Amid the Hybrid Revolution, Confusion Muddles the Discussion

May 27, 2021
Amid the Hybrid Revolution, Confusion Muddles the Discussion

A large majority of events will have a blend of digital and in-person elements this year. Many event professionals expect this to be the case going forward. After that, there is a mix — or dare we say “hybrid?” — of opinions, confusion and certainty, according to a recent Swapcard survey studying hybrid events.

The biggest takeaway is that three-quarters of the 364 respondents say they are planning to have virtual components of their program, but 30% don’t know how to define hybrid events.

In part, that’s because there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to accommodating in-person attendees and remote audiences. The Events Industry Council boils a definition down to “a meeting that combines face-to-face and virtual aspects.”

That can mean keeping the attendees and experiences totally separate. Some planners are aiming to integrate the groups as much as possible. Then there is a middle ground, reliant on a planner’s instincts as to know when the audiences should share moments and when it makes sense to treat them as totally separate entities.

“Hybrid doesn’t have to be as complicated as you think!” said Barbara Moore, client relations account manager at Big Head Cartoon Caricature Art & Entertainment. “Approach the quality of your hybrid components from every angle — visualize every aspect of the experience and make each part great! Focus on easing the user experience — simplicity is key.”

That’s great advice, except what do you do if you are not certain what a hybrid event should look like? The Swapcard study noted such admissions of ignorance point to larger concerns, including the lack of understanding of the value of holding a split event, to say nothing of what potential pitfalls await them.

But for events large and small, new and established, technology-driven decisions are not going to put back in the box. Scott Craighead, vice president of exhibitions and events for IAEE, said Expo! Expo!, to be held in Philadelphia Dec. 7-9, will include a virtual piece to extend the event’s reach.

That will be the norm, Swapcard found. Close to 70% of planners are organizing hybrid events through the rest of the year. Nearly two-thirds of the 10,000 industry workers who attended Swapcard 2.0 in February go as far as to label themselves #Teamhybrid. Still, nearly 30% in the April study admit to being unconvinced the multi-pronged approach is here to stay.

In part, this could be that for all of the advantages of hybrid — overcoming low in-person crowds, lowering a carbon footprint and increasing profit potential — there are some challenges.

“Budget by far is the biggest challenge when going hybrid,” said Cindy Lo, CEO of the Austin, Texas-based RED VELVET. “Every company has a different risk-tolerance and that’s where we are right now with planning hybrid vs 100% digital events.”

It also should be noted a small minority of planners (5%) are going ahead with exclusively in-person events. But in the ever-evolving events industry, we may just be getting started with what’s next.

“Hybrid is the new virtual,” said Ivan Ferrari, senior director of telecom, media and technology at Informa Tech. “After a full year of virtual-only events and the fatigue that it generated, there is definitively more interest from our audiences when it comes to a hybrid framework.”


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