Planning Successful Hybrid Conferences for Engineering and Scientific Societies
Take the mystery out of going hybrid and create a seamless experience for your virtual and in-person attendees.
Now that venues are opening up, we're entering a new phase. Engineering and scientific societies are pivoting from hosting virtual conferences to hosting hybrid conferences. I'd argue that now is the best time to learn more about hybrid conferencing because many organizations don't have another option. The goal of this article is to provide some insight on what hybrid conferencing is and to provide some general tips on how to set yourself up for a successful hybrid conference.
Taking the mystery out of going hybrid
For something that is so often discussed, I was often surprised to hear that many organizations don't really know what it means to go hybrid. After a quick Google search though, it became less surprising. There isn't much content out there that'll show you what going hybrid actually entails.
So, I'd like to take the mystery out of going hybrid.
The primary goal of a hybrid conference is to have a seamless experience for your virtual and in-person attendees. Virtual attendees will join the conference from their home through a virtual conference software platform such as OpenWater. On the platform, remote attendees see all the conference sessions and join virtual conference rooms. To see what a virtual conference platform looks like, check out this blog post with virtual conference examples.
On the other hand, in-person conference-goers will be at the physical conference venue. Typically, in-person attendees will use a mobile conference app or a printed program to see the conference sessions laid out. We suggest using a mobile app because it can be updated with last-minute sessions and presenter changes.
Dispelling Myths of Hybrid Conferences
Many organizations have expressed concerns about going hybrid. To specify, some people think hybrid events require double the work of staff and will be twice as expensive as a virtual or in-person event. To address these claims, let's take a look at what a hybrid event looks like, the big picture. Typically, we see event scenarios fall into two buckets when organizations go hybrid:
- A live audience attends a presentation and that presentation is recorded and streamed to a remote audience.
- A live audience attends a presentation and the presentation is recorded. Later, the presentation is made available to virtual audiences on demand.
When hybrid conferencing is boiled down like this, it's easier to see that the way you host is up to interpretation. There are countless ways to put on a successful hybrid event. And I promise you that there aren't many ways that require twice the amount of work or that are twice as expensive.
Virtual vs. Hybrid Conferences
There are the advantages and disadvantages to going hybrid and going virtual for your conference in 2021.
Here's what we've heard from organizations that have done both.
Virtual Conference Pros
The greatest benefit of going virtual with your conference by far is the cost. Between going virtual, hybrid, and in-person, a virtual conference is by far your cheapest option. Your biggest spend will likely be for the virtual conference platform, and if you have the staff to support the event, you're pretty much covered.
Another great benefit of hosting a virtual conference is that you get a farther reach. OpenWater helps associations go virtual with their conference, and have seen attendance increase up to 10x because of how accessible virtual conferencing is.
Virtual Conference Cons
A major disadvantage of virtual conferencing is the lack of networking ability for your attendees. There's nothing quite like meeting face-to-face, and with virtual conferencing the best you can do is meet through a screen.
Another disadvantage is Zoom fatigue. Basically, people have been communicating online a lot more since the pandemic and they're tired of it. Sparking engagement at a virtual conference is notoriously difficult for this reason.
The great thing about going hybrid for your event is that you get all the benefits of going virtual and all the benefits of in-person conferences. The drawback for many, though, is the cost. Between virtual, hybrid, and in-person events, going hybrid will be the most expensive.
Hybrid conference strategy flexibility
In 2020, the challenge was to find the best virtual conference solutions. Now, organizations are challenged to find the best hybrid strategies for their events. As we learned the hard way last year, the road ahead is unpredictable. For that reason, it's important to adopt a flexible approach when going hybrid.
Keep in mind that your event might not be able to have an in-person component. It seems things can change on a dime nowadays! So, make sure you set yourself up to be able to pivot early on, just in case.
All hybrid events have a virtual component. To be safe, we recommend that you find a virtual platform that will be able to handle a fully virtual event. If things change and you're unable to have an in-person component to your hybrid event, then you need to create a safety net to assure you can pivot to a virtual conference quickly and easily.
Be Prepared to Pivot
If you adopt a strategy with an in-person component, you're going to want to be prepared for things to change and easily pivot to a fully virtual conference. This might be concerning for larger organizations with a big audience, so if you have a large audience for your virtual conference, check out this post about virtual conference platforms for large groups.
Going hybrid is a safe choice for organizations looking to have an event in 2021. Between hybrid, virtual, and in-person conferencing, the hybrid will likely be the most expensive. However, it's not much more expensive than in-person conferencing. If you can afford to go in-person, you're likely able to afford to go hybrid for your conference.