• ESAE

Let’s go Hybrid! Great, Now What Does That Mean?

Written by Michiel Gen, Partner, Stakeholder Management, Exempla Management & Consulting

Now that many European countries have reached the 70% vaccination threshold, we are seeing a cautious return to in-person meetings. However, with cost cutting as well as sustainability considerations driving a rethink of business travel in large corporates, associations should expect lasting changes to the event landscape.


With these reductions in business travel, many international event organisers would be wise to prepare for lower attendance at in-person events whilst maintaining a strong online presence to ensure that those who cannot travel can still participate.


So let’s go hybrid! But what does hybrid actually mean? How do you make the best of both formats to deliver value in a financially sustainable way for your organisation?


Hybrid ≠ Simultaneous

In event circles, hybrid is often assumed to mean that the usual onsite event also allows remote participation or is streamed live. For many associations, this “standard definition” presents significant challenges:

1. There are effectively two simultaneous events, which requires significant additional staff resources and AV investment.

2. It is difficult to mix onsite and online audiences in networking sessions or during interactive discussions without compromising the experience of one or the other.

3. The online portion will only bring value to those attending online and not to those participating onsite. We have to assume that people who have taken the time to travel to an onsite event will focus on the “real” people onsite who will be delighted to get off-screen for a change.

In our view, unless the event is large enough to support the budget or so small (20-30 attendees) that it is easy to manage, it is better to consider running the two components at different times. A detached or staggered hybrid model:


1. Offers value to both the onsite and online audience .

2. Spreads the workload for your staff and reduces tech complexity.

3. Allows you to be more inclusive to audiences in different time zones who cannot travel or would otherwise not attend.

4. Still gives you the option to broadcast or capture a few suitable sessions from the onsite event for a lighter, live online experience.

There is no “new normal” yet so associations should use this time of transition to define the models that work for them and their communities.


Hybrid = Two Different Value Propositions

During 18 months of lockdown, we learned valuable lessons about virtual event design, and appreciated how the energy of groups is still much easier to harness when we’re in the same room. These lessons must not be forgotten or compromised in good hybrid models:


1. Think about the critical differences in delegate experience:

  • Onsite: people won’t want to sit quietly and just listen for too long

  • Online: people cannot sit in front of a screen too long

2. What should the content do?

  • Onsite: primarily setup discussion and debate or group work, build energy and shared purpose within your community

  • Online: first of all inform, and allow for easy interaction (polls, text Q&A), no limit on rooms is a great opportunity to address niche topics or specific challenges

3. What about networking?

  • Onsite: likely the number 1 focus and driver of attendance, make sure it gets the right attention in programme design, scheduling and venue selection

  • Online: it’s a nice addition to content but likely works when it’s a discussion around content, not the freeform functions that work onsite.

4. What about sponsors/exhibitors?

  • Connect both formats: Thought leadership content is the best engagement driver for sponsors - build your packages around this

  • Onsite: the focus will be the in-person discussion and the chance to experience/use solutions

  • Online: use the opportunity to generate a treasure trove of data, and remember virtual exhibit stands attract little traffic so don’t make it their core value. For more tips on how to design your online event sponsorships, download our free e-guide here


Key to Success: Clear Thinking and Coherent Design

2020-2021 has seen tremendous developments in the design and technology that supports online events. Now associations have a chance to build great value based on the unique experiences only possible when together onsite, plus the accessibility and adaptability of online formats.

Don’t be constrained by what hybrid “usually means” and find the right balance for your association between delegate experience, sponsor value and the organiser’s (resource/financial) constraints.

Have fun re-thinking what hybrid could mean for you and if you want to bounce ideas around, feel free to contact the Exempla team.