As we put the pieces of our event programs back together for 2022, I have an image in my head of the Japanese art of Kintsugi. This ancient tradition takes pieces of broken ceramics and mends them using a gold adhesive, not to make the piece look like it was never broken, but to honor the rebuilding and the beautiful rejoining.
That’s how I feel about the next iteration of the event industry. We used to be pretty darn good, collectively. For the most part, we created great events. Well-produced keynotes and livestreams of them. A variety of breakout sessions to share knowledge and product information with those who needed it. Fun and memorable evening events where we could selfie the night away, producing loads of FOMO in our social media feeds. Webinars for demand gen and education. On demand recordings post-event for those who missed a session or couldn’t attend in person. We were doing all the right things, and while it had gotten formulaic at times, we nevertheless put our heart and soul into making each conference, each field event, and each virtual event drive meaningful connections with our brands and among our participants.
Then it all broke.
We took the pieces and made the best of it, learning to love our virtual event platforms, spawning a new one almost every week for the last year. We experimented with new formats and new technologies. We invented virtual adventures to use the screen as a portal, not a boundary, and lessen Zoom fatigue. We mailed experience kits and thank you gifts and worked at ungodly hours to accommodate global time zones, sometimes repeating the exact same experience four or five times so every region got a chance to experience the energy of LIVE.
And now we’re looking at the pieces and trying to rebuild the bowl.
Some of us are viewing hybrid like it’s a new thing that never existed before March of 2020 (and for some of us, that’s true – our events never had a hybrid or virtual component to them!). Some of us are laughing because we used to do hybrid long before hybrid was cool, so this is just a chance to glue the bowl back together and do what we always did. But for those of us who are changed. Those of us who just can’t handle going back to the way it used to be. Those of us who long to move forward, not backward. Well, we want the gold. We want the past year to not be forgotten, but to be used as a catalyst for change to springboard us into the future.
So what will this new bowl look like?
This new blended experience is not promised to all attendees. That’s right: you do NOT have to make your event hybrid. And since “hybrid” is a word with many meanings, there are many ways to include digital elements to have a hybrid effect.
Here are my Top Ten Ways to Think About Hybrid.
1. You can make the decision to focus on the in-person audience and leave it at that. Yes, this is a legitimate approach! Believe it or not, you do NOT have to livestream or record your content.
2. You can leverage social media as your broadcast channel. From Facebook Lives to IGTV, leveraging social channels that your customers already follow with a roving-reporter-style engagement or even a livestream of the keynote, this might be the perfect way to bring the in-person experience and content to your at-home viewers without a full production team.
3. You can create (or hire) a news desk-style broadcast channel to supplement in-person content and bring it to a digital audience. Gartner Summit has opted for this approach in Orlando in October. They will focus on the in-person event and not drive a digital audience during the course of the program, with the exception of having The Cube (a technology-focused talk show) onsite to bring interviews and commentary to their industry followers.
4. You can livestream only the main sessions. One production setup. One internet pipe. One consistent production team. This is a financially accessible way to share the main content elements with a digital audience and keep them engaged in short bursts throughout your conference, without having to invest in a complicated virtual event platform and additional staff resources to support the digital experience.
5. You can record everything in advance and share it with a virtual audience. Let’s face it: your presenters are probably going to need to rehearse what it’s like to be on again anyway, so just record it! Have them use their rehearsal as your opportunity to capture their content and get it loaded into your virtual event platform for the digital audience.
6. You can record everything and share it digitally post-event. During the event, if you don’t want to invest in the internet enhancement, just record the main sessions (and any other sessions worth recording) and package them up for your digital audience. The bonus of this approach is that you can launch the digital event to the participants who were onsite to catch any sessions they may have missed, allowing them to also connect with any digital participants.
7. You can run two concurrent, but separate, events (one in-person and one virtual). If you double up your event resources, you can run two separate events. One team focuses on the in-person experience and the participants who are live onsite, while the other runs and manages the event for your digital audience. Topics may be similar, but speakers are different, and these two events only overlap on social media.
8. You can fully integrate everything and allow your in-person participants to connect with your digital participants during the event. The most time-consuming, costly, and overall resource-intensive option is to create a completely integrated hybrid event. Through the use of a virtual event platform and onsite livestreaming, you can share live content with your digital audience, manage live engagement, and through an event app, allow your in-person audience to access your digital audience to connect with each other.
9. You can run satellite events. Leveraging regional locations, you can bring smaller audiences together for a “watch party-style” experience to get the benefit of in-person networking and the scale of shared content. Whether the keynotes are all streamed from one studio, or they are distributed across the regional locations and piped into the different locations throughout the agenda, this approach might be just as costly and staff intensive as a fully-integrated single event.
10. You can run your entire onsite event like a broadcast studio. Embracing the digital transformation, you can create an onsite media team and build out a full content channel for a digital audience. From the onsite news desk to the roving reporter to livestreaming key content (where your onsite attendees feel like a Live Studio Audience) to even a Red Carpet-like production of commentary and engagement, you can enthrall and engage your digital audience throughout your live event. Consider the Oscar’s: onsite attendees at the Academy Awards get to walk the red carpet, attend cocktail receptions, participate in experiential activation, and enjoy the live awards show. The at-home audience gets to enjoy a different Red Carpet experience, hear from commentators and news reporters, watch pre-recorded interviews with nominees, and then enjoy the main awards show simultaneously with the in-person audience.
As we come back from a very broken time to create meaningful moments for our audiences and our brands, I want to make sure we are looking for ways to use the lessons learned to create a piece even more beautiful than what was there before.
That’s the new gold standard.
Liz Lathan, CMP is co-founder of Haute Dokimazo, sparking profitable relationships anchored in genuine connection through rousing shared experiences and conversations. Explore the #HugLife community for marketing and event professionals.
Haute Dokimazo is part of Haute Companies, a family of companies that believe in human connection, from events to media (podcasts, videos, and more) to direct mail to swag to entertainment talent management to strategy session facilitation.
Contact Liz at email@example.com to inquire about how Haute can help you create programs that foster deep and trusting relationships with your customers and workforce.