Feelin’ 22 or 2020…Too?

Senior Project Manager, Cecily Hendricks
was channeling her inner Taylor Swift coming into 2022

If you are anything like me (an enneagram 7, “the enthusiast”) you walked into this new year bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (especially since we paid week off – thanks, Emily!), holding onto a small sliver of slightly-apprehensive hope that 2022 was finally going to be the year that things were different! That we were finally starting to come to back to some semblance of reality and that life was starting to get back to “normal-ish”. What I thought was going to be a vibrant, energetic year (I was singing T.Swift’s “22” at midnight on New Year’s Eve with my dogs), has so far turned out to be 2020…too.

My events team and I were gearing up for January to be one of our busiest months in a while. We were working with the California Alliance on a statewide hybrid conference scheduled for February.  The Alliance staff came back to the office after the holidays to a flood of emails from attendees and speakers, opting to cancel their registrations due to the Omicron surge.

After my client weighed their options on how to proceed, they ultimately opted to postpone to the fall. This is a high-profile conference focused on children’s mental health—these attendees work with children & vulnerable populations every day. Even though we were going to require our onsite participants to be fully vaccinated, the idea of someone contracting or spreading COVID at our event wasn’t something we were willing to risk. And so the event has been postponed. Let me tell you…it is pretty gut wrenching to watch everything you’ve been working on since July get brought to a grinding halt. We absolutely made the right call, and it absolutely hurts my event-loving heart.

However, because this is going to be a hybrid conference anyway, a good portion of our work is already done. We’ve built out the app that virtual attendees will use to participate, and now we will have even more time to walk sponsors, speakers, and participants through the digital experience to ensure a super smooth and seamless experience in the fall.

These past few weeks have given me a lot of time to reflect on how critical it is for organizations (and particularly nonprofits) to have flexible event plans in place. It looks like COVID is here to stay for 2022 (thanks 2020…too). When hosting a gathering of any size, it is our duty as event planners to ensure that our attendee’s safety is our top priority, and our second priority is ensuring an incredible experience whether that’s in-person, or on-screen.

So how DO you create flexible plans for your events this year? The easiest solution is to plan on hosting a hybrid event. Planning a hybrid event is the best form of “COVID Insurance” out there right now, AND it creates a more equitable and accessible experience for your attendees—which directly ties into your organization’s DEI work! It’s a win-win.

If these COVID surges continue and you have to cancel your in-person component, you can still EASILY host a successful virtual event. When you plan a hybrid event, you already have the virtual component ready to go—moving everything to a 100% virtual experience is an easy switch. And if there is anything I have learned these past two years, it’s that providing virtual access to meetings and events allows more people to participate that maybe couldn’t otherwise. When you host a hybrid gathering or event, you help make the table bigger, providing a powerful event experience for attendees onsite AND online.

So…what will you do to plan a successful and safe gathering for your organization this year? I found a perfectly summed up compilation of my own thoughts on Brella, and thought I’d share them here:

It’s a misconception that your audience can either take part virtually or in person – there is no in between. You may think that by hosting a hybrid event, you split your total attendance.

However, the opposite is true. Hybrid events allow you to increase your reach and gain more attendees, not fewer.

A study found that nearly 98% of attendees at a hybrid event were not planning to attend live, meaning your event can reach a new audience who either is uninterested in going to your live event or unsure of the benefits.

23% of event organizers who hosted a hybrid event said more attendees participated in future events, and 65% said they saw no change in live attendance.

And there will always be attendees who would love to attend, but cannot for one reason or another.

With a hybrid event, you lower the barrier to entry for both demographics – those who want to attend, but can’t, and those who are unsure if your event is worth their time.

This increases your reach immensely, as you broadcast your event to a larger audience than ever could be possible in person.

Higher engagement with your audience

Adding a virtual element to your live event opens up many more engagement opportunities than would be possible at a strictly live event, both during and post-event.

This is because your virtual audience is actively participating from their mobile devices or desktop computer, meaning they can talk, share, like, comment and much more.

For example, you can host polls during sessions that include both the live and online audience.

Or, you could have a Q&A session with a speaker live, then invite them to have a Q&A with your online audience, commonly at a studio that broadcasts your live event online.

More powerful sponsor opportunities

72% of corporate sponsors are interested in participating in a hybrid event, as long as they can effectively reach both audiences.

They can communicate 1:1 with interested parties while also interacting online virtual attendees. Some demographics, particularly Millennials, prefer virtual communication, which may lead to increased participation at their virtual booth.

Also, there is the increased opportunities for sponsorship. Instead of sponsoring strictly live collateral, they can sponsor livestreams, event apps and more.

This also offers you more flexibility in your sponsorship prospectus – you can have live sponsors, virtual sponsors, or both.

A hybrid event can report on many relevant metrics, ensuring your sponsors see that they spent their money well.