And three things to consider before organising one.
On January 13th 2020, the first Photonics Online Meetup was organised. As the name suggests, this was not an in person event, but over 1100 participants were spread over 66 different locations in 37 countries. The main location, from where the conference was broadcasted, was at the University of Southern California. The organizers were able to make this engaging conference possible in an impressive preparation time of only 3 months!1 They could not have seen coming that this hybrid form of conferences would become everyday practice only two months later. In this article, you will find out why hybrid events are here to stay and what to consider when organizing a hybrid event.
Advantage #1 Flexibility
If there is one thing that 2020 has taught us, it is that flexibility has become a necessity in the event business of 2021. By now, it is hard not to take the risk of last-minute changes in policies into account when organising an event. Hybrid events are very safe to organise, since the show can go on virtually no matter what. They limit the risk of disappointments because digitizing will always be an alternative to cancellation. The technology is laid out anyway!
Advantage #2 Larger audience
The more the merrier! When organizing a hybrid event, there is no maximum to the amount of participants that can take part in your event. This also brings the benefit of more value for sponsors. A third sunny side to this aspect of hybrid events, is that participants who for monetary, political or logistical reasons would not have been able to be there, now have the possibility to attend as well. This way, hybrid events also contribute to something important called the ‘democratization of access to knowledge’: No matter where participants are in the world, they have a fair chance of enriching themselves with an inspiring event.
Advantage #3 Reduction of travel straint
Hybrid events make it unnecessary for participants to come all the way across the world for one event and this results in a huge reduction of travel straint. The burden of conferences on one’s carbon footprint is more than you might want to believe. A study by the university of Montréal has found that professors at that university have an annual footprint of on average 10.76 T of CO2 through work-related travel (in comparison, an average Canadian household produces a total of 13.14T of CO2 annually).2 Attending a conference in a remote setting from time to time might be just the solution to reduce your travel-related carbon footprint!
Advantage #4 Cost-efficient
Not only was COVID a health crisis, it also led to an economic crisis that can be felt for years. Chances are that eventing budgets will be cut, too. A hybrid event may be the ideal solution to organise an event for a large audience nevertheless. Hybrid events save a lot on collateral costs, such as accommodation and catering. The flip side to this is that participants are not willing to pay as much for a hybrid event as for a physical event. To solve this problem you could, for example, distinguish in ticket prices for on-site and on-line attendance.
Thus we can conclude: Hybrid events are more than a side effect from the COVID-19 pandemic and a true keeper. But not everything is said with that. Within hybrid events, the variety of options is massive and there are limitless ways to combine the virtual side of your event with the physical. A good balance between the two is important, because the form in which your event takes place decides how a participant experiences it, after all.
Three key decisions to make before you start planning your hybrid event
Both the physical part and the virtual part of hybrid events have their pros and cons, and how you design your event depends on where your goals lie. Before organising a hybrid event yourself, there are 3 basic things to decide:
1. The goal of your event
What do you want to achieve? Is the aim of your event to educate participants, connect them, inform them or maybe even something else? Next, think of different ways to achieve this goal, both in a physical and virtual way. If you want to teach participants skills, think of ways in which remote participants are not left behind. When organising an event that is focused on information exchange or discussions, it may be necessary to invest in a high-quality studio setup.
2. The size of your event
As said before, hybrid events allow for an unlimited amount of participants. However, a hybrid format can be suitable for smaller events just as well. For example, to organise a round-table discussion with a small group of field experts who are too occupied to travel. Next to the size, also think of how many of your visitors will be participating in a remote setting. And also about how many and who will have the opportunity to attend physically. This is important in finding the right venue to broadcast your hybrid event from.
3. The duration of your event.
With the possibility of attending hybrid events, the effort of traveling for an in-person event will increase, making remote attendance a popular alternative. But participants’ concentration span tends to be shorter behind a monitor and we all have become familiar with this phenomenon called ‘screen fatigue’. Especially for multi-day hybrid events, this is something to look out for. It can be solved, for example, by offering (partially) parallel programs to participants in a remote setting and on-site, respectively. Think of ways to activate remote participants during breaks, for example with an online cooking class instead of the traditional on-site buffet.
The possibilities within hybrid events are endless and can ensure an engaging and unique event experience. Technical innovation in the past years with wide-spread broadband connections making live-streaming feasible everywhere, have made the line between the technical and physical world very fluid. Make use of this! Hybrid events offer the possibility of an enriched conference experience like never before. Good luck organizing your next hybrid event!
1. Reshef, O., Aharonovich, I., Armani, A.M. et al. How to organize an online conference. Nat Rev Mater 5, 253–256 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-020-0194-0
2. Arsenault, J. et al. The environmental footprint of academic and student mobility in a large research-oriented university. Environ. Res. Lett. 14, 095001 (2019).