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A year ago, it would have seemed impossible that virtual and hybrid events are the future for this industry. But we live in a world that is very different from the one a year ago. In 2020, ‘virtual’ and ‘hybrid’ became the buzzwords in the event industry and while the concept of live streaming is far from new, the hybrid event was born in the pandemic and it’s been a learning curve for many.

With the end of the COVID19 tunnel now in sight, events with live attendance at physical venues are being reintroduced. However, it will take time before traditional events return to our schedules. With hybrid being the closest to ‘normal’ and the hottest event format to use, certain trends have started to emerge.

In this article we have picked a few that you should adopt in 2021. Additionally, we’re outlining three things you absolutely should avoid.

Hybrid Event Trends in 2021

A year of observation and active involvement gathered us great insights on the virtual event market. Based on that and our experience, we’ve spotted a few trends that will be hot in 2021.

Keep it short

Although half of your audience will now be on-site, meaning you don’t have to compete with their surroundings for their attention, the other proportion remains behind the screen. Physical attendees will have their focus uninterrupted, but the online audience’s attention span is much shorter.

Since you are trying to keep both audiences equally engaged you need to optimise for the one that poses the biggest challenge. Events online differ greatly from the on-site experience, and therefore virtual attendees process the content differently. Your experience acquired through hosting virtual events will come handy here. Highly personalised, snackable, episodic content used for online events is a certain 2021 trend for a successful hybrid event, too.

Chat them up

Engagement remains the biggest challenge. There are two main causes for that: event design or your event platform.

Event technology platforms are evolving at rapid speed and the market has filled up fast. Growing competition accelerated the increase of quality and features platforms offer. Most of them are focused on engagement. Events that don’t invest in content delivery suffer from lower engagement rates.

Despite the platform market booming with all kinds of engagement-fueling options, a particular feature steals the show. Live chat and Q&A are the basic yet the most important functions of an event platform. It enables online participants to ask questions and network with one another as well as with the on-site audience.

Since hybrid events combine the two audiences, live chat fulfils the function of a bridge. It is absolutely indispensable for hybrid events and we expect to see them everywhere in 2021.

Voice to drive engagement

A trend that is not being talked about but is about to blow up is usage of AI in hybrid events. According to Google, 40% of searches in 2019 were voice searches. It means your audience is actively using AI in their day-to-day lives. Which, in turn, means you want to add it to your events to drive engagement.

Evolution of digital event platforms enables this virtual component trend. Attendees can use voice tech for various forms of interaction: from asking where their next session is to signing up for a session.

This opens a whole new digital territory for you. Creativity and proactiveness using voice assistance can skyrocket your engagement rates. For example, you can create ‘if, then’ scenarios.

Let’s assume a user asks where a vendor is located on the exhibit floor. The voice assistant would then ask if they’d like to schedule a one-on-one meeting with that vendor.

This is not yet a widely spread practice – but once it picks up, it will be everywhere. We recommend you adapt it ASAP. It will certainly help your hybrid event engagement rate. And as a plus side you will be able to say you’ve started doing it before it was cool.

Better safe than sorry

Safety will certainly be the dominating hybrid event trend. Not only is it important to stop the spread of coronavirus but it will also play a big role in your audience’s decision whether they will attend your event. This trend is also mandatory, therefore must be taken seriously.

Rapid testing before event entry will be the thing. There are many solutions on the market catering rapid testing specifically for large gatherings. The results of these tests can be processed on-site in ten minutes. Choosing rapid testing over lateral flow testing ensures that everyone on the site is virus-free upon their arrival.

An alternative to that would be digital health screening prior to entering the site. There are apps on the market designed for events that send attendees automated daily screenings directly to their phones. Not only is this an easy way to keep track of health data and keep attendees safe, but it also gives them reassurance that their safety matters to you.

Most of the options are stand-alone apps, although there are a few that can be incorporated into existing event apps. We foresee this number growing soon.

Wearable tech will be very, very hot in 2021. Now that touchscreen registration is officially off the books, a new solution is needed. We expect Smart Badges and wristbands using RFID technology to become a must-have event merchandise.

They will be used for contactless payment and digital lead retrieval. Additionally, you can customise them with your (or a sponsor’s) branding.

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Hybrid Event No-nos

Now that you know what’s going to be cool in 2021, let’s talk about what to include in your ‘nope’ list.

Focusing on one audience

What makes hybrid events challenging is that you are addressing two very different audiences simultaneously. Using two different approaches to deliver the same information at the same time will truly test your creativity and planning skills. But believe us, this is an absolute must-do.

If you put all your efforts towards a virtual audience, in-person guests won’t have a time of their lives. On-site visitors in a hybrid environment,do get an upper hand for they are living the physical event rather than observing it. Although you want to put engagement driven focus towards virtual guests, don’t forget to engage the in-person audience in activities too. Q&As, panel discussions, icebreakers – your attendees will appreciate face-to-face interactions.

Alternatively, if you get overjoyed with a live audience and don’t put sufficient effort in appeasing the ones behind the screen… Well, in both scenarios the neglected audience won’t have a great experience and this will reflect on your NPS.

This is why planning hybrid events in great detail is vital to its success. How you present content to your audiences will differ greatly. And catering to just one of them has no place in 2021.

Insufficient break time

At the live event, there are often several things going on. This allows the attendees to move about and look at different things. Hybrid events, however, don’t have such luxury.

The most that’s happening is a few talks at the same time. It can be very draining to stay focused on just one thing – and difficult. The solution is to add more breaks for the audience to regain their focus. And we don’t mean stopping all the activity for an hour here or there.

Rather we suggest moving towards slightly different activities. For example networking, or maybe a performance? An icebreaker would be great to not just let the audience rest a little but also to engage them further. One of key benefits of hybrid events is that it allows you to deliver new ideas you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

Not collecting data

You could be forgiven for not collecting the right data from hybrid events in 2020. Especially if you have never hosted a hybrid event and lacked a superstar event platform like Event@. But in 2021, you have no excuse.

It is difficult to collect data post-event, but at Showcase we’ve got a way of making it easy. Our unique event software package EVENTalytics is created specifically for tracking virtual and hybrid events. Additionally, it puts that data in sleek visual reports that is simple to read and analyse. In our opinion, it should be a trend too.

Are Hybrid Events Here to Stay?

To put it shortly – yes. Even after live events make a full return, the hybrid format will not be dropped. We fully expect it to remain very popular and relevant for your audience.

Hybrid Events After Covid

The covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has pushed venues to enhance their products and services to cater for hybrid events. These include everything from semi-permanent virtual studios to upgrading the venue team’s technical knowledge.

This enables event organisers to focus on the marketing and audience engagement strategy. And, you know, building a hybrid event. COVID has also given us the opportunity to re-evaluate the best ways to deliver content. Topics that were on-stage talks in the past became more impactful when virtual and hybrid events would present them as a virtual workshop.

Hybrid events put creativity and engineering to test, challenging Content and Ops Directors alike. The format proved to bring a lot of new opportunities that are not achievable at live events.

It’s a common belief that the pandemic was the worst that could have happened to the event industry. But look at it from a different perspective. It enabled us to explore previously underestimated formats like hybrid and live stream further and in greater detail. Which in turn became something that has forced the industry to think and come up with new solutions.

Summary

To us, the rise of virtual and hybrid events has become a great opportunity to showcase our expertise. 

Having embraced the shift in the industry with an open mind and a hands-on approach, we have harnessed the change and made it work for us. This allowed us to predict the upcoming trends and share them with you.

What are your thoughts on hybrid event trends in 2021? We’d love to hear them. 

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