Virtual and hybrid events remain popular but need some love to get right.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple aspects of daily life changed. Large segments of the workforce stopped commuting to an office. Nearly all travel stopped under pandemic lockdown guidelines. Pauses on travel meant many professional seminars had to make changes to continue. In 2020, 70% of physical events switched to hybrid or virtual.
Benefits of Virtual Events Are Many
Just like remote work remains the norm for millions of workers, virtual and hybrid events remain popular among employees. The majority of professionals, 72%, plan to attend virtual events at least as often as they attended physical events pre-COVID. By popular demand, most events are still planned as either virtual or hybrid.
The benefits for both organizers and attendees are obvious. Both parties spend less time and money on travel for digital events. Instead of renting a hotel room or conference space, people log onto a web conferencing platform like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Both platforms saw their usage explode during the pandemic. Zoom hosted 45 billion minutes of webinars in 2020, and Teams grew almost 900% from March to June.
Web Conferences Gone Wrong
Despite the relative ease of web conferencing, virtual events still have to be organized well to make an impact on attendees. Half the employees familiar with video calls report frequent technical issues. Audio glitching, frozen screens and connectivity failures can all ruin an event for someone.
Even when the technology itself works, aspects of video calls can still be draining. The amount of eye contact on screens during video chat is unnatural. Seeing oneself in real time for hours on a video call can be stressful. These things can put attendees in a hyper-aroused state and increase their cognitive load. In video chats, participants have to worry about staying in frame and exaggerating non-verbal responses. “Zoom fatigue” is a real problem.
Despite the challenges of digital interaction, the right organizer can plan around these issues. To make a virtual or hybrid event the best it can be, one has to know their format’s limitations as well as opportunities. Physical events continue to happen, but businesses can reach new audiences through hybrid and virtual events.
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Design the Event Program First
To make an event the best it can be, design the event program before choosing a platform to host on. See which site (physical, virtual, or both) is most conducive to the agenda. Consider building a persistently interactive experience instead of one-off interaction opportunities. On-demand breakout sessions can be a way for participants to engage further with material they encounter in the “main room.”
A virtual or hybrid event isn’t just one virtual room, after all. The best events feel like a digital campus where participants can attend presentations, discuss ideas and network. One way to facilitate networking is through polls, chat and question-and-answer features. Encourage attendees to connect with each other, not just with presenters.
In hybrid events, the virtual component should be baked into the experience. It should not feel like an afterthought tacked on to sell more tickets to a physical event. Consider both forms of audiences.