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Hybrid conferences: A view of the future?

By 29th April 2021Blog
Business people in meeting | Axiom Communications

After what has been a whirlwind year of uncertainty and worry, at least some parts of the world now seem to be in a more hopeful place where lockdowns are easing and businesses are finding their way into the ‘new, new normal’.

For others, the need to connect virtually remains essential.

We need to tread carefully when it comes to meeting face-to-face again, whether it’s for conferences, events, training, team meetings, or working in the office.

There’s also the fact that many businesses are facing financial pressures due to lockdown and the environmental impact of gathering for conferences is also under the spotlight. Combined with the possibility of limits being placed on in-person event numbers in the future, planning a large event is still a risky and complex endeavour.

Thankfully, lockdown has shown us just how well virtual events can work, in fact we’ve become rather good at them. So at least we’ve got those experiences to fall back on; along with super new technologies available to us that differentiate high-quality virtual events from the ubiquitous Zoom or Teams meetings.

While staff are understandably keen to see each other in person, and we all know the importance of social interaction for our wellbeing, many people still feel uneasy about it.

Perhaps the way forward lies in ‘hybrid’ meetings and events – combining both an in-person and virtual event experience.

In this blog, we’ll look at the benefits of hybrid conferences, and in the next one we’ll look at the things to consider when deciding on a format or planning a hybrid event.

Could a hybrid conference be the best solution for your business?

Event organisers have been running successful hybrid events for many years; the effectiveness of the format has been proven many times. And as more businesses are now comfortable live streaming their events online, a hybrid event platform can provide the perfect solution for tomorrows world. The fact that they are super flexible means that entire conferences can easily be moved online, if evolving circumstances dictate. And all that detailed planning you rightly undertook can simply be re-purposed.

The advantages of having a virtual component to your events

The hallmark of Axiom’s approach is, and always has been, highly interactive, action-oriented events, powered by collaborative techniques and technology. Whether a conference is held in-person or virtually, the aim is always to engage as many people as possible for the best outcome. That’s why we found pivoting to respond to the challenges of communicating in lockdown a relatively easy step to take.

Our experience tells us that there are many advantages to hybrid and virtual conferences, including:

  • Higher attendance numbers, as people who can’t travel will be able to attend virtually, without the need to hire a concert hall.
  • Lower overall costs, driven by factors such as reduced travel time, accommodation and catering.
  • The carbon footprint of your event and organisation as a whole will be reduced through less travel, food and other resources being used.
  • Increased attendee engagement throughout the conference, due to both interactive technology and a greater feeling of psychological safety (we’ll discuss this more below) created by the virtual environment.
  • The ability to make a professional, though low-cost, engaging recording of the event that can be shared post event.
  • You will be able to share your event with people who couldn’t attend on the day, while attendees can re-watch or catch-up on any sections they might have missed, extending your return on investment and the consistency of your messages to all levels.
  • Reduction of the ‘Zoom-fatigue’ faced by so many, by differentiating your event from normal day-to-day meetings, so that they are still seen as ‘events’.

The last year has taught us some valuable lessons about holding virtual events

Although we’ve delivered virtual conferences for many years, in the last year we’ve pushed the format to its limits and learned some valuable lessons that will help us create an even better event experiences going forward.

Firstly, we’ve learned how to get the very most out of the technology available to increase engagement and make sure the event runs as smoothly as possible.

Secondly, we’ve seen how psychological safety (see our blog series here and here) can be fostered in a virtual environment. Psychological safety is one of the most important elements in high performing teams –– promoting creativity, risk-taking and the perfect conditions for innovative thinking. Employees’ behaviours can be very different at a virtual conference compared to when they are in a room full of colleagues and managers. Some virtual attendees feel more confident getting involved and contributing ideas. Technology helps support this, through things like anonymous ‘real time’ question responses, contributions and ‘like/dislike’ buttons similar to those on social media platforms. It’s possible to get far higher levels of engagement than you would at an in-person event, as the virtual environment lets you tap into the minds of introverts and employees who don’t like to speak out in public.

Getting the most out of a hybrid conference

When planning a hybrid conference, it’s important to consider the experience for both your online audience and in-person attendees. It’s essential that both groups enjoy an equally brilliant experience, and that there is a sense of cohesiveness between both formats. One event being experienced in two different ways, but everyone feeling ‘I was there’.

And you’ll need to coach the performance of the speakers and facilitators, to thrive in both worlds. We want them to have a great experience too.

Technology enables us to make this happen. For example, the experience for both groups of attendees can be mirrored through the use of real world and virtual break-out rooms. We can also enable opportunities for virtual networking, for those that might miss the drink at the bar, and the evening meal.

And of course, we can share everything we’ve learned about presenting and facilitating in the old world and new, to really help everyone ‘on stage’ shine.

Do you think the hybrid approach to conferencing would work for your organisation?

In practice, the hybrid approach can give organisations the best of both worlds, with plenty of added benefits too. Compared to a fully virtual event, a hybrid format helps you engage people who prefer to meet face-to-face and maintain the social aspect that many crave, while still getting all the advantages that we’ve talked about above.

Pandemic permitting, there will always be a place for in-person, fully virtual, and hybrid events – and we can help you deliver all three.

But for the right occasion, a hybrid conference will tick a lot of boxes when executed with careful planning.

Read our next blog to discover whether a hybrid approach could be the best option for your next conference, and for advice on planning and execution.

If you’d like more support, give us a call on +44 (0)33 3088 3088 or email info@axiomcommunications.com

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