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8 Best Practices For a Hybrid Industry Conference and Trade Show [via Social hour]

This post originally appeared on the Social hour blog.

Planning a hybrid event can be challenging for many teams, especially when blending the in-person and remote attendee experiences. Do any of these common hybrid events planning questions sound familiar to you?

  • Should a hybrid event prioritize the in-person audience or remote attendees? 
  • How can attendees of either type network and engage with the other? 
  • Will my exhibitors find value in a hybrid event?

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hosting an incredible hybrid event, we believe the best way to create a cohesive and engaging experience is to prioritize the virtual experience and craft a complementary in-person event that blends seamlessly with the virtual event platform. 

We know this may be a counter-intuitive approach—”but the in-person experience should always come first!”—and it is a tall order to fill. But the brands that experiment with and perfect virtual and hybrid experiences will be best set for success in the future of events and community engagement.

To help you plan your next hybrid event, we’ve gathered these best practices to ensure you create an outstanding attendee experience, regardless of how they choose to join. 

8 Ways To Improve The Hybrid Event Attendee Experience

As more teams experiment with their hybrid event strategies, we can use their learnings to improve our approaches based on what worked well (or not so well). 

After researching recent virtual and hybrid events like Surf Expo, Essence Festival of Culture, CXEnergy 2021 Virtual Conference, and countless others, here are eight ways you can build a seamless event experience for all of your hybrid event attendees:

Broadcast all sessions via live stream with a unified commentary feed. 

All of your event sessions will likely involve a mix of in-person and remote-based attendees unless you host exclusive experiences only for your in-person attendees. To present a cohesive session experience, broadcast all sessions via live stream to virtual attendees, and project a commentary feed alongside your stage that includes thoughts from all attendees, regardless of location. 

If streaming all the conference content live is not feasible, consider pre-recording all breakout sessions, and having the speaker host a watch party on-site, followed by live-streamed Q&A sessions.

Stream your in-person attendees alongside sessions. 

It may sound strange at first, but we recommend live-streaming your in-person audience alongside your sessions. Why? Because the full scope of your event and its energy is difficult to absorb through a presenter-only one-way stream. 

You can accomplish this best practice with a digital or hybrid event platform that supports multiple simultaneous streams. If possible, consider streaming your remote attendees on a screen to your in-person audience, too, so everyone can realize just how many people are at your event. 

Don’t forget lunch. 

Provide a few lunch options for your in-person and remote attendees and partner with a nationwide delivery app partner to deliver meals to your virtual attendees’ homes. In addition, create spaces during the lunch break so in-person and remote attendees can easily chat and connect. 

Enlist moderators and help them coordinate.

Assign separate moderators to oversee your virtual and in-person attendees during sessions. Gather questions from both groups through your dedicated event messaging platform or audience polls, and then aggregate these questions into a shared document with all moderators. Ideally, you will have at least one moderator gathering questions for both groups each session and an additional moderator solely focused on reviewing/blending the two sets of questions and presenting them to the session host or participants. 

Encourage attendees to pre-submit questions. 

The goal for any event is to host crowd-pleasing sessions. As soon as your attendees hear about your event schedule, they should be excited about the discussion and will likely start to think about their own questions or goals for each session. So why should they have to wait to start engaging? Enable attendees to submit questions through your trade show app ahead of time. 

In addition to getting the buzz started about your event, this will help moderators set initial questions for sessions, can help refine conference presentations (if attendee questions are provided to the speaker ahead of time), and could provide ongoing content opportunities for your team. If a session has many unanswered questions, consider hosting a webinar or publishing an e-book or a series of blog posts to address your attendee needs.

Swag bags for everyone. 

Prepare swag bags for your in-person attendees to pick up at registration and mail similar bags to all virtual attendees. Remember that your attendees want useful items that help them day-to-day or provide instant relief at the event. Most trade show attendees have amassed a seemingly endless stock of low-quality pens, stress balls, and other items that quickly are thrown into a drawer once the event is over. Instead, give them something on-brand that they will actually use, like a USB drive, portable charger, or mints. 

Replicate your trade show floor online. 

Once you have all your other technology in place to enable attendee’s engagement, you can consider building a 3D rendering of your exhibition hall that allows virtual attendees to see displays and setups. You can also spotlight sponsored booths for your attendees to visit and interact with, and use a remote platform that helps attendees easily talk to and swap contact info with exhibitors. Some events have gamified this experience, offering prizes and giveaways to attendees who visit booths, or hosting a scavenger hunt to encourage more booth engagement. Consider adding an online-only exhibitor row to accommodate past exhibitors under travel restrictions and encourage in-person attendees to participate in the online experience.

Widen your exhibitor net but stay local. 

Almost all event exhibitors (96%) indicated that their marketing budgets are decreasing or staying the same in 2021, despite needing to support both in-person and digital versions of many events. Event planners can work around this by conducting a thorough exhibitor search within a drivable distance from their event venue. Although some legacy exhibitors may drop out due to the inability to travel, eager exhibitors in the local area can fill those slots. 

Select The Best Event Technology For an Exceptional Hybrid Event Experience

The above best practices are just a handful of current considerations for hosting a successful hybrid event. Remember to survey your community to understand what they hope to gain from a hybrid event experience and use those findings to build the optimal event for your unique audience. 

A common thread through all of these best practices is that your chosen hybrid event platform can easily make or break the attendee experience. You need a platform that can seamlessly connect your remote and in-person attendees to make them feel like the stars of the show. Learn how Social hour can make this your hybrid event reality