Big Data

2021 will see the rise of hybrid events

Last year we saw many events turn virtual, but this year organizers will begin to offer more hybrid options for attendees, making them more accessible while allowing in-person networking opportunities.

Image: iStock/metamorworks

Trade shows, sporting events, concerts and other live events ground to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now that millions are vaccinated and companies are beginning to see light on the other side, new plans are underway to bring back events, including technology conferences and trade shows.

SEE: COVID Vaccination Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

“The events industry went through major changes in 2020,” said Alon Alroy, co-founder, CMO and CCO of Bizzabo, which provides a platform for in-person, virtual and hybrid events. “The shift to virtual events was the most notable takeaway from this past year, and it’s now clear that when in-person returns, virtual events will remain a component of event programs.”

Alroy said that according to his company’s recent Evolution of Events Report, 75% of organizers shifted their events to virtual in response to COVID-19. While some events were postponed or cancelled, the majority of event planners embraced the digital space. 

“It also became clear that both organizers and attendees are eager to resume some level of in-person events,” Alroy said. “After surveying 700 attendees, our research team noticed an increase in attendees failing to network and learn when it comes to virtual events. Looking at it from the organizers’ side, roughly 68% of event planners say their number one challenge in the virtual world is driving engagement and networking opportunities for their attendees.”

SEE: 2021 tech events, summits and conferences to add to your calendar (TechRepublic)

The ability to meet person to person over a cup of coffee or to share experiences in a room of 20 or 30 people, is lost on a video call. In fact, a significant number of workers found video calls exhausting after having to participate in them continuously throughout 2020. Jeremy N. Bailenson, a professor of communications and founder of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, cited four major reasons for video call exhaustion: excessive amounts of close-up eye gaze, cognitive load, increased self-evaluation from staring at video of oneself and constraints on physical mobility. 

With this in mind, marketers are now planning hybrid events in 2021, with the goal of converging in-person and virtual events.

What will a hybrid event model look like?

Most likely, a hybrid event will combine the broad reach and ability of virtual conferencing to link in distant experts and resources to a physical event like a trade show with its vendor booths, demos, lunches and in-person networking opportunities.

“For the events industry, 2020 was certainly a year of trial and error,” Alroy said. “We saw virtual events that enabled attendees to engage with content in their own ways, but there were still many aspects about in-person events that organizers and attendees missed—from the connections and face-to-face interactions to the excitement of grabbing your morning coffee.”

SEE: Top 5 video conferencing services to use with remote employees (TechRepublic)

This builds the case for hybrid events. It also pencils in an important role for video events in corporate IT’s big data strategy.

“The virtual aspect of events will look somewhat similar to virtual events we’ve seen this past year but there will be key differences,” Alroy said. “While event organizers will still leverage virtual event tools to stream keynotes and sessions and include interactive elements for the remote audience to engage, they will also create opportunities that cater specifically to both in-person and virtual attendees. That means creating unique in-person experiences for events attendees, including content that can be only accessed virtually, and merging opportunities for both in-person and virtual attendees to network and interact with each other and with event content. The key will be creating a unified, purposefully built experience for both virtual and in-person participants.” 

Are companies ready to do this?

This year will see a lot of trial and error, too, as companies sponsoring their own events will seek out the best combinations of physical and virtual activities, with marketing, IT and outside vendors working together to make it happen. 

“It’s an exciting time to be in this industry,” Alroy said. “I am truly excited to see how event planners and marketers continue to plan great experiences for their attendees. This is the time to redefine and disrupt professional events. … The only constant in life is change, and this is especially true in the agile world of events.”

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