What is the future of events? There is no question that the event landscape has changed. While in-person events will return, we will not see the attendance densities of the past. The pendulum will shift, of course, but not all the way back. Rather, the pendulum will stop in the middle, making hybrid events the new norm.
Hybrid events bring together in-person and virtual attendees. While takeaways and key learnings may be similar, hybrid strategies will need to redefine the ‘why.’ We need to dig deeper into attendee personas to create targeted marketing and customized programming that connects people with purpose. Business matters more when you connect and care. Let’s embrace this change and create content and engagement that builds stronger communities and business.
Redefine Event Success
The biggest mistake people make when pivoting events is that they spend most of their time planning the execution phase and not enough time designing the event. The design phase is necessary for addressing research and strategy. It’s also for defining success. More upfront research is required to understand online and in-person audience needs and the specific personas that represent these diverse audiences. Only then can we define program success and develop a strategy and experiences that engage in a way you would at an in-person event. Key takeaways, behavioral changes, and learnings may not differ between in-person and online attendees, but the experience and channel do.
If we connect and build engagement between on-site and online attendees, we will create experiences that bring together a community of people. That is what people want. Some will travel and others may not be willing to, but with the right content and network opportunities, they will all be willing to attend in their own way.
Any hybrid event also has the potential to increase attendance, diversify attendee personas, and expand global reach. More people can tune in at all hours of the day and throughout the year. The event can expand beyond traditional reach.
Therefore, redefining success is necessary as we look at the future of events. The ideal hybrid event of the future will engage both in-person and online attendees as if they were together in the same room. Knowing why we are producing an event, who our audience is, and how success is measured are keys to redefining success that will build communities, deliver content, and audience experience solutions.
Attendee Experience and the Future of Events
After redefining success, we must turn our focus to the audience experience. Content must be delivered in shorter sessions, be more engaging, and provide increased interactivity. The key to successful hybrid meetings will be in how online attendees engage and network with those attending in person.
With people online, it’s critical to map content to the “distracted audience.” There are all kinds of data that suggest the human attention span has shrunk from 12 seconds to 8. Additionally, a recent study by Prezi, conducted by Kelton Global and with 2,036 business executives responding, showed that 95% of business professionals multitask during meetings.
This study also showed that 59% of those professionals felt that they could provide their undivided attention if the content was engaging. What the data suggests is that attendee’s attention spans may not be shrinking but rather evolving to be more selective. The key, then, is to produce compelling content with strong narrative combined with stimulating visuals, dialogue, and interaction. Doing so may actually increase the audience member’s attention span.
Developing Content for Hybrid Events
Content in general needs to be “snackable.” Sessions must be shorter, punchier, and varied. Do not expect people to sit in sessions or in front of their computers for 90 minutes. Use a combination of:
- Live and recorded content
- Webinars with Q&As
- Polling and chat features
- Eucational programming
- Downloadable content
- Distance learning sessions
Just because your event might be online, do not forget about entertainment. As well, there is no reason why online audiences cannot share the in-person entertainment and networking sessions.
In-person attendees want the full-day sessions, but online attendees cannot digest all-day programming. Record everything and create on-demand material for virtual attendees. Keep the content available for an extended period to allow both in-person and online attendees to view at their leisure.
As we rethink success, planners must redefine their strategies, tactics, and measurement to address the needs of online and in-person attendees. Online attendees provide valuable data that is much harder to capture in person. Things like sessions attended, how long attendees stayed in a session, questions asked, downloaded materials, who they interacted with, chat comments, website clicks, and so much more provide valuable insights for marketing, sponsorship sales, and continuous improvement.
It’s Time for a New Event Plan As We Explore the Future of Events
Virtual and hybrid events are changing the way we produce conferences. We must rethink the customer journey and research the why, who, what, when, and how of building bridges. In the past, events would build bridges between a brand and a community. If content was relevant, the community was engaged. As we shift into a new world of in-person, virtual, and hybrid environments, event planners need to start thinking about how to redefine success and reset audience expectations to build more sophistication, personalization, and measurable activities. Only then can we build bridges between communities and create engaging content and experiences.