Conferences have been around for a long time: drawing people together with seminars, workshops, and opportunities to network and sell to one another. Recently, conference organizers have organized hybrid conferences, which utilize both in-person and virtual elements.
Attendees can come to the conference in person, or attend only the virtual segments of the event. They can even do both.
How did hybrid conferences become the current practice? And is it possible they will eventually fade in popularity?
Remote Work, Remote Conferences, and the New Normal
Industry conferences are hard to give up. Many companies rely on them for promotion, innovation, and education.
When the COVID-19 pandemic made it all but impossible for people to meet in person for a time, some conferences decided to proceed remotely. Even conference organizers who were reluctant to depend on virtual activities were compelled to consider them; and once in place, the organizers realized how much of an impact they could still make.
Once conditions began to return to normal, many conference developers chose to keep hosting events that were purely or largely virtual. Others resorted to the in-person model. But some recognized that hybrid gatherings offer advantages over both.
The Advantages of Hybrid Conferences
Below are some essential advantages that hybrid conferences can provide over other types of conferences:
· Maximum potential appeal. About 18 percent of Americans now work primarily from home. Many of them don’t wish to travel across the country for work, especially if it means having to be separated from their family for many days. But they still have an interest in attending a conference. Also, some workers thrive on in-person interactions, and they don’t like the idea of participating in an event that’s purely virtual. If you host a hybrid conference, you have the potential to appeal to both types.
· Convenience and accessibility. Hybrid events offer more convenience and accessibility. If you live in an area that’s relatively close to where the conference is held, you can identify an easy way to get there. If you have a computer and an Internet connection, you can attend the virtual side. Even if you attend the convention in person, you can catch some portions virtually in the case of scheduling conflicts that make it impossible for you to attend every event that interests you.
· Creative flexibility. If you have a creative mind, you can use hybrid events to create fundamentally new ways for people to interact. You might combine in-person seminars with social media and subsequent video chat follow-ups to create dynamic new events. There’s almost no limit to what you can devise if you work in a hybrid environment.
· International possibilities. Does your conference have a potentially international audience? Some people will be more than willing to cover international airfare and attend in person, but you’re apt to have much broader appeal if you host at least some parts of your event online.
· Better engagement. Generally, hybrid events offer routes to better engagement with your attendees. Instead of remaining only at the top of one’s mind during the hours of operation, people may continue to interact with your virtual elements 24/7 – and possibly in the days leading up to the event and the days that follow. Better engagement leads to better reviews, more recommendations, and ultimately future growth for your conference.
· More sponsorships. Conference sponsorships can subsidize your costs, and you’ll have more options for those if you operate with a hybrid model. In addition to displaying banners and other traditional ads in your in-person conference, you can capitalize on affiliate links and promotions in your virtual events.
· More data. Another great advantage of having both in-person and virtual components is that you’ll be able to gather data on your participants in two different areas. You can do a much better job of assessing not just what people are interacting with, but how they’re interacting with your programs. You’ll be able to figure more precisely how successful your event was, and get ideas for what to do in the future.
· Higher ROI. Event organizers have found that hybrid events create a path to higher return on investment (ROI). There are several reasons for this. First, virtual events tend to be less expensive than in-person events, so there’s a reduction in costs. Second, you can accommodate greater total numbers, which may increase your revenue. Third, because of these other advantages, your conference will have more potential to grow.
Will We Ever Go Back to In-Person Only?
Does this mean we’ll never revert to conferences that take place only in person? Individually, the likely answer is yes.
There are already conferences with few if any virtual or digital facets. But it’s also unlikely they’re going to become the norm again. Hybrid and virtual events simply have too much to offer.