The future of events is hybrid: how digital tools will merge with the return of face-to-face events

The future of events is hybrid: how digital tools will merge with the return of face-to-face events

Inspiring stories and new ideas from the DSA sector with Michelle Brown

As eQS Strategic Relationship Manager my job is to create and nurture relationships with disability and mental wellbeing professionals. As the newest member of the Learning Labs Customer Success team, we may not have had an opportunity to connect yet, so I decided to start a monthly blog to help you get to know me (and vice versa) and to open up discussions about, and spark inspiration around, disability and mental wellbeing.

In a year where everything went online from schools and places of work to even pub quizzes, I can safely say I’ve attended and hosted more online events than in a normal 12-month period. According to the Post Covid-19 Event Outlook Report 93% of event organisers plan to invest in virtual events moving forward. Virtual events or at least digital aspects of events have become the norm, and with many benefits is clear to see why they are here to stay for the foreseeable future ,whether that be as a stand-alone event or part of a hybrid one.

As much as I’m looking forward to attending live industry events, when it is safe to do so, I’ve also become a bit of a fan of virtual events. Last month Learning Labs exhibited at our first virtual event. Technology meant there was no danger of us getting lost finding the venue and no need to carry heavy roller banners or sales resources. We simply logged into our virtual stand and uploaded all our resources the day before ready for people to download. When people visited our stand, we immediately knew their name, job title and workplace and after the event we could see how many people had downloaded specific resources. This enabled us to instantly see what people found engaging and not so engaging. This got me thinking how technology has helped overcome the challenges industry events have seen in the last 18 months and how this will support the new future of events, which I think will take a more hybrid approach between face-to-face and digital.

Challenge 1: Attendees dealing with screen fatigue

Solution 1: Using apps to create interactive content

During the pandemic people were spending every aspect of their lives online, from attending work meetings on Microsoft Teams to speaking to friends and family via Facetime. On top of that you’re battling with distractions you wouldn’t experience in person, from Amazon deliveries to traffic noise or your neighbours mowing their lawn. Online events have to ensure the content is engaging so that it can cut through these distractions.

One app that I found useful in making my online webinars more interactive is Kahoot. You may have used it when everyone was doing quizzes to pass the time during lockdown. It’s a game-based learning platform which enables you to create your own multi-choice quizzes. The quicker you answer correctly the more points you receive so it unleashes everyone’s competitive side. Not only do quizzes add interaction and fun to online events but research has found they can help embed information in our brain.

I have also used MentiMeter to open up discussions during my online webinars. You can ask a question then attendees simply login there and then and answer it anonymously. Everyone sees the responses in real time via a word cloud with the most popular answers growing in size. It’s a lot more fun and engaging than just posting a question in the chat box for people to answer and with it all being anonymous it is more likely that people’s answers will be authentic, which creates a more valuable discussion.  

As we think of returning to live events, these digital tools can also be used as part of a face-to-face experience, offering a great way to encourage audience participation. Blending the interacting digital elements attendees have come to expect and feel comfortable using on webinars, I think we will see more of these in face-to-face events.

Challenge 2: Restricted attendee numbers due to social distancing

Opportunity 2: The birth of truly hybrid events

Pre-pandemic it was health and safety and fire regulations that determined the amount of people that could attended an event. Now venues are unable to run events at full capacity to ensure social distancing can take place.

By offering a hybrid event; giving the option for people to attend in person or remotely, you’re opening yourself up to a larger audience. This is where the event is not just face-to-face and using elements of digital tools, or distinctly online only but truly merges the two together to cater for the needs of in-person attendees and remote attendees at the same time. With hybrid events businesses no longer have to worry about travel or accommodation costs if an event is taking place at the other end of the country or the other side of the world. Simply login and experience the event at home or in the office and participate with discussions happening live in the room.

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During April and May last year Learning Labs had planned to host the CPD Revolution events from eight locations across the UK. Obviously, these could not take place in person, so we moved the sessions online, changed the content accordingly and decided to reschedule the live events to the end of the year (more on how that turned out in a minute). Overall, we had 462 people attend the online sessions. Before we had to move the events online, we had 323 people booked on the live events.

Sadly, our rescheduled CPD Revolution live events coincided with another national lockdown at the end of 2020. We evolved the series further and created our CPD Rev TV live stream event. In the feedback for our online events several people listed not having to travel as a positive. The pandemic has prompted us to look into the feasibility of our next CPD Revolution series potentially being a hybrid event to ensure as many people as possible can attend. You can view the highlights of our CPD Rev TV live stream events via the video below:

What do you think?

It seems the majority of people are ready to start attending outdoor events such as gigs and festivals, I for one have everything crossed that Glastonbury will take place next year. But do people have this same eagerness to attend industry events? I’m interested to know your thoughts on the future of events. Are you ready to get back to a busy exhibition hall or put your glad rags on to attend an industry event ceremony or are you quite happy to carry on logging in to attend? Let me know your thoughts by filling out this short survey.

It would be great to get to know as many of you as possible so please do introduce yourself via the comments. As well as acting as an introduction I also want these blogs to start conversations so please let me know what you thought of my first blog or feel free to suggest a future topic.

Check out the events page of our Learning Labs website to join me at one of our latest events or webinars.