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Future of Work

Advancing Hybrid Events Will Enhance Attendee Experience and Build Business Value

Hybrid events will are here to stay. Event marketers must continually adapt and innovate, with an eye on delivering unified live and digital experiences. 

I never imagined I’d be contemplating the upside of the global pandemic, but the truth is that the tremendous disruption in the event marketing industry has obliged us to imagine and create new concepts in event experiences. 

Digital approaches we originally viewed as short-term life preserver measures are proving to have long term value. While we firmly believe that nothing will ever replace live, in-person events, we’ve been able to do a lot of great things online that would be hard to create in the real world.

The future is hybrid

One prevalent idea is that hybrid events are here to stay. Not only are they still necessary for safety concerns and travel restrictions, but the industry is also seeing tremendous value in the attendee data and analytics derived from digital events — insights not available from in-person. Also, there is an undeniable advantage in broadening participation via digital — both within customer organizations and regionally. 

The industry recognizes that hybrid events can complement and augment live, in-person events to enable greater access, extend the event experience, and give us much richer insights into our audiences’ needs, preferences, and buying behaviors.


Planning and programing hybrid events requires event marketers to be adaptable to change and always looking ahead. Looking forward to 2022, we see live events making a strong comeback, but we will continue to put energy and creativity into making virtual elements of hybrid events more meaningful, engaging, and valuable. Our focus will be on creating unified events that integrate the in-person and digital experiences, while ensuring that each one plays from its strength, delivering value to attendees, sponsors, and brands 

One challenge we’ve faced in advancing the hybrid model is that the pandemic’s quick onset obliged us to pivot quickly toward digital events; building the tracks with the train running over them. We are just beginning to thoughtfully and methodically construct a common definition of hybrid events to serve as a foundation for strategy and planning. 

The good news is that as we recover — albeit slowly — from pandemic disruption, a good working definition of a hybrid event has emerged: an event that bridges in-person and virtual events to create a unified experience.

Defining hybrid

A few basic hybrid models have also emerged. A simple approach is live streaming content to a virtual audience from the physical, in-person event location. 

In a hub-and-spoke model, a centralized hub location hosts a critical mass of attendees and core event activities, such as keynotes and general sessions. The spoke locations are smaller and localized, and audiences can participate in the hub event live streams, participate in virtual sessions, and also have location-specific in-person activities. 

In a mixed model, there is one main in-person event annually with multiple virtual touch points throughout the year. This approach serves to expand the main event experience to a wider audience and drives ongoing engagement with event content. 

All of these models can be tailored to specific company and audience needs, and there will no doubt be new models devised that will join the hybrid playbook.

Best practices

Best practices for structuring hybrid events are also evolving. Here are three that event marketers should adopt right away:

  1. Know your audience. Are they practitioners that seek education, training, and information on new tools; strategists in search of emerging trends; or senior executives looking for fresh business insights? Do you want to reach a global audience or keep it in the region? Are they purchase decision-makers or influencers? How important are networking and access to subject experts? 
  2. Determine the types of content that actually make sense to run virtually. Dense, hands-on learning labs or traditional talking head sessions and panels don’t typically translate well into the digital environment. Digital natives are more likely to engage with smaller, more easily digestible content. Real-time interaction can boost engagement, and so can weaving in compelling, pre-produced content to make presentations more dynamic. It is also good to bring in networking and personal connection opportunities using digital tools, such as chat and virtual meeting rooms.
  3. Define and plan to deliver the intel and insights your stakeholders need to gauge event success. Digital events can produce an abundance of rich participant data that simply is not available (yet) with in-person events, such as content consumption and preferences, dwell times, downloads, and page visits and re-visits. Attendee behavior can be tracked across multiple events to show patterns of interest and preference. The ability to capture, organize and analyze event data is a truly pivotal capability event marketers must embrace, because data analytics provide insights tailored to the specific needs of key stakeholders, including sales, marketing, sponsors, accounting, and senior leadership. These insights help tie event performance more concretely to business performance and sponsor value. They also help guide future events, and overall sales and marketing strategy. As the industry sharpens its analytics skills, we must find new ways to apply data science to in-person events. 

Looking ahead

With the goal of advancing the appeal and value of hybrid events, here are some of the key trends we see playing out in 2022: 

  • We will move away from long virtual events. Four hours will be the ceiling. 
  • The hub and spoke model will become more popular, as will micro events/roadshows/meetups. 
  • Events will become serialized, taking place over weeks and months. There will be signature events with multiple touchpoints during the year to reach an expanded audience. 
  • We will develop better virtual networking experiences that are creative and engaging, while staying substantive and valuable. 
  • Health and safety will continue to be the most important aspect of whether or not to have the in-person event experience. 
  • Event technology will continue to evolve to handle larger audiences virtually and deliver more engaging event experiences. 

The horizon for hybrid events is promising, and I believe we will continue to achieve and evolve digital engagement to complement the live experience. The future of hybrid will be one of continuous innovation. It has always been this way for the events industry. There is no “new normal,” just the “next normal,” born from something extraordinary.

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