What are virtual and hybrid events - the most common event industry terms in the current pandemic times? How they differ from in-person events and what are their pros and cons? In this article you will learn everything you need to know before you start!
Events are gatherings that are held for educational, marketing, entertainment, or social and business relationship purposes. Wether the attendee expectations were met or not, directly affect the overall event experience, which means also the success of the event. Attendees generally expect to:
- learn new, interesting or helpful information
- connect with people with the same interests
- contribute with their opinion and experiences
- be entertained
Based on how you host them, you can divide them into 3 types: in-person, virtual and hybrid events. The in-person approach is the most common form of events...at least till this year. The popularity of virtual events rose by the pandemic outbreak and they probably became one of the most discussed topics in the event industry in the year 2020. Event organizers were suddenly forced to switch from in-person event to virtual, so that they won't lose all their budget. Most of the time they have to do it without any previous experience or knowledge of the advantages and real challenges of hosting such type of events.
So what are the differences between these 3 types of events? What are the pros and cons of virtual and hybrid events? What you can expect and what you should prepare yourself for? Are virtual events just a temporary need or a new way to grow that you haven't think of before the pandemic broke out? The following comparison is about to answer your questions and help you make a smarter choice when deciding what type of event is the best for you.
Virtual events (also called live events or online events), are events that take place in a virtual environment and therefore without the need for attendees to be physically present at a particular place, as it is at in-person events. All the sessions are running online (as live streams or videos-on-demand) and the attendees interact on their computers or mobile devices. The event is usually hosted with the help of some streaming or video sharing service and attendee engagement tools.
Let's have a look at the pros and cons of a virtual event in comparison to an in-person event.
PROS of virtual events
Compliance with current restrictions
It seems like there are practically no other options for the businesses in the event industry to survive without adapting to the current situation. No need to mention that safety should always be first on the list no matter what. Hosting your event virtually is the perfect solution for sharing your event content and connecting attendees in times of social distancing.
The biggest advantage of a virtual event is without any doubt the reach you can get. The attendees can come from almost any corner of the world and still be able to access your event. The comfortability of a virtual event is also one of the greatest advantages, as your attendees can attend such an event from their homes.
To attend a virtual event, you don't have to travel anywhere far, so you will save the costs for travel tickets or fuel. Reducing the traffic smog is also good for the environment, which is a great bonus. But it is not just the travel costs that you can reduce. There will be no need for printing materials (like the program, brochures, flyers, event venue map, etc.), which can swallow up a great amount of your budget. You also don't need to take care of the additional physical elements that significantly shape the experience of an in-person event (e.g. event venue, food and drinks, hostesses).
Having all your live-content recorded or already as videos-on-demand makes it easier to use it again and again, e.g. as a marketing tool to increase your web traffic.
When you hold a virtual event, you don't need to take care of things like where will your event be taking place; is there going to be enough space and seats for everyone; what catering service you should choose and how much food and drinks are needed; who will take care of the attendees; etc.
Experts and speakers from all around the world
It is logical that the distances lose their importance in terms of virtual events. You will be able to have virtual speakers from all around the world and offer your attendees even greater value.
As the event is running online, it is easier to access all the data and evaluate events in real time. You can also save the data for future analysis.
Stronger wifi connection
At in-person events attendees are often reliant to the venue's internet connection and it is not always very convenient, as it is often bad. Attendees, knowing that they need the connection to attend the event, will make sure to have it ready.
CONS of virtual events
Lack of personal contact
Nothing compares to a direct personal contact when speaking about connecting people. Attendees tend to engage much less when they are sitting in front of a display, instead of a real person. There are, however, many event softwares and platforms that can help you easily cope with this issue.
Bigger comfort means also more things that can distract you from watching the stream and concentrate on the event. Just imagine how many interesting details you might miss while thinking about the rest of the delicious chocolate you left in the cupboard, or laundry in the washing machine waiting for you to hang!
Dependence on technical equipment
When facing a technical issue at in-person event, there are still ways to manage the situation without significantly dropping the attendee experience. Technical issues at virtual event can, however, ruin the whole event, as the event experience is build upon the used technologies. The best way how to prevent these issues from happening and providing a seamless virtual experience is to properly test all your equipments sufficiently in advance with your team.
Preparation of speakers and attendees
It is also important to prepare your speakers and attendees for the whole virtual experience. Always keep in mind that not everyone is tech-savvy and there might be some technical help needed. Create quick guidelines to help with the usage of your tools, provide checklists, send recommendations, arrange rehearsals with speakers, have a dedicated support person, etc.
The advantage of a wide reach comes with a certain disadvantage that can not be ignored. The virtual environment enables the space to compress, but you can't expect participation of the people who are ready to count their sheep. :) You also need to think of the fact, that your virtual attendees might not be able to sit by their computers the whole day. Offering your content on-demand would be the most
A hybrid event is an event that combines the best of both worlds. Whiles virtual events take place fully online and in-person events fully offline, hybrid events are simply something between an offline and an online event. It is basically an in-person event with the reach into the virtual world.
With that being said, it is obvious what the pros and cons of hybrid events are, as they come from in-person and virtual events. There are, however, a few things that stand out.
PROS of hybrid events
The first thing is definitely the number of attendees you will be able to reach when your event has both offline and online approach. That means you will be able to connect with the people personally attending your event and the people who access your event online.
Attract more sponsors
This advantage associates with the previously mentioned advantage. Hybrid events tend to have big reach as they combine online and offline attendees. Sponsorship is not just about the money, they also drive positive publicity, targeted communities and value to your event.
As much as it sounds great to be able to combine both in-person and virtual event advantages, hosting a hybrid event is not just all rainbows and unicorns. Each event form has its own pros and cons, and also hybrid events have their disadvantages, which ought to be mentioned.
CONS of hybrid events
2 different experiences, 2 types of attendees
The advantage of a bigger reach happens to be a downside of it as well. To organize a successful hybrid event, you need to remember that virtual attendees are not in-person attendees. Providing the best event experience means focusing on the needs and demands of both types of attendees. It is also important to think of the ways you can connect and engage them. Let them ask live questions, vote through real-time polls, rate your speakers, arrange virtual meetings and network remotely, etc.