Setting expectations for your event, your planner and your attendees
Planning a hybrid conference, a combination of an in-person conference with a “virtual” online component, can be a lot of fun, but also demands clarity and expertise. It’s a lot like planning two different and yet thematically connected conferences at the same time. That’s why some organizations find hybrid conferences to be an exciting way to bring in broader audiences, while others are anxious about the near-unlimited options they suddenly have available to them.
But have no fear! Coterie Spark is here to help.
In our last blog, we discussed the Wild West moment our industry is currently navigating. In short, event expectations have changed dramatically (and understandably) with the advent of all-virtual conferences during COVID. Most of the rules you knew about event planning were tossed out the saloon window and trampled on by a stampede of paradigm-shifting planners.
Before diving into planning your hybrid conference, there are three tiers to consider. Each tier offers a different approach to balancing in-person and virtual events. Figuring out which tier is right for you will be important to coming in within the budget and ensuring that every attendee gets the most out of your events.
So, let’s round ‘em up! Which tier is best for you?
Tier 1: Full In-person AND Full Virtual
“Go big or go home” definitely applies here. Tier 1 is the grandest, most expensive iteration of your hybrid conference. The overlap between online and in-person attendees is the widest in Tier 1. That means you’re going to need on-site staff for in-person events, as well as on-call digital support to help attendees and speakers with virtual issues.
In Tier 1, virtual means more than live streaming. Be prepared to provide virtual attendees with the opportunity to participate in Q&As. Alternatively, you could ask speakers to present once live and once virtual. Virtual presentations can also be pre-recorded, but a live Q&A is still an option to give your virtual guests the same sense of importance as the in-person crowd. This applies to networking too. Making time for in-person and virtual attendees to connect can be a memorable way to forge relationships between guests who would never have crossed paths otherwise.
Tier 2: Full In-person and Scaled Back Virtual
Virtual and in-person attendees are still able to interact with one another in this model, but the opportunities to do so will be less. Your focus is more on packing the house at in-person events, while leaving room for others to attend when they can. We still recommend some level of digital support to avoid virtual hiccups, but on a much smaller scale than Tier 1.
With less invested in virtual, you’ll be able to spend more on talent. Take some extra time to find and hire the best speakers. You can also now offer elevated catering and dining options. Yum!
One interesting way to approach Tier 2 is to stagger your conferences, meaning in-person events happen first and then virtual later. If you’re able to get speakers to commit to multiple appearances, the word of mouth generated by a truly enlightening in-person discussion could lead to a new batch of registrations just in time for your online event.
Tier 3: Full In-person + Livestream-Only
The big theme here is, the tier level you choose mostly affects virtual offerings. Expectations for in-person should still be high in Tier 3. For virtual guests, however, your goal is to make them feel like they’re accessing something special without needing any bells and whistles.
Tier 3 is perfect if you expect guests who are emerging professionals or represent smaller companies. These folks have smaller budgets, making it critical to define the perks of in-person events and drive more traffic there. If networking is less important to certain attendees, you’ll want to pitch the advantages of saving money but gaining the same knowledge through virtual.
The virtual arm of your conference could consist solely of recordings of in-person discussions with accompanying worksheets. This high quality video library would also potentially serve as a second revenue stream that carries you all the way to next year’s conference, if not longer.
Even though expectations have changed among conference attendees, the key to successful event planning, especially for hybrid programming, fortunately remains the same. Whichever tier of hybrid conference you choose, remember to learn everything you can about your guests and set those conference planning goals early. Also, be sure to outline exactly what your attendees should expect from each of your conference offerings. It’s critical that they have all the facts, so they can decide on whether in-person or virtual are best for their situation and needs.