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Event experience | 2 November 2021

Hybrid Event Trends Defining the Future of Event Experience

Rachel Rappaport

We’re looking back on 2021 to identify the major trends that will continue to define the future of hybrid event experiences.

Though we’ve all heard the word more than enough times, “hybrid” still carries a good amount of uncertainty. What exactly does it mean? What does it look like in practice? How are Event Experience Leaders implementing hybrid in their own strategies?

We set out to answer these questions through real-time feedback, proprietary data, and extensive research. Our team interviewed and surveyed hundreds of attendees and sat down with industry experts to establish the guidelines for creating market-leading hybrid events.

hybrid trends report

Let’s Start With the Question Everyone Is Asking: What Is a Hybrid Event?

Here’s Gartner’s 2021 Market Guide for Event Technology Platforms definition of hybrid:

“A single event experience that incorporates both in-person and virtual components. At least one group of face-to-face attendees digitally connects with participants in another or multiple locations, across unique, but similar experiences.”

At our Agents of Hybrid event, we dove even deeper into the makings of integrated experiences to define exactly what makes an event hybrid. A standard hybrid event consists of some combination of a venue and a virtual platform. This means there is a physical location for in-person attendees or video streaming as well as a virtual event stream for online attendees to watch. This standard formula makes up 90% of all hybrid events today.

There are three aspects that can make an event hybrid: a hybrid audience, hybrid speakers or sessions, and hybrid locations.

definitions of a hybrid audience, hybrid speakers or sessions, and hybrid locations

But that’s just scratching the surface of hybrid experiences. What we discovered is that hybrid is not a singular format nor a binary idea, it’s a spectrum.

Hybrid Is a Spectrum

The first myth to dispel is the notion that hybrid has to look a certain way (like 50% online attendees and 50% physical attendees). In fact, some hybrid formats don’t have any in-person participants, only in-person speakers filming from a live studio. Event Experience Leaders can free themselves from the confines of what they think hybrid is supposed to be, because there’s no one right answer.

“Hybrid means anything to everyone, no matter what organizers are trying to create, it’s what they want it to mean for themselves.” — Devin Cleary, VP Global Events, Bizzabo

The spectrum of hybrid ranges all the way from a completely in-person or completely online event all the way to a unified experience. It’s worth mentioning that an event where the entire audience is online or entirely in-person is not defined as a hybrid event; those would be classic virtual or in-person events.

Hybrid Event Spectrum

Hybrid truly begins with separate experiences, where two audiences are connected only by the content. With this format, there is no interaction between the in-person and virtual audience, and little engagement between the online attendees and the speakers or exhibitors. It’s really two different experiences.

The next variation of hybrid events forms a connection between both audiences, resulting in a more blended experience.

In-person attendees can connect digitally to the online audience and both groups are visible to each other to allow mixed interactions. Because both groups are more aware of each other’s presence, this model tends to have higher engagement and satisfaction.

For the most integrated format, a unified experience model connects people, not just audiences. Making engagement tools available for everyone and leveraging a presence for all attendees means virtual participants can efficiently engage with their in-person counterparts. This format results in the highest engagement and satisfaction for all your attendees.

“The goal in a unified hybrid event isn’t to create the same experience but to create the best experience for each audience.” — Oz Richter, Director of User Research, Bizzabo

Hybrid is a complex idea that creates a lot of opportunities to create truly unique and connected experiences. Where your event falls on the spectrum will depend on your unique goals, budget, resources, and the experience you’re really trying to create for your audience.

Hybrid Event Trends: Data-Driven Perspectives

78% of in-person attendees prefer to network with other in-person professionals

Hybrid Event Trends

Networking in-person is an effortless interaction, so it’s no surprise that attendees prefer this route. From grabbing coffee to chatting in the hallway between sessions, there are numerous natural ways to spark meaningful connections at the venue.

While in-person attendees may not be as interested in networking with the virtual audience, the latter group is very eager to connect with in-person attendees. Bizzabo’s Director of Research, Oz Richter, says that “this is a missed opportunity because these digital attendees could be just as relevant to speak with.”

To bridge this disconnect, event organizers will need to facilitate cross-audience networking and take advantage of event technology vendors and platforms that are helping the two audiences to connect. For example, rather than listening to keynotes and speakers all day, you can introduce activities like polls and leverage chat and Q&A features to encourage interaction.

The Majority of Both Online and In-person Attendees Prefer To Attend In-person

90% of in-person attendees would want to join in-person if they went to the experience again. Meanwhile, just over half (52%) of virtual attendees would prefer to attend in-person next time.

One factor behind these numbers might be that it’s their best option due to logistics or time and the alternative is missing the content. Another possibility is virtual attendees aren’t seeing the cost value in paying to attend in-person.

Hybrid event trends graph

This data is backed by the trends that industry experts see. “There is a positive trend that is going to happen next year,” says Marco Giberti, CEO and Founder of Vesuvio Ventures. “It’s face-to-face eagerness. Everyone wants to go back to in-person events because it’s human nature.”

Online and In-person Attendees Want To Learn Differently

In-person and online audiences both reported that learning was a big motivation for attending events. However, the way in which they want to learn varies quite a bit.

Participants who attend in-person are looking to be completely immersed in inspiration throughout the event. They don’t want to be bothered by daily disruptions in work nor in life. They’re looking to get out of Zoom and enjoy the full experience of in-person, including the way they learn.

Online guests are more interested in picking specific sessions they feel are relevant. They want to find a way to mix their digital event experience with their daily work and life schedule. Oftentimes online attendees report being unsure of Return on Event, so they are more likely to only tune in for content they find interesting.

Succeeding in a Hybrid World

Understanding what hybrid events are and the experiences virtual and in-person attendees want is the key to producing market-leading hybrid events. With this research and data, event organizers will be able to stay on top of these emerging trends to delight their attendees and confidently move forward into the hybrid era of events.

Download The Hybrid Event Trends Report: 2021