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To meet or not to meet... Daring with Hybrid

40 events experts among ESAE members, worked together in groups on the pros and cons for in-person meetings in uncertain times, in the context of our October 2020 online workshop "To meet or not to meet... The cases for and against in-person Events". The interactive debate format and the case studies developed by our partners at Exempla, allowed participants to share ideas and produce a unique collective knowledge: the Associations’ Community response to an unprecedented crisis. We are posting here the outcome of the group discussions in a 2-part series, one with advice on Virtual meetings and the other about Hybrid.

In 2021 the Hybrid format will become standard, but not necessarily by choice. Some organisations may have preferred to stay 100% virtual in 2021 but due to contracts already in place, they are not in a position to postpone again. Nonetheless, in many cases, Hybrid Events will be the best compromise for in-person Events in 2021. The irreplaceable value of on-site Events is face-to-face interaction, and the Hybrid format provides a good alternative; this is why Events professionals believe that it they are here to stay.

The live part of Hybrid Events is proving to be the most complex one to manage, as organisations have no benchmark on the number of participants they could expect and include in their contracts. Additionally, Hybrid Events are expensive and complex to organise, while they also tend to create discrimination between 1st and 2nd class attendees, and cause frictions within Organisations about who should attend in person and travel, if, indeed, anyone at all.

When confronted with such dilemmas, it is important to keep in mind that being transparent and acknowledging that no-one has all the answers can be ultimately very beneficial for the Association. When in doubt, Associations should use questionnaires and ask their community if people are willing and prepared to meet and how. Subsequently, they can give members costed alternatives and let them choose if they wish to attend in person or remotely.

While it is important to create a feeling of excitement for the physical Event and demonstrate that it offers a different value proposition, it is equally important to not undermine and diminish the benefits of the online format in the process.

Participants benefit as technology improves the delivery of content tailored to their needs. It is possible to bring familiar elements in the platform design and the atmosphere of a virtual Event, and maintain the uniqueness of the conference, while still offering a sense of familiarity. What will matter to sponsors is not the hundreds of potential contacts that they would meet at a physical Event, but the more personalised connections that might ultimately prove more useful.

During a time of global health crisis, one of the biggest challenges for Hybrid Event organisers is to convince participants that the Association has taken all the required measures to make the on-site aspect of the Event a safe space for interaction.


Thank you to the moderators of the breakout rooms for the fruitful discussions. ESAE members receive a full report with the advise of thought leaders and the recording of the session. Check our Knowledge Library for the rest of the case studies and join ESAE to be part of the dialogue!


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