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In-Person vs. Virtual vs. Hybrid: How to Choose Your Event Format

In-Person vs. Virtual vs. Hybrid: How to Choose Your Event Format

If you’re a meeting or event planner, you’ve probably felt like a ping-pong ball over the last 2 years-or-so since COVID changed our industry forever. As much as planners pour over the data and do our very best to peer (or, squint) into the future, this pandemic continues to surprise even the world’s leading epidemiologists. 

So, if you find yourself again wondering about the right format for your next event — we promise you’re not alone. What used to be an easy decision now includes a web of interdependent factors, and lots of our clients are struggling to commit to a choice.

This is why we’ve mapped out, from our perspective, the ideal conditions and the pros and cons for each format. We created this list to help you get clarity when looking at your upcoming event portfolio.

Of course, each event is unique. If you’re having trouble settling on a format, we’re happy to learn more about your event’s goals and help you decide on a plan that works best for you.

in-person events COVID

In-Person Events

While they take more scoping and planning than pre-COVID events, in-person events are still occurring nationwide, and can provide an impactful, memorable experience for your attendees if planned with enough care and lead time.

Ideal Circumstances for Hosting an In-Person Event
Below are the ideal circumstances surrounding keeping your event in-person, with no virtual component. If one (or many) of these circumstances don’t apply, it’s a good sign to consider a different format.

  • You have adequate time and resources to analyze risk and develop a safety plan in accordance with CDC guidelines. Your safety plan should consider the many ways to reduce risk including masks, vaccine requirements, testing, social distancing, ventilation, outdoor spaces, local COVID case levels, and much more. 
  • Your meeting or event does not require international travel. It requires limited interstate travel. 
  • You have adequate time to communicate your safety plan to attendees, and engage with them on questions and concerns. (Here’s a helpful checklist for communicating your safety plan.) 
  • There isn’t a feasible way to host this event with the same impact other than being in-person. Being in-person is the essence of the event itself. (For example, it’s a corporate golf tournament.) 
  • The majority (or all) of your audience has expressed a desire or an openness to meet in-person.
  • There would not be major losses (financial or reputational) if the event had to be cancelled or postponed last-minute due to COVID.
  • You do not have a need for on-demand content. (For example, the event or meeting is a private fundraiser dinner. ) 

Additional Pros and Cons of an In-Person Only Event 

Pros:

  • Face-to-face connection
  • Excitement and anticipation for reuniting in-person
  • Everyone is in the same space, with a shared experience (as opposed to hybrid.) 
  • Easier collaboration and brainstorming 
  • Can boost morale for attendees, and combat “Zoom fatigue.”
  • Support of local vendors who have been impacted COVID 
  • Higher potential for generating revenue
Cons:

  • Travel costs for attendees 
  • Additional time and resources required scoping and planning 
  • Inherent risk (COVID risk, financial risks), no matter how much you mitigate it
  • Unpredictability of COVID conditions
  • May not be inclusive for people unable to attend for a wide variety of reasons.

 

hybrid event production

Socio’s recent webinar, “When Virtual Meets In-Person: Run a Successful Hybrid Event,” which incorporated audiences in different locations as well as hybrid panels.

Hybrid Events

Hybrid events give you the best of both worlds. Your onsite attendees enjoy the in-person experience, while your virtual attendees can engage from their own homes.

There’s also more flexibility with hybrid events than you may think. Making an event hybrid can be as simple as adding a live stream to a session or two. Or, you can create a fully interactive experience where audience members in any location can ask questions, join the live chat, and even network with each other. There are also many options in-between these two extremes. 

So, what’s the catch? Hybrid events take more imagination, planning, and budget than traditional in-person or virtual-only events.

Ideal Circumstances for Hosting a Hybrid Event
Below are the ideal circumstances surrounding hosting a hybrid event, with both a physical and virtual component. If these circumstances don’t apply, it’s a good sign to consider a different format.

  • You have adequate time and resources to develop a safety plan for the in-person portion of your event. (See in-person events, above!)
  • You have the budget for a hybrid event, which can sometimes be higher than in-person or virtual only (depending on many factors.)
  • Part of your audience would prefer attending in-person, and part would prefer virtual. 
  • Your ROI will benefit from extending the audience outside how many people you can fit in your venue.
  • You have the lead-up time and internal resources to plan a hybrid event.
  • You have an experienced AV partner who can help you iron out the production logistics, which can be complex for a hybrid event.
  • You have speakers who are comfortable speaking to two audiences at once.

Additional Pros and Cons of Hybrid Events

Pros

  • Best of both worlds. Your event can be experienced in two different ways.
  • Greater inclusivity for people who are not able to travel to an in-person only event.
  • Additional sponsorship opportunities beyond onsite only
  • If you need to cancel your in-person portion of the event, having a virtual component already set-up makes pivoting easier.
  • On-demand content extends the life of your event.
  • Engagement data collected from virtual attendees
Cons

  • In-person portion requires in-depth scoping and safety plan.
  • Higher cost. However, it doesn’t have to be as high as many planners think. Here’s more on building your hybrid event budget.
  • Greater internal resources needed. Hybrid events are two different events in one. 
  • Greater production knowledge and experience needed from your AV partner.
  • More limited platform options than virtual-only events.

 

virtual event production

Virtual Events

Virtual events have come a long way since March 2020. Breakthrough technology has made them more engaging, intuitive, and customizable than ever before. The key for planning a virtual event is that it offers clear value for your attendees, and offers plenty of ways to engage with the speakers and/or other attendees.

Ideal Circumstances for Virtual Events:

Below are the ideal circumstances surrounding hosting a virtual  event. If one (or many) of these circumstances don’t apply, it’s a good sign to consider a different format.

  • You have a global audience.
  • You have great content that will attract attendees and keep them engaged. Remember: “Zoom fatigue” is real, and the bar has been raised for virtual content.
  • Your AV partner has experience with virtual events and can recommend, set-up, and produce on a virtual event platform that works for all your needs.
  • Your agenda is conducive for a virtual event, and can be adjusted for shorter attention spans.
  • Your audience has expressed an interest in attending virtually.
  • You (and your audience) are willing to try unique engagement strategies such as gamification, Q&A, virtual networking, polling, quizzes, and more.

Additional Pros and Cons of Virtual Events

Pros 

  • No COVID risk
  • Potential for increased attendee count
  • Inclusive to all attendees who are not able to travel
  • Greater possibilities for hiring remote keynote speakers due to schedules and budget
  • Post-event engagement data
  • On-demand content extends the life of your event
  • Smaller carbon footprint 
  • Closed captioning and more  translation options available
Cons 

  • No face-to-face interaction or networking. Connections may not have the same impact virtually.
  • Even the best virtual events typically can’t charge as much for registration.
  • Virtual events have become very competitive. You’ll need great content to stand out.
  • Some events aren’t conducive to chat or unmoderated Q&A, leaving engagement challenging.

 

From our perspective, these are the top factors that can help you choose the right event format. However, every event is different. Remember we’re always standing by to answer your questions and help you think through your strategy. Reach out to us here!

Top photo: Flickr user @CollisionConf 


Are you planning a hybrid or virtual event? We’d love to learn about it! Reach out to us here to learn how we can produce your hybrid, virtual, or fully in-person event in any city nationwide.