Are Hybrid Events the New Normal? Part 2

April 14, 2021

More than 4.5 million vaccinations were administered in one day last week, a record according to US health officials. The steady uptick in vaccination rates is further evidence that things are slowly improving and that we are making progress towards a time when our lives will return to some semblance of normal.

For organizations planning to host events for the remainder of 2021 and beyond, this is good news. Even with that progress in mind, it is still going to take time to return to some version of life before March 2020. Just this week the FDA announcement of a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and worries of another surge in Covid-19 variants were in the news – a reminder that the disruptive nature of the pandemic continues to impact our personal and professional lives.

If you ask most meeting planners or association executives, they are cautiously optimistic about the prospect of hosting a hybrid event in 2021. On the surface, a hybrid event simply refers to a meeting with face-to-face participation as well as a virtual component – streamed or simulated live. According to Jim Anderson, CAE, Executive Director for the California Society of Association Executives, a hybrid event can have multiple meanings.

“We know doing a simulcast or live steaming during a conference is probably going to be the most taxing and expensive option,” Anderson said, “because you’ve got to do both at the same time. That’s a tall order. Some (organizations) may be able to pull that off and some not. But hybrid can also mean doing part of the event virtually beforehand, leading up to the major event. So, you can include other people, but (for) those who are actually going to be there in person (it) gives them an opportunity to see each other in advance, too. You can also do this post (event) as well.”

“In addition, you can bring in speakers remotely to teach a live class,” he added.  “That can be live streamed and there doesn’t have to be a videographer there. It can be for whoever wants to attend that virtual session.”

According to Dean West, FASAE, President of Association Laboratory, the real challenge for associations may be adapting their financial models to embrace virtual or hybrid events.

“The challenge for associations is their financial model for events is based on face-to-face event profitability, West said. “It’s hard to take a $5 million- or $2 million-line item and 12 months later simply replace that. First of all (associations) had to go through the competency adjustment of ‘how do we produce a virtual event?’ Even small virtual activities require different competencies.”  

“Now there are in the position of ‘how do we price it?’,” West added. “We have three times as many people (attending). Are they going to pay $2 thousand in registration fees, or will it be half of that? A lot of our client’s problem is not only how do they come up with a pricing model for their virtual activities, but also as a part of the association’s evolution, how do they integrate the virtual with their face-to-face events – which still have value? Face-to-face events are not going away, but they’re not going back to being the dominant force for association (events).”

The insights of Anderson and West make it is easy to see there is not a simple, one size fits all answer to the question of virtual vs face-to-face events. Some version of a hybrid event appears to be the solution many groups are beginning to lean into.

Human behavior remains a key ingredient in the formula or recipe for creating a successful event – virtual, face-to-face, or hybrid. The best way to come up with an actionable solution may be to simply to ask your members/customers their preference for attending events. Asking them when, where and how do they want to meet at this point in time can help eliminate a lot of wasted effort and frustration. Creating a poll that covers a number of potential scenarios can reveal the “right” solution for your organization today. One thing for certain, it’s never been more important to remain agile in determining how you should move forward.

Regardless of the direction you choose to pursue, CE21 has the tools to help you host the event that makes the most sense for your organization. Is it face-to-face, virtual or hybrid? Yes!

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