The Covid-19 pandemic has required event managers to devise creative strategies for safely conducting corporate events. Although virtual and hybrid (part virtual, part in-person) events were initially offered as safer alternatives to in-person events, event managers are finding that these two formats offer additional benefits.
Virtual and hybrid events allow attendees to access the event from anywhere globally, which leads to higher attendance rates. Operating costs are also lower for these two formats because there’s no need to rent a venue (or as large a venue). For these reasons, virtual and hybrid events are expected to stick around post-pandemic.
However, for all of its benefits, the hybrid event format can make networking more challenging. It doesn’t readily allow for the kinds of spontaneous networking opportunities found at in-person events. Hybrid event attendees are looking to build effective relationships with like-minded professionals and expert event managers to facilitate those interactions. But how can event managers foster an effective networking experience when some attendees participate via an online portal and others are at the physical event site?
During breaks, in-person attendees will typically assemble and interact with one another, while virtual attendees will use an online forum to network. How can an in-person attendee network with a virtual attendee? Also, how can the virtual attendees feel as much a part of the event as those attending in person?
Although challenging, event managers can create a positive networking experience at hybrid events. Here are eight ideas for making it happen:
1. Devise a Plan
To make the most of the hybrid event experience and offer attendees the networking opportunities that most interest them, event managers must be cognizant of what attendees really want. If some attendees have opted to participate in person, how eager will they be to interact with virtual attendees? Will virtual attendees be satisfied connecting only with other virtual attendees? A pre-event poll could prove helpful in ascertaining how best to facilitate networking at your hybrid event.
If you find that the majority of both in-person and virtual attendees are interested in connecting between groups, plan to provide a way for them to communicate and collaborate. The method that you decide to implement shouldn’t feel forced.
2. Connect Both Groups Using Technology
Designate an on-site space/room for in-person attendees to log into your virtual event platform and have face-to-face video chats with virtual attendees. In-person attendees could also connect to the virtual platform via their phones or laptops.
Event managers can also use virtual matchmaking tools such as vFairs to connect in-person attendees and to connect virtual attendees. These tools allow attendees to be matched based on profiles and chat face-to-face or via online chat.
Using social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn offers additional opportunities for attendees to connect. By creating an event hashtag and encouraging attendees to track it, you’re providing another way for them to find others who are talking about the event.
3. Enable Face-to-Face Interaction
To keep both in-person and virtual attendees fully engaged, provide opportunities to connect in a way that allows face-to-face interaction. There are various methods for accomplishing this:
- Set up breakout rooms for group discussions
- Integrate the virtual platform into the in-person event space
- Arrange for both in-person and virtual speakers to answer questions from both attendee groups
4. Include In-Person Attendees in Virtual Group Chats
It’s common for virtual event attendees to post comments or ask questions within the virtual event space. Consider giving in-person attendees at your hybrid event the opportunity to do the same. They’ll appreciate it even more if you allow them to access the discussion group via their smartphones for easy access and mobility.
You could also use a large projection screen to show in-person attendees what virtual attendees are saying within the online discussion group.
5. Include Virtual Attendees in Breakout Rooms
If your hybrid event will have breakout rooms or include activities (scavenger hunts are popular breakout games), take advantage of technology to allow both in-person and virtual attendees to participate. Make sure your venue can accommodate your equipment and technology needs.
6. Let the Games Begin
Another way to encourage interaction between in-person and virtual event attendees is to incorporate games into the hybrid event. Healthy competition is an ideal way to unite groups. When teams are created, their shared goals (winning the game) will foster invaluable networking opportunities.
7. Don’t Forget Virtual Attendees’ Swag
To ensure that virtual attendees feel as much a part of your hybrid event as in-person attendees, send them the same swag (welcome packet) they’d receive if they attended in person. Also, send any items required to participate in activities.
8. Don’t Underestimate the Value of Surprise
Although there’s something to be said for executing a well-structured event, add excitement for attendees by creating unexpected moments. An event that’s too structured could cause attendees to lose interest quickly. Leave space in the itinerary should attendees want to connect with friends or start a spontaneous face-to-face chat.
Planning an event in any format can be challenging but planning a hybrid event presents unique challenges. Event managers are tasked with ensuring that both in-person attendees and virtual attendees have a positive experience. In fact, a survey conducted by Swapcard found that of 352 event planners polled, 33.5% stated that their biggest challenge when hosting hybrid events was engaging two audiences. Most managers find that connecting the two groups of attendees allows for more organic networking opportunities and makes it easier for speakers and moderators to engage with all attendees.
With adequate planning, creativity, and taking advantage of available technology, managers can provide all hybrid event attendees with opportunities to make meaningful connections. At eShow, we provide event managers with customizable web-based solutions and interactive networking tools that make it easy for attendees and speakers to connect before, during, and after the event. We can provide everything you need to manage all aspects of your event – from planning to execution.
Contact us today for a no-obligation demo.