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6 Hybrid Event Options: Which Are Best for Your Needs?

Concurrent, multi-site, staggered…there are more hybrid possibilities than you might think. One expert discusses the alternatives.

For planners looking to satisfy the needs of a diverse meetings portfolio by using different formats and approaches, the hybrid-meeting concept is intriguing. In fact, hybrid meetings can be done at least six different ways, and an organization could use several approaches across their portfolio, depending on the primary objective of each event.

At the American Society of Association Executives’ annual meeting in late August, Chris Brown, event project manager for streaming-content software provider Cadmore Media, discussed six hybrid options and their most useful applications. Here’s a quick primer, along with the factors that make each one more or less desirable for certain objectives.

The simplest of the hybrid options, a livestream is simply a one-way video and audio connection of the content to those who are attending virtually. While it is the most cost-conscious option (although closed captioning is a necessary component), it usually does not provide the remote audience an opportunity to interact with presenters or the in-person audience.

Perhaps the most labor-intensive hybrid option, concurrent means that there are different agendas for the in-person audience and the remote audience even though they attend over the same dates. The remote audience can be presented with a mix of live and pre-recorded sessions; that audience will also need its own emcee to lead the online proceedings. At the meeting site, the AV-production team will require more people and equipment to run not only the in-person happenings but also the filming and broadcast of on-site content to the remote audience. In addition, the host venue’s bandwidth-usage fees will be significantly higher than for other types of meetings because the remote audience is seeing so much live content.

Multi-site hybrids involve multiple live events take place in different cities at the same time, all connected to a central site and perhaps to each other. Session presenters can gather in the central location or can be spread around the regional sites. In between each presentation that is beamed to the full audience, each location conducts its own discussions and networking.

This format maintains the strong engagement of in-person meetings but reduces travel time and cost while allowing all attendees to take in all the content sessions. On the other hand, the costs for using several on-site venues plus broadcast technology must be factored into the equation.

This format has become popular among associations. The in-person event takes place a few weeks ahead of the virtual event, which allows in-person attendees to catch sessions they did not attend while on site. The virtual event is usually comprised of recorded sessions from the in-person event along with virtual-only sessions that can be live or pre-recorded. For pre-recorded sessions, the session presenter can moderate the chat forum if the virtual event is conducted on a specific schedule rather than on-demand.

Some associations, particularly in the medical field, are holding their virtual events a few weeks ahead of their in-person version, hoping to persuade virtual attendees to attend the on-site event.

Alternate Years
This format sees an in-person event with limited virtual offerings happening one year, followed by a fully virtual event the next year. Cadmore Media’s Chris Brown recommends that planners survey both their audience as well as exhibitors and sponsors to determine whether this format would meet their business needs.

Ongoing (or 365) Hybrid
This format results in smaller, more frequent in-person meetings throughout the year that are complemented by monthly or quarterly virtual sessions, all of which would have a feeling of continuity. “For industries where regulations and/or business conditions change quickly, the ongoing model can make good sense,” Brown said. “Perhaps you have the same expert panels convene a few times across the year to discuss what has changed since their last get-together, and what that means to industry players.” The biggest downside to this format, according to Brown: “Keeping momentum going throughout the year is a big job” that requires an extensive and cohesive marketing program. 

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