During the COVID-19 pandemic, many in-person events were forced to go virtual. And even now, as life begins to return to normal in some places, many organizers are keeping a virtual component to their events. Depending on their comfort level and availability, this allows attendees to either join the activities live at the venue or simply dial into the event online.

Often known as hybrid conferences, this combination of in-person and virtual events are predicted to continue to grow. According to recent research, more than a third (34%) of organizers forecast they’ll invest more in hybrid events in the next few years and 25% of the surveyed organizers plan to host 5-10 hybrid events annually.

But what do you need to know when organizing a hybrid conference? In this blog post, we’ll examine what constitutes a hybrid event, outline its advantages, and touch on tools and tips to help you get started.

What is a Hybrid Conference?

A hybrid conference combines the best of both worlds. It offers an in-person component, where attendees can network with one another and watch keynote speakers and panel discussions live at a venue. It also allows attendees to join for part or all of the conference online.

While all hybrid events include both in-person and virtual elements, not every conference is the same. For some, the virtual event follows all the same live events, where all the in-person networking and speaker sessions are mirrored online.

But for others, the structure of the virtual and in-person elements have key differences. For example, online attendees are able to view some of the live speaker sessions and panels and also have access to online-only breakout rooms for networking.

The Benefits of Hybrid Events

Because hybrid conferences combine the best parts of virtual events with more traditional, in-person events, it comes with unique advantages (such as increasing the accessibility of your conference content).

Hybrid events boast a variety of perks, including:

  • Easier compliance with COVID-related restrictions. Depending on your location, there may be restrictions on the number of people that can gather in person. For example, the City of Toronto only allows 25 people to congregate indoors and only 100 outdoors. But with a hybrid event, anyone beyond that in-person threshold can still attend virtually.
  • Engaging with a wider audience. As previously mentioned, hybrid conferences allow more people to attend, regardless of their location. And if you record keynotes and speaker sessions for attendees to view anytime, you can also engage with audiences across time zones. This flexibility allows you to connect with a broad audience who work in your industry or share common interests.
  • Repurposing conference content for ongoing learning. Your members and fans can continue to get value from the topics covered at your event long after it’s over. The majority of organizers (86%) continue to see a return on their investment in their hybrid event for seven months after it ended. You can extend your ROI by taking your content presented at your event and turning it into a valuable course in your learning management system.
  • Connecting in an innovative way. While traditional conferences are great, a hybrid event mixes things up. Hybrid conferences allow organizations to connect with their members in a unique way that also broadens their reach. For example, for 47% of organizers, it’s already become an innovative way to connect audiences dispersed across the globe.

3 Essential Tools for Organizing a Hybrid Conference

To plan, promote, and host a successful hybrid conference, you’ll need the right tools to help you get it all done. While there are plenty of event management solutions at your disposal, we recommend prioritizing the three tools that fall into these categories:

  1. Virtual event platform. First and foremost, you’ll need virtual event software that allows you to share your conference online. Choose a solution that not only makes it easy to set up and share a virtual event, but that’s also simple to use to create one-day or multi-day events and livestream your entire conference.
  2. Membership management software. Save time and additional hassle by inviting and registering your members right from your own membership management platform. You can also collect post-event feedback from attendees and review reports on the success of your event. Choose a tool that integrates with and/or includes both a virtual event platform and marketing software.

Marketing tools. A comprehensive marketing platform can help you create and deploy a holistic marketing strategy for your hybrid event. Email event reminders to registrants, share details of your event to your branded social channels, and include info about your event right on your association website.

10 Strategies for Planning a Successful Hybrid Conference

Because hybrid conferences combine the best parts of virtual events with more traditional, in-person events, it comes with unique advantages (such as increasing the accessibility of your conference content).

With the right tools in place, you’ll need some high-impact strategies to set you up for success. To help you, we’ve rounded up 10 tactical tips to help you execute an effective hybrid event from start to finish. 

1. Define your goals

When you begin to plan your hybrid conference, it’s helpful to set some objectives to guide your efforts and to keep you accountable. According to a recent study, 76% of people who wrote down goals and sent weekly progress reports to an accountability buddy met their objectives

First, it’s important to determine what success will look like for your event. Do you want to attract a specific number of attendees? Maybe you’d like to recruit 10 new members for your association from the event or establish your organization as an authority in your industry. Whatever the motivation, we recommend sitting down with your other event organizers to create a set of SMART goals around agreed success metrics.

2. Choose an event management platform

As you start the planning process, you’ll need to select and vet an event management platform to host and promote your hybrid conference. When choosing a platform, find software that allows you to register attendees, check them in on-site, and is designed with membership organizations in mind.

3. Identify your target audience and send personalized invitations

Once you’ve nailed down the details of your event (i.e., date, time, and venue), you’ll need to take the first steps to start inviting prospective attendees.

To start, identify the kind of people you want to invite. For example: Do you want established members of your association to attend? Or maybe you want to invite people who have attended past events you’ve hosted or work in a specific industry. Establish a profile of your ideal attendee that covers these kinds of characteristics.

Next, dive into your member CRM and segment out the people who match your profile. Take your list and create personalized invitations asking them to join you at your event either in-person, online, or both. In your email invite, include all your event details, a link to the virtual event, and follow-up with instructions on how to log on when it’s time.

4. Optimize both sides of the experience

It can be a challenge to ensure both online and in-person attendees have a similar experience at your event. For example, research showed that about two-thirds (67%) of organizers say that ensuring they have the right technology to create a smooth experience is a challenge. And another 71% said their biggest challenge was connecting in-person and virtual attendees with one another.

While there are plenty of obstacles that can arise while planning a hybrid event, there are a lot of ways to create a more seamless experience for all your attendees, such as:

  • Testing out all your software and equipment before the big day. 
  • Creating checklists so you have everything you need for both the in-person and virtual sides of your conference. 
  • Reaching out to other organizations that have hosted hybrid conferences and asking for tips and tricks. 

Ultimately, if you’re putting in equal care and consideration into both your in-person and virtual audience at your hybrid event, you will be on the right track.

5. Conduct a strategic marketing campaign

To ensure prospective attendees know all the details about how to participate, create a marketing strategy and targeted campaign for your hybrid event.

As part of your campaign, you can promote the details of your event, how to sign up, and all the benefits of attending by:

  • Sending emails to members and previous event attendees
  • Posting on your branded social channels
  • Sharing event details on your organization’s website
  • Including information in your regular newsletter
  • Getting speakers/prominent attendees to share details with their social networks

6. Encourage participation throughout the event

Sitting in speaker session after speaker session can cause any attendees’ eyes to glaze over. Don’t force attendees to sit for hours in uncomfortable chairs (or stare at a screen) without any breaks or further interaction.

To keep both online and in-person audiences engaged, mix in question-and-answer sessions, speaker panels that interact with the audiences, live polls, and breakout sessions.

7. Test run your event

To make sure you feel prepared for the big day, host a dry run of your hybrid conference. A few days before your event, get together with your organizers and walk through all aspects of both the virtual and in-person events, like trying to register online and logging in as a virtual attendee or testing the equipment you’ll need for the live portions of the event. 

Doing a test run this way can help you and your team identify any issues and tackle them before the big day—that way, you won’t be scrambling to correct any problems on the day of.

8. Equip your speakers with the right tools and resources

Don’t forget to set your speakers up for success! Whether they’re presenting to your live audience or engaging online with your virtual attendees, make sure they have everything they need for the day of the event. 

For live speakers, have a microphone, speakers, and a wireless presenter ready for them to change slides as they go. For virtual speakers, set them all with all the appropriate technology. Let them know how to log into the appropriate platform and interact with virtual attendees.

The more comfortable and prepared your speakers are, the better their presentations—and ultimately, that means your attendees will get more ROI out of your event.

9. Store conference content using your learning management system

Once your event is over, your conference content doesn’t have to stay stored in a digital archive. Instead, take those learnings and lessons and make them available beyond your event as ongoing education modules.

Compile all your event content and upload it into your learning management system. From there, you can make it available for free to your members or you can charge a fee to create a new revenue stream.

10. Follow up with event attendees

Your work isn’t done when your event is over. Once your hybrid conference is in the rearview mirror, host a post-mortem of your event. Review the successes and areas of improvement, and take this opportunity to follow up with attendees to get their feedback. You can then incorporate that feedback into future events.

Organizing a Hybrid Conference: Taking the Next Steps

Now that you know the ins and outs of what makes hybrid events unique and you’re equipped with some high-impact strategies, it’s time to move forward with your own hybrid conference.

Need some additional guidance to get you started? Learn more about planning association events with our roundup of important questions to ask your members.