. Public keynotes add to the tone of radical inclusion, and avoid all the log-in-protected streaming problems that have marred too many events.
  • Some marketing team members might howl about not requiring registration for keynotes, but lead gen and keynote interest are not well aligned. Plenty who watch your keynote will never buy from you. Purging those contacts from your database is a waste of time. A VIP hybrid event offering, whether free registrations or paid, is a much better lead gen tactic, lining up with those who truly want to engage. (And yes, you can charge for a quality hybrid experience). Bonus: no more tears watching your registration-wall keynote stream crash.
  • The VIP hybrid event structure gives you something to build on. You might start by just streaming one stage, one room, or one track, and add to that from show to show. The big perk is the interactions between online peers, product leads and speakers (and, perhaps, taking some of their questions during live Q/As).
  • The VIP event structure also addresses what I call the online participation paradox. Bottom line: only a smaller group wants to interact online at this point. More will join, once they learn your events are truly interactive and not passive streams, but not everyone wants that kind of engagement.

However, for some, it is invaluable. Clive Boulton, one of my smartest enterprise sounding boards, put it to me this way:

I'd like 3) VIP hybrid with interactions, because developing applications, you need insight into platform direction. That's very hard to gain without interactions.

My take

Want more tips? My past articles on this topic loaded readers up with hybrid event tips and tactics. It's worth noting my views on "hybrid" for smaller events have shifted. For smaller events, such as a VIP customer or analyst gathering, it's better to do an entirely separate virtual event for those who can't attend, rather than an awkward - and logistically complicated - combination.

But large-scale events are different. Why? Because large-scale events have that "you missed out!" factor. That's not pleasant for those who dearly wanted to be at your event - but couldn't be. As I wrote last time:

Event planners were doing something they never intended: they weren't just excluding people who couldn't make it.

  • They were creating tiers of privileged access.
  • They were creating tiers of experience quality.

Those tiers were not even based on a calculated value of the individual from a "customer success" perspective. Instead, they were based on who was healthy enough, able enough, and willing to be on the ground again. The tiers were based on the inflexible standard of geographical proximity - even though international travel remains a Vaccine Economy beast, and a legit reason for staying home.

I should have included domestic travel on that list. It seems like event planners don't want to accept how difficult air travel has become - or why that should be taken into account for session timing, event arrivals, and early-arrival hotel block discounts.

I get the sense event planners just want to focus on the joy of "being back together again" after a couple years apart. I get that - and it is a joy. But that joy can be experienced while also extending the reach of your events, using hybrid tactics that work.

And you don't have to do it alone. Recently, I was approached by Christiaan van Duren, CEO & Founder at Dexper. Van Duren describes Dexper as:

During our spirited message thread, I tried to poke holes in van Duren's approach. He didn't waver. I have no financial ties to Dexper, and have never used them. But with experienced options like Dexper out there, why not take a chance on hybrid event ambitions?

I keep this stump speech going for one driving reason: I believe the power of virtual event technology to bring people together - and foster radical inclusion - has been sorely underestimated. Event planners who figure this out can energize their communities - and deepen their opt-in audiences. Yes, that ties into lovely ROI things like lead gen and upselling. Van Duren also has some hybrid event religion. As he told me:

One of the things that I really liked when we did a huge tech event for one of our clients: we were able to allow users from all over the world to participate in sessions that helped them in their professional careers.

DevOps professionals in countries like Ghana and Bangladesh, who would never have received a budget to participate in these events in real life because they had to fly to San Fransisco to participate. And once we gave them a podium through one of our platform's features (a way to setup your own poster sessions and invite your audience) they took the opportunity with both hands. That felt so amazing.

Love it - let's seize this chance.

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