Choosing Between Virtual and Hybrid Events: 6 Top Considerations

Originally published on LinkedIn March 1, 2022

By Dahlia El Gazzar

As in-person events have been making their comeback – often with reduced attendance – planners find themselves again wondering about the right format for their next event: 100% virtual or a hybrid approach?

Knowing which approach is the best fit for your event boils down to several different factors, including goals, expected attendance, budget, timeline, and attendee preferences.

Each approach has its pros and cons. We’re breaking down six of the top considerations to help determine which type of event is right for you, your company, and your audience.

1)  Your Goals

What is the primary purpose of the event? For example:

  • Build brand awareness
  • Increase thought leadership
  • Generate new demand
  • Return value to your community
  • Increase customer retention and loyalty
  • Drive revenue

Goals like brand awareness thought leadership, and new demand generation are often associated with virtual events since larger audiences can be reached and more metrics can be captured.

But increasing loyalty and driving revenue goals typically mean the need for deeper interactions, which may or may not be feasible in a purely virtual format. A hybrid approach can provide those looking for deeper connections to meet, speak and ask questions with your team – which may ultimately translate into your revenue and sales goals.

2)  Audience Expectations

Most events share a common goal: bringing people with a shared purpose together. But there are nuances in that primary goal. For example, is the shared purpose to learn? Network? Socialize? Or something else?

Bob Priest-Heck, CEO and board member of Freeman Company, wrote for AdAge, “Content (or learning) is the key attraction for virtual events, with 67% of survey respondents citing it as their primary reason for attending.”

If your audience expects to learn, then a virtual-only format may suffice.

However, if attendees are looking to network, socialize, talk to experts, or get hands-on with solutions, a virtual-only approach doesn’t lend itself to those outcomes. In that case, a hybrid approach may be the better option.

3)  The Timeline

Planners often choose virtual events because time and money resources are at a premium. Virtual events can be deployed quickly, which is especially beneficial when time is of the essence to share information or connect with audiences. Examples of programs that traditionally work best in a virtual-only format are panel discussions, interview-style Q&A sessions, or other educational events that are 90 minutes or less in duration.

Hybrid events typically require a longer planning timeline, with time for site selection visits, platform vetting, and technology integration preparation for in-person and virtual audiences. Minimum timelines for hybrid event production start at least three to four months out (if not more!), whereas virtual-only can be executed in four to six weeks (if pressed, but more time is always better!)

4)  The Budget

Too often, virtual events are perceived as being “free” to produce. Depending on the complexity of your technical needs and set-up, plus the time and resources to plan and produce the event, virtual-only events do require time and resource commitments (though in many times, those costs aren’t direct outlays since no venue fees, F&B, or travel are required).

On the other hand, hybrid events require both the AV and technology platform costs and the typical in-person expenses – one of the reasons many planners feel planning a hybrid event is like planning two events, with two budgets, simultaneously.

5)  Audience Reach

Where is your target audience based? Are they all nearby or dispersed across the country – or even worldwide?

One big benefit of virtual events is that no one has to travel to attend so that you can attract attendees from around the globe. As Priest-Heck explained, “When it comes to extending reach and accessibility, offering content digitally opens doors to new audiences. This feeds top-of-funnel brand awareness for marketers. And for professional associations seeking to diversify their membership, a virtual offering makes it easier for secondary audiences—those who can’t justify in-person attendance—to participate and contribute.”

You also aren’t limited to a set room size like you are with an in-person or hybrid event. And even a last-minute rush of registrations can typically be handled a bit easier (though some virtual tech platforms may require upgrades to handle more attendees.)

But don’t rule out expanded reach with hybrid events too. Those who may be unable to travel can still join virtually, while those closer in location or who want to travel can join in person. And if there are concerns about cannibalization with hybrid events, studies have shown this is not the case. Those that want to meet in person will attend, even if a digital option exists.

A hybrid option truly gives audiences the most flexibility to participate how they prefer – and at the same time, to expand your reach.

6)  Technology Support

In the same vein of thinking virtual events are “free” to produce, it can be easy to underestimate the technology requirements for a virtual-only event. There are plenty of free or inexpensive platforms, like Zoom and Facebook Live, but these solutions aren’t robust enough for most professional events and meetings. There are countless platforms and enhancement add-ons available for a virtual-only event – and the longer the event and different types of content are shared, the more complex the technology support requirements can become.

The same applies to hybrid events too. Again, there are simple technology tools to up-level engagement and interaction for both in-person and remote audiences. But if additional capabilities are required – like both audiences interacting with each other throughout the event – the tech support needs to ramp up.

Regardless of a virtual or hybrid, start planning your technology needs early. Think beyond the technology to support the event broadcast. Consider other key tech elements like registration and check-in, speaker audio, audience engagement, and more to ensure all your technology needs are covered.

Event planning has never been for the faint of heart, and the challenges from the last two years certainly haven’t made it any easier. However, virtual and hybrid events present new opportunities, along with new challenges to consider as we move forward.

When it comes to determining what event approach makes the most sense for you, your organization, and your audience, start with these first steps. 

If you’re looking for guidance to help you dig into other essential considerations to make the most of your next virtual or hybrid event, drop us a line! Our team of passionate content creators, strategists, and production experts has been designing and producing thumb-stopping, mind-stamping, revenue-driving events for more than ten years.