Author: Kevin Cobb

What Is a Hybrid Event, and Why Does It Matter to Your Organization?

“Hybrid experience” may not be a term you’ve heard before, but everyone will come to understand hybrid in 2021. After a year of seemingly all interactions becoming virtual, people have grown accustomed to the unique benefits virtual experiences offer and want to continue aspects of that in future marketing plans. How can future live events also deliver a meaningful simultaneous virtual experience for those who want or need it? With a well-crafted hybrid event.

What Is a Hybrid Event?

A hybrid event is an intentionally designed experience that consists of two well-timed experiences (in-person and virtual) that have to intersect seamlessly. The virtual and in-person audiences feel like they are one audience sharing an experience equally, and the specific needs of each audience are served.

If you take only one thing away from this blog post, let it be this: a hybrid event is not a live stream of an in-person event. The concept of a hybrid event is so new that people don’t yet have a mental image of it, and they assume that it means putting a camera in the back of an auditorium so everyone at home can watch. Not only is this not what a hybrid event is, it’s a flawed model because it creates a second-class experience for one group of attendees (the people participating virtually).

What’s Involved in a Hybrid Event?

Hybrid events are more complex to design and produce because they serve multiple audiences. Because of this complexity and the level of planning required, not every agency can produce one successfully.

The good news is that a hybrid event can be designed to incorporate almost any virtual technology platform — because they aren’t about the platform. They are about the production. Think of a hybrid event like a major motion picture: it requires directors, audio engineers, graphics designers and animators, lighting engineers, and even special equipment (like specific cameras that shoot for the visual space). The selection of this team is crucial to the event’s success.

A hybrid event also requires two of almost everything: two emcees, two sets, two production teams, two sets of visual assets, two scripts. This is important to ensure that each audience has a first-class experience. Virtual attendees shouldn’t feel that they’re removed from the live experience, and in-person attendees shouldn’t have their experience hampered by being squeezed into a virtual mold.

Every aspect needs to be thoughtfully planned. For example, if slides will be part of a presentation, how can those slides best be presented to each audience so they can engage with the material? If attendees will be in different time zones, what adjustments to language might need to be made (“We’ll return at ten after the hour” instead of “We’ll return at 10:10”).

All of these details matter, because the stakes are high. Virtual attendees can simply drop out and never return, and live audiences can feel alienated because mistakes are made. The pandemic has turned almost everyone into a virtual connoisseur, and people have higher expectations for virtual (and therefore hybrid) events now than they may have before. A hybrid event gone wrong can damage relationships and brand reputation, so it’s vital to invest the time and resources into detailed planning.

Why Should My Organization Care About Hybrid Events?

Hybrid events present a highly unique opportunity for building and strengthening relationships between groups of people that may not have otherwise interacted with each other. They are a tool for achieving specific strategic outcomes — not a fallback to something else. If creating and growing connections is important to your organization, you should care about hybrid events. (If, on the other hand, you really do just want your audience to watch a prerecorded video, you’d be better off with a more basic solution.)

Hybrid events give you a way to increase your potential audience to include people who might not otherwise be able to attend in person because they can’t travel, have personal or professional obligations that prevent them from attending in person, or who would simply prefer to participate virtually. This allows you to intentionally expand your reach globally and attract more diverse audiences — even if your in-person space has a maximum capacity.

We know people have different ways of learning and interacting with content, and hybrid events give you more opportunities to design for a range of learning styles. They also allow you to create targeted messaging and tracts that best serve each audience. Both the approach and the benefits should be strategically architected for each audience.

Put another way, the question for hybrid events is not, “Do you need one?” but “Why wouldn’t you want one?”

Every successful brand strategy in 2021 must include a hybrid event, which can serve as the model for each year going forward or can be alternated each year with a virtual experience depending on the organization’s goals. Hybrid events are a new concept today, but they will shortly become as indispensable as a company website.

We can help you determine the right kind of hybrid experience design for your goals. Contact us today for a consultation about your hybrid event opportunities.

How Long Should a Virtual Event Be?

One of the most frequent questions our virtual events team hears is, “How long should my virtual event be?” Whether you’ve never done an event before or you’re pivoting from a physical event to a virtual event, the answer is the same: it should be as long as you need it to be, and as short as it can be.

It can be tempting to start virtual event planning by setting a hard and fast rule on event length, but this is the wrong move.

Instead, start by determining what the objective of the event is. Is it to educate attendees about something? To build camaraderie? To sell a product? To raise funds or awareness?

Once you’ve determined the goal of the event, identify all of the building blocks that need to go into achieving that goal. This can include considerations like the interests the prospective audience has, how familiar they are with technology, and what they will need to experience to make the event deemed “successful”. These elements should give you an outline of what types of content you’ll need to have.

Some examples of our virtual events – long, short, and in-between:

  • PechaKucha: a storytelling format in which a presenter shows 20 slides for 20 seconds of commentary each (6 minutes and 40 seconds total)
  • Short “Ted-Talk” format presentations
  • One hour virtual galas / fundraisers
  • 48 hours of continuous global content
  • Multi-day conferences that span weeks

For example, if your goal is to educate your audience about a new initiative and your audience consists primarily of visual learners, you’ll probably want to have engaging slides or videos that illustrate both the overview and more granular points. Similarly, if your goal is team building and you know your audience tends to be more introverted, you may need to include an instructor-led or speaker-led Q and A session to break the ice before going into participant breakout sessions.

Each of these building blocks will need to be assigned an estimated amount of time, and that’s where some of the differences between virtual events and physical events come into play.

  • In a physical event, there can be a need to justify the amount of time people have traveled by making the event longer. Few people want to travel three hours for a 30-minute event. When you remove travel, you also remove the perceived obligation to stretch out the event.

  • Physical events usually incorporate time for people to park, check in, use the restrooms, check their coats, get coffee or snacks, find their seat, settle in, and meet their neighbors. In a virtual event, you can reduce the amount of time needed for each session by 5-10 minutes for these activities alone.

  • At the same time, virtual events with no break can be tough on everyone’s eyes and legs. Make sure you build in breaks that allow people to rest their eyes and stretch – or incorporate those into your event with activities like beginner-level mini-yoga, breathing exercises, or even a dance break for events with more outgoing audiences.

  • “Catch up” breaks can also be helpful. When people know they’ll have a designated opportunity to respond to emails or return phone calls, it’s easier for them to focus and engage in the event.

  • The average attention span of an adult is 10-18 minutes, pre-COVID-19. For virtual or physical events, consider how to make the best use of that time. You don’t need to have 10-minute sessions – but you may want to for certain key building blocks that require active engagement. Passive engagement activities could be longer but with short bursts of activity to keep interest levels up.

  • During a virtual event, you may be competing with children, pets, spouses, ringing phones, or television for the attention of your attendees. Consider how many times, and in what different ways, you may need to reinforce a message to break through the ambient noise.

The total of all of these blocks is your “first draft” event length. Does it match your expectations? Does it seem in line with the expectations of your attendees? Does it give your invited speakers enough time? Does the ask of time seem reasonable for your audience? If the event seems too long, consider whether it could be broken into shorter “can’t miss” events. It’s always better to leave your audience wanting more than to have them watching the clock.

Despite their differences, virtual events and physical events are similar in a very important way: they ask something of the people who attend, in return for the delivery of a meaningful experience. It matters less that your event is a certain length than it does that you deliver the experience you’ve promised your audience.

How Live Experiences Will Change in a Post-Pandemic World — And How You Can Prepare Now to Embrace Emerging Trends

How Live Experiences Will Change | Wellington

If ever there was a time for a functioning crystal ball, this would be it.

Here’s one thing we do know: the coronavirus pandemic will prompt permanent changes to our daily lives, both at work and at home — including how we participate in live experiences.

At Wellington, we’ve found long-running success in being proactive regardless of the circumstances. In this moment, that includes considering what changes might be ahead and how to plan for them now.

Allow us to pull back the curtain on what we predict will be the mega trends in live experiences. Good best practices are often created in reaction to times of challenge. Consider this a cheat sheet that you can use for your own planning as we collectively prepare to embrace our new normal when bringing people together.

5 Steps You Can Take Now to Prepare for the Future of Live Experiences

  1. Anticipate new or evolving attendee expectations. We’re each undergoing some degree of change as a result of the pandemic. Attendees will have questions, concerns and even obstacles that they may not have previously expressed.

    One example that we foresee? Attendees wanting to know details about event cleanliness and sanitation, including cleaning procedures, readily available safeguards including gloves and masks, and, if applicable, an on-site medical professional that can provide voluntary temperature checks and other health-related assistance.

    In response to these participant new norms, you’ll find vendors adapting, too, by offering more transparency regarding their own cleanliness procedures and adherence to relevant local, regional or national policies. Adding visible adaptations like frequent hand sanitizing stations, wiping down of all hard surfaces multiple times per day, providing more packaged meal options vs. open buffet lines, etc. If this information isn’t forthcoming from a prospective vendor partner, don’t hesitate to ask for it or, in the event of inadequate communication, find a replacement.

  2. Enable opt-in decision-making. Your attendee population has had to make some difficult decisions in recent weeks. Taking an opt-in approach to near-future live experiences can offer significant relief to attendees who may not have the resources to attend, or are facing other immediate difficulties. Giving options to attend how they feel most comfortable is in our future.

    One of the more effective ways to include both in-person and remote audiences is by introducing a hybrid virtual and live experience. Not only will remote participants still benefit from the knowledge and insights shared during the event, but you’ll also help them feel included in a time when many people are battling isolation and its related physical and mental health effects.

    To host a successful in-person and live broadcast experience, you’ll need planning and resources to deliver optimal value to both audiences. Many of the familiar experience design questions apply, including:

    • What goals do you have for your event attendees?

    • How can those goals be achieved both in person and virtually?

    • How can you minimize or circumvent some of the opportunity costs of virtual attendance vs. live attendance?

    Virtual experiences will be meshed with live experiences or be used between live experiences in the future to continue momentum. The key is to accommodate as much of your audience as possible while also helping your business or organization stay on track with its own goals. Let’s say community building is a high-priority focus, as it is for many industries. Virtual or hybrid events give you the tools to sustain relationships and community. Yet it’s at in-person events where the relationships form amid efficient and effective work. Keep your own attendee population in mind, as well as your strategic business goals, when determining when and how to plan live events and make them as accessible as possible. Virtual events will never replace live in-person convenings, but it can be a bridge during this time to provide access.

  3. Understand your audience and how they will hear your content and message. This is the time to really dial into your audience and understand how the pandemic is affecting them in their role in or relationship to your brand / organization. That way, you can structure your event content and communications to meet people wherever they are on their post-pandemic journey. Affirmation and validation are more important than ever, especially as people continue to navigate daunting challenges like isolation, financial stress, uncertainty and fear of the unknown. This is a time to look at what you are saying and how you are saying it through the lens of your audience. You don’t have to have loads of content about COVID, or mentions of it throughout but neither should it be the same content that would have been presented pre-COVID.

    It’s during this period when actions become just as, if not more important, than words. Sure, there’s comfort in reading phrases like “We’re in this together.” But going forward, it’s imperative that you show people how you’re unified and how you can support them. Content should be in-the-moment and be rooted in story sharing.That feeling of acknowledgment, of being seen and understood, will go a long way to comfort your audience in the near future, and also solidify their support for the long-term.

  4. Prepare to embrace new behaviors. Think about how air travel changed before and after 9/11. That sort of sweeping behavioral change is just as likely in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as people gladly sacrifice some degree of convenience to help protect the greater good.

    Some of the behavioral changes we anticipate include:

    • Distancing facilitated by wider seating formats and personal space bubbles

    • Voluntary temperature checks for attendees

    • Mask-wearing, both inside and outside

    • Grab-and-go packaged food options, replacing buffets

    • On-site physicians

    • Sanitizing materials on hand for attendee use

    Gatherings moving forward will joyfully embrace the new normal. These new best practices are not scary, or reminders of quarantine — they are signs of reassurance and care. Your colleagues and attendees will likely share suggestions for additional behavioral changes, so it’s important to be more receptive than ever to feedback, both in encouraging input and turning those thoughts into action.

  5. Keep attendees informed and involved. One of the most effective ways to take a lead role in modeling the new normal is with transparency. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to keep your attendees informed and in the loop. That doesn’t mean you need to send constant emails — especially with so many new virtual technologies at hand! What it does mean, however, is that you can begin to put community building in action, if you haven’t already. Give your attendees a chance to lead discussions about what changes they want to see, challenges they’re facing and how your business or organization can help. Have these discussions internally, too, to ensure that colleagues have ample opportunity to share their firsthand insight and experiences.

    As you begin to identify what your upcoming live experiences will look like, communicate these changes — and, if appropriate, why you’re making them — to your attendees. Making them feel like an integral part of the planning process leaves the sort of lasting impression that’s at the core of community building. Again, what better to demonstrate the concept of “we’re in this together” than by giving your audience the power to guide change?

We consider you a valued part of our community, so we’re ready to walk the walk. What questions or concerns do you have about the future of live experiences? What’s keeping you up at night? What can we do to help you find more solid footing amid turbulent times? Reach out to us any time. We’re always here to listen — and to help. After all, we are all in this together.

Measuring Success: Metrics That Will Help You Understand Your Event’s Impact

You’ve likely heard the saying, “Plan for success.” And when it comes to determining if your event or meeting is successful, a little planning — including establishing and tracking key measurements and setting goals — can ensure you’re collecting the data and feedback to create a robust picture of event performance.

We’ve compiled a list of metrics that will not only help you plan your event, but also ensure you’re collecting the data that will show you the big picture and granular detail. Let’s dive in!

Measure Event Attendance

This is probably one of the most common event metrics to measure. Not only do you want to capture your current attendance; you can also use that data to track year-over-year for recurring events. Ideally, you’ll want to see attendance grow — or, at the least, stay steady.
And if you do see a dip in attendance, don’t panic. Take a close look at your event or meeting and see if you can identify a reason for the decline. Then, factor that input into next year’s planning and set a goal to increase registrations or tickets sold.

Track Social Sharing

Tracking the online conversation around your event or meeting is another important indicator of success. You’ll definitely want to gather analytics on any branded social channels and event or meeting hashtags. It’s also helpful to use dashboard tools like Hootsuite and search for key relevant terms in case attendees are chatting about your event and not using mentions or hashtags.

Ideally, your social channels will be active all year, but you’ll likely see a spike just before, during and just after your event or meeting. You can track the growth of your social channels and hashtag use, much like you would attendee registration, to ensure your event and brand messaging are gaining traction with your audience and you’re delivering an attendee experience worth sharing.

Monitor Event App Activity

If you use an event-specific mobile app, add your event app analytics to your larger repository of event data. How many people are using the app? And how are they using the app? Again, it’s important to not only analyze current activity, but also compare it with year-over-year app usage (or whatever recurring timeline syncs with your event schedule). Particular app metrics to watch and measure include:

  • Downloads and installs
  • Active users (daily and monthly)
  • Average daily sessions per daily active user
  • Average session length
  • App retention (how many users return to your app)
  • App ratings and reviews

Conduct Event Surveys

Your post-event surveys are treasure troves of attendee feedback and insight, and can certainly help you determine your event or meeting’s success. This is another area in which identifying event goals ahead of time is important because they’ll help dictate not just the event itself, but also what feedback you seek post-event. Common post-event survey questions include:

  • How satisfied were you with the event/meeting/conference?
  • How well were the content and agenda structured?
  • Did you leave the event having learned something?
  • Would you return to the event/conference?
  • Would you recommend the event/conference to someone else?
  • How could the planning team improve next year’s event?

Be sure to promptly send out your survey once your event has ended — or even collect feedback throughout the event — so that details are fresh in your attendees’ minds. Try multiple formats, too, to make it as easy as possible for attendees to submit their input, including via email and, if applicable, through your mobile app. Like other metrics that measure event success, survey data can be useful when compared to previous years’ feedback. You might recognize an opportunity to make meaningful improvements to your event that will have a big impact on your attendees and how they perceive the experience.

Track Expenses

Your event budget can absolutely serve as a success metric. Did you stay on track throughout the planning and execution? Did any unforeseen expenses arise? If you did see a significant difference from a previous budget, that’s not always a bad thing. Assess what caused the change—did you try a new venue? Add different event elements? Expand your programming or off-site activities? Then, you can go back to other data—survey feedback, for example, or social sharing—to determine if those new expenses were a hit with attendees.

Measure Attendee Engagement

We all want our attendees to be engaged before, during and after our events and meetings. Simply stated, “attendee engagement” can be a challenging goal, since you first need to qualify what that engagement looks like. What does it mean for your attendees to be engaged?

We’ve already discussed several metrics that can help give you a holistic picture of attendee engagement, including social media conversation and sharing, mobile app activity and survey feedback.

To ensure you’re doing all that you can to keep your attendees informed, entertained and active, take a three-part approach to your attendee engagement and be sure you’re focusing on attendee outreach and measurement before your event, during your event and after your event.

Before the event, you can help keep attendees informed about travel and other logistical details and generate excitement about what’s to come, including speaker profiles, sneak peeks of activities and locations and reminders to download the event app.

During the event, make social sharing easy by prominently displaying hashtags and account names. Enlist the help of someone on your team or a third-party contractor to monitor the conversation and respond accordingly. Consider shaking up your programming to keep attendees involved and give them a chance to share their own insights and questions.

And don’t forget post-event follow-up. This is a prime time to send a survey, but it’s also a great time to send a personal thank you note and a small gift, if time and budget allows. You can also share recaps and actionable takeaways to help your attendees continue using what they learned. That will also help keep them excited for your next event or meeting and more likely to recommend the experience to others.

By using some or all of these metrics, you’ll have a clear picture of whether or not your event or meeting is a success. Plus, by collecting this data, you’ll be able to make informed decisions about things you can change or add to make your event an even bigger hit.

Now, go forth and measure!

Event Customization 101: 3 Tactics to Deliver a More Personalized Experience

People attend events and annual meetings for a variety of reasons, yet increasingly, they share a common demand: a customized experience that feels tailored to their interests and goals.

“With the overwhelming number of conferences, panels and happy hours taking place in a given event cycle, the personalization factor is a marketing must,” writes Kristen Alexander for AdWeek. “Understanding attendees’ personal interests is critical to standing out and marketing to all of these individuals.”

Here’s the kicker: customization, like other strategic marketing initiatives, can seem daunting, especially if you’re not yet doing much—if any—customization.

The good news? Making small changes to deliver a more customized experience can add up to a big impact on your attendees. And you can work with what you have, including an event itinerary, messaging and collateral to begin your journey to a fully customized attendee experience.

Let’s take a look at three key tactics you can use to shift toward a customized attendee experience that feels more thoughtful and personal.

Know Your Attendees

Just how well do you know your attendees? Collecting and analyzing attendee data and input is a critical part of event customization. After all, you’ve got to know to whom you’re customizing and what they want! Consider the following questions:

  • Why is this person attending your event?
  • What is their role, company and industry?
  • What information is this person interested in?
  • What does this person hope to accomplish during and after the event?
  • What event feedback does this person have to offer?

Depending on your existing attendee engagement plan, you may already have some—or all!—of this information at your fingertips. Post-event surveys can be a valuable resource, for example. Another possible goldmine of information? Your event’s social feed. Do some basic research by searching your event and related hashtags to get a sense of what attendees are saying about your event, including their impressions and takeaways.

And if you find you don’t know much about your audience, don’t panic! Simply make a plan to learn more. Again, effective starting points can be your social channels and feedback surveys, whether administered via a mobile app during the event and/or with a survey link sent in a post-event email.

Knowing your audience helps you better understand why they’re attending so that you can deliver a more customized experience. Let’s say a number of attendees are coming to your event to solve some sort of challenge. You could modify your event itinerary to include a breakout work session or roundtable discussion, which would be more conducive to knowledge sharing and problem-solving.

Maybe your attendees are interested in networking, but would prefer something besides the standard networking reception. Instead, you could ask people to gather in a memorable setting, like an unconventional space or rooftop, which helps you take advantage of your host city while also giving attendees a welcome change of scenery. Another great option is to invite attendees to an activity—a walking tour, for example, or a trip to a local landmark—that helps them combine networking and sightseeing.

We mentioned this before, but keep this important tip in mind: you don’t necessarily need to overhaul your entire event agenda. Instead, start small. Gather the information you have about your attendees and assess it. Then, make a plan to begin implementing meaningful changes that increase the customization of your event experience. We all have to start somewhere, right?

Refresh Marketing Materials

Pro tip: effective customization goes beyond simply addressing event communication and collateral to your attendees by name. Instead, examine your existing marketing materials to identify opportunities for customization.

Do you welcome attendees with a gift? If so, consider adding a handwritten note that lets each attendee know how excited you are to have them with you. This particular tip certainly depends on the number of attendees you’re expecting. If it’s in the hundreds or thousands, handwritten notes can quickly become unrealistic!

Or try this basic starting point: separate your attendees into two groups, returning and first time. Then, tailor your marketing accordingly, especially pre-event communication. For returning attendees, you could emphasize what’s new and exciting this year and underscore how glad you are to have them back with you. For first-time attendees, you might offer some tips for an optimal event experience (a short testimonial from a recurring attendee would be an effective resource). Also include travel tips and local recommendations so that first-time attendees can make the most of the experience, especially if they’re traveling in for your event or meeting.

Segmentation can also extend to your attendees’ roles and industries. Let’s say you have a pool of attendees who are vendors or partners. You could create a customized marketing piece that shares recent company highlights, product or service changes, and even testimonials so that this group of valued stakeholders can easily get up-to-date on what’s happening and why they should continue the relationship.

This is when it’s especially helpful to know your attendees’ “why”—what brings them to your event and what they expect to take with them. Then, you can supply them with the content that helps meet those goals.

Build Tracks

Understanding why your attendees are with you—and how they like to consume information—will give you the insight you need to make a particularly impactful change: creating topic-specific event tracks.

You might already be doing this, and if so, excellent! Yet there still might be room to make additional changes. The first step, of course, is to create tracks focused around a specific topic. Maybe your tracks are as loosely defined as “B2B” and “B2C,” for example, or more nuanced, depending on your event.

Consider also incorporating different content styles in those tracks. A mix of presentations, panels, breakout discussions or workshops can help ensure your attendees learn in the way that fits them best. And again, this is why it helps to know how your attendees prefer to consume their event content. Perhaps many of your attendees prefer a more structured, traditional style that’s largely comprised of presentations and keynotes. If your attendees want to take a more active role in the event, an unconference format might be a better choice. That way, attendees have ample opportunities to roll up their sleeves and collaborate.

You could further customize your event tracks by adding a special event to each. Let’s say that one of your tracks is technology-focused. Why not set up a small exhibit area so that attendees can drop in and out and demo new tools and gadgets? For those interested in cultivating their thought leadership, you could host an author talk and signing with someone who’s written a relevant book. And if you find you have an event full of bookworms, setting up a small bookstore or book swap is a fun and thoughtful way to give your attendees easy access to more resources.

We hope this list has sparked some inspiration so that you can start your own event customization! Remember: it’s perfectly fine to start small and to work with what you already have. With regard to customized event marketing and experiences, small changes really can have a big impact. Plus, those small changes will give you a foundation on which to build a more comprehensive customization strategy.

Keep an eye on our blog. Now that we’ve covered the basics of event customization, we’ll periodically revisit this critical topic so that you have no shortage of information and inspiration. And if you find yourself interested in customizing your next event but aren’t sure where to start, let’s talk!