When business events were pushed online two years ago, the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) made an important discovery: Members who’d been unable to attend ONA’s in-person events were now showing up for its virtual gatherings.
This opportunity to more fully engage ONA’s 68,000 members was an eye-opener. ONA has gone from hosting only face-to-face events, to now offering hybrid educational and business meeting options. “Going virtual has increased accessibility for all of our members and I think it's going to keep evolving,” says Lynda Hoff, manager, membership experience / events.
Virtual events — and now hybrid, which combines in-person and at-home audiences — have come a long way since early 2020 when online sessions were sometimes plagued by glitchy connections and other technical issues. Today’s audiences expect higher audiovisual production values as well as content that is just as engaging as the in-person experience.
“During focus groups last fall, our top accounts told us that the pandemic had forced them to really look at why they were doing events and the best way to make them happen,” says Melissa Deslauriers, director of sales and marketing for bb Blanc, an audiovisual and entertainment company.
This November, ONA will host a four-day hybrid business meeting at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel. Hoff’s team will have more than two years of virtual events under their belts and will apply lessons learned from ONA’s very first hybrid gathering, scheduled for mid-June in Windsor, Ont.
Drawing upon their combined experiences, Hoff and Deslauriers offer these tips for better hybrid events.
Learn from others: Ask destination marketing organizations, hotels, venues, vendor partners and fellow meeting planners how they’re creating successful hybrid events. “Your vendors have seen what does and doesn’t work for different sectors of industry. Utilize that expertise — they may suggest [alternatives and] workarounds that you hadn’t thought of,” Hoff says.
Creative engagement: Provide polls, quizzes and games that involve both audiences. Hire an online host who can provide a play-by-play of the in-person event to virtual attendees and answer questions behind the scenes.
Pick and choose: Your live event doesn’t have to be 100% hybrid. “If you’re uncomfortable running [live and virtual] events at the same time or you lack the people power to make it happen…capture some of the content and make it available on demand after the fact,” Deslauriers suggests.
Boost ROI: Extend the life of your event and broaden your audience by making keynotes and value-added content, such as behind-the-scenes interviews, available on your website post-event. Some organizations are monetizing their efforts by offering paid access to specific sessions or subscriptions to a library of content.