For hybrid events and meetings to create unique and valuable experiences, they must focus on three things: shrinking the distance, building a 365 always-on community, and a mindset shift from a 2D world to a 360° one.
Hybrid seems to be trendy at the moment because, for many, the uncertain future of offline events and the ever-changing world of virtual everything is overwhelming; focusing on hybrid allows for overarching statements such as “the best of both worlds.”
The mistake most are making when they get excited about the hybrid future is to connect the worlds that existed before the shutdown—linking in-room offline attendees with the virtual audiences and the belief that content and the speakers can bring both worlds together, interacting as a group.
But let’s keep it real.
Zoom fatigue, boring webinars, and underwhelming pre-recorded virtual events is what we’ve been living with for the last nine months. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise as we’ve undervalued the virtual experience for the previous ten years, and we believed we could repurpose what we did offline. It would be magical and unique online.
The hard truth is that the event and meeting world will never go back to the way of the old.
The attendees of the future have witnessed the good, bad, and ugly of a virtual experience, while many are discovering how to supplement what they thought was only available offline conferences and meetings.
Disconnect and false hope migrating online
As I learned in my days in cybersecurity, then in cloud computing, and most recently with social media marketing, there’s a massive disconnect and false hope that happens when migrating online.
This disconnect starts with the notion that “more is better” as we can reach more people and gather more data, leading to more experiences and, ultimately, more revenue.
The false hope begins with the idea of going online means it cheaper, and we get more thanks to reduced travel, less overhead, and minimization of risk.
This might sound like doom and gloom, but the good news is that we can learn from those past offline to online experiences while also managing our expectations.
Remembering this pandemic has forced a change to virtual and is unlike anything we could have ever prepared for, and the future will be unlike anything we’ve experienced before.
So, where do we start?
- First, we must re-invent, not repurpose, every aspect of both virtual and in-person experiences.
- Second, we must move from believing this is a pivot to embracing that this is a time of creative innovation where we will shape the future.
- Lastly, we must focus less on the technology and limitations involved in creating a hybrid approach and more on what problems we can solve and new solutions we can make with a 360° experience.
1. Shrinking the distance: re-invent vs repurpose
As with cloud computing and digital marketing, the idea of more possibilities, thanks to online, will inadvertently lead to making decisions that make our interactions feel less human, increase the difficulty in building trust with our new audience, and ultimately weaken our connection with the existing audience we’ve worked so hard make.
Although many of these trends have already begun in 2020, I believe shrinking the distance must be our focus and top priority.
To do so, we must redesign our hybrid strategy to create a centralized mobile-first hub that the hybrid attendee experience, connecting the online virtual world to the offline in-person experience.
That centralized home will exist within a mobile-first experience that will shrink the distance created both virtually and in-person.
This will give the online audience the ability to bring what they do online to offline experiences while also enhancing virtual events, allowing for more robust notifications, chat, and content management.
The mobile-first hub will also shrink the distance created with offline events, which often feels disconnected from online, besides maybe an event hashtag on Twitter. The mobile hub will empower offline events to develop more in-depth data drive strategies such as session prerequisites and community meetups.
2. Building a 365 always-on community: virtual is here to stay
For the past ten years, when someone mentioned the need for an event to have a community, the simple solution, or what I believe was a band-aid, was to create a Facebook group or website forum and call it a community.
It prioritized the months leading up to the event, the days of the event, and then until the event surveys were submitted. The rest of the time, it became a random dumping ground for event marketing and networking spam from attendees.
Yes, communities can and do live within Facebook groups and website forums, but for these communities to be a success and indeed be 365 always-on, they must be empowered to grow rather than build.
We must build event communities centered around the attendees’ shared passions and the common purpose that are focused on providing value and engagement 365 days of the year.
Ultimately if the community is designed to grow and has proper investment, not only will it be the key to the success of hybrid events, but it will be the glue and the lifeline that allows for future pivots and unforeseen changes that happen in the future.
3. The mindset shift from 2D to 360°: leave offline limitations offline
There are several reasons virtual events, webinars, and online meetings haven’t replaced offline events, conferences, and meetings over the past ten years. The main reasons are the lack of time and resources from all parties, from production to planning to platforms to speaker presentations.
These reasons created a very low baseline of expectations when it came to virtual events and stifled any innovation or dedicated redesign of what was possible virtually. If anything good comes out of COVID-19 it’s that it forced us to invest the time and resources in what was possible virtually.
Over the last couple of months, with each failed virtual event, we’ve been forced to look at how we can reinvent virtually and open an entirely new world of innovation.
All of this is great but is only transformational for hybrid events if we are willing to not limit that re-invention to virtual by looking at every aspect of an offline meeting and event.
This starts with asking ourselves important questions such as:
- Why does this concept exist, is it needed, and if so, how can we reinvent it?
- How can we leverage new technology not only to create new experiences but to simplify existing processes?
- What role does educating our audience and managing expectations play in the success of our hybrid event, and how can we do that bigger and better?
- What role can speakers and emcee’s play that goes beyond the stage?
- Do we need projection screens, or can we leverage digital overlays and immersive stage design to go beyond PowerPoint?
I do believe hybrid events are the future in the short term and the long term.
But to avoid the mistakes of other industries, we must manage expectations, focus on redesigning over repurposing and prevent the band-aid ideas of “more is better” and the concept of “best of both worlds” from driving us to merely bridging a gap.
Together we can build a successful hybrid future by focusing on a centralized hub that’s community-focused, that’s driven to innovate and create new experiences that leverage the 360° world around us!
Brian Fanzo, Digital Futurist, iSocialFanz is just one of many talented speakers taking part in PlanetIMEX, the October Edition on 12-16 October.
This education session was sponsored by Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, part of PlanetIMEX, the October edition.