2020 was the year of virtual events! While everyone’s eager to take our events live again in 2021, there is a new challenge at play: Some people are not ready to travel or have the expectations that sessions will always be available virtually which further imprints hybrid events into the new normal.

Yet combining a live, in-person event with a virtual aspect that provides an engaging hybrid event experience is a complex undertaking. As we learned over the past year, even creating an engaging virtual experience is much more complex than many anticipated. This means as we all lean into planning hybrid events, we must look at the event from the beginning as a hybrid and understand the experiences of both sides of the audience, online and in-person.

Preparing for your next hybrid event

We need to understand that we are delivering two different experiences. Successful hybrid experiences are no longer just a live stream. We must take the positives of online accessibility and interactivity and blend them with a thoughtful in-person experience. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Create a breakthrough experience: Ask yourself at each step in the planning process whether or not your event delivers value to both in-person and virtual attendees with different, yet complementary experiences.
  • Provide supplementary virtual content: Not only will it engage online attendees throughout the event, but it can also bring your in-person audience into the hybrid experience—facilitating the connection between all attendees.
  • Offer networking opportunities: Building relationships is one of the most important elements of an event for both individuals and organizations. Use virtual, interactive touchpoints to help attendees connect.

Marketing the event (this matters most)

To successfully market hybrid events, you must consider the entire lifecycle of the event. Establish pre-, during-, and post-marketing and customize the follow-up tailored to the type of attendee to drive engagement and long-term results. Consider the following tips when planning your marketing strategy:

  • Before the event, establish excitement: Be sure to clearly communicate the value of both in-person and virtual attendance and highlight what attendees can expect from the different experiences. When people register, separate them into different communication tracks so each group is getting personalized information. Then, have fun! Send countdowns, speaker announcements, and even goodie bags to attendees can help create a buzz before the event starts.
  • At the event, keep their attention: No matter if the event is live or online, attention and participation are always necessary. Consider having a live Q&A or a virtual emcee to entertain attendees. The physical marketplace is also vital. Make the marketplace on-demand experience online and accessible to all attendees, during, and after the event.
  • After the event, stay connected: Distribute a strong email nurture offering on-demand sessions and videos to attendees post events. Consider delivering personalized messages post-event to attendees to establish a further connection.

Sponsoring events in a hybrid world

Even if you’re not hosting your own hybrid events, sponsorship packages for conferences you’ve attended in the past are also going to look different. There will likely be packages that include both in-person and virtual options. As a sponsor, it’s vital to be clear on your objectives for an event in order to make the right sponsorship decisions for your organization.

Both virtual and in-person events can drive business value—whether you’re looking to boost awareness or specifically pursuing sales engagement. But there’s often a dramatic difference in cost and quality of results between the two. Overall, a virtual sponsorship is more likely to deliver value in the form of awareness than in cold, hard sales. At the same time, in-person sponsorships seem to work better for sales teams but often come with a much larger price tag. And for companies that can afford it, hybrid sponsorships are set to reach much larger audiences and have a significant impact moving forward. It’s up to you to evaluate your resources and what the event offers sponsors, then decide on the best course of action. Follow these tips to get a better handle on sponsorship and event opportunities:

  • Be proactive: Don’t just show up—advocate for yourself throughout the entire process to ensure you’re getting the most value out of the experience. Ask early and often for what you need, especially attendee data.
  • Incentivize your sales team: Get them involved early, encouraging them to show up and put in the work, whether they’re at the conference or in a virtual chat. You can even make it a competition, rewarding top performers throughout the event.
  • Get creative: If your sponsorship is in-person, come up with a plan to engage virtual attendees too. And if your sponsorship is only virtual, come up with a plan to engage on-site attendees. Direct mail, for example, is a great way to follow up with both live and virtual prospects after the conference and adds a personal touch.
  • Develop a plan just for top targets: Don’t let your VIP prospects get away! Instead, consider a high-impact follow-up event such as a virtual wine tasting or a taco-making activity (easy turnkey events are available from our partner, Postal.io.)

Hybrid events are here to stay, and if you’re like most companies, you already have a few on the calendar to plan or sponsor in 2021. Now that you’ve got the best practices laid out to make each one successful for virtual and in-person attendees, it’s time to implement them instead of just putting out a video online.

For marketers, here is an updated list of events this year that are virtual, hybrid, and in-person:

  1. MozCon (Virtual) 7/12/21
  2. Sales 3.0 Conference (Virtual) 7/14/21
  3. B2B Sales and Marketing exchange (Boston, MA) 8/9/21
  4. Engage Virtual Marketing Conference (Virtual) 8/5/21
  5. Gartner Marketing Symposium & Xpo (Virtual) 8/31/21
  6. REACH (Virtual) 9/15/21
  7. Dreamforce (Hybrid) 9/21/21 | San Francisco, CA | New York City, NY | London, England | Paris, France
  8. SaaStr Annual 2021 (Virtual) 9/27/21
  9. Content Marketing World (Hybrid) 9/28/21 | Cleveland, OH
  10. Digital Sales and Marketing World (Virtual) 9/30/21
  11. Reuters Events’ Strategic Marketing 2021 (Virtual) 10/12/21
  12. INBOUND (Hubspot) (Hybrid) 10/12/21 | Boston, MA
  13. LeadsCon (Virtual) 10/21/21
  14. Programmatic i/o 2021 (Hybrid) 10/25/21 | New York City, NY
  15. Advertising Week New York (Virtual) 10/27/21
  16. Technology & Innovation North America (Hybrid) 11/1/21 | Chicago, IL
  17. AI Summit at Silicon Valley (Live at the Santa Clara Convention Center) 11/13/21 | Santa Clara, CA
  18. Data Strategy & Insights (Hybrid) 11/18/21 | Austin, TX
  19. B2B Marketing virtual ABM Conference (Hybrid) 12/2/21 | London, England
  20. ABM Innovation Summit (Virtual keynote)