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8 Key Takeaways From Agents of Hybrid 2021

Thousands of event professionals from around the globe joined us IRL, virtually, and via robots and balloons, for the industry’s premier hybrid event, Agents of Hybrid.

We recently hosted our first integrated event experience welcoming both on-site and virtual attendees. Along with our partners at Cramer, we produced an immersive event all about hybrid to cut through the noise and get down to business so event planners can confidently strategize for the hybrid era. 

From sustainability rooms to floating robot balloons, we tested the limits to create a truly inclusive experience and push the boundaries of what is possible in the hybrid era.

Agents of Hybrid welcomed speakers and thought leaders from the most well-respected events and brands in the industry: Money 20/20, Peloton, HubSpot, and Bloomberg - just to name a few.

Agents of Hybrid On Demand

Here’s what you need to know about how the world’s top brands are approaching their own hybrid event strategies in 2021 and 2022.

1. Hybrid is a Spectrum

Hybrid is not one size fits all. It’s time to ditch the limiting binary mindset and reimagine the way we create experiences.

First and foremost, let’s discuss the difference between hybrid events and a hybrid strategy. Some companies will decide that their event strategy comprises a mix of in-person and online events. They won’t be hosting hybrid events, but will instead host both live and digital events depending on which format makes the most sense for each event. A hybrid event on the other hand comprises a mix of both virtual and on-site attendees.

When it comes to hybrid events, different event leaders are planning for different types of integrated experiences, some lean more into the digital aspect, and others are eager to get back to in-person. There is no right or wrong answer and no perfect fit for every brand. And many factors will help you determine the best approach for your particular event.

Here are a few examples of considerations that’ll help paint a clearer picture of your event needs:

  • How much of your audience is comfortable or able to attend on-site?
  • Do you have a large international audience?
  • Is your event more intended to promote networking opportunities or educate and present valuable content?

These types of questions will help you start to understand where on the hybrid spectrum your event falls and how you can create an integrated experience best tailored to your event goals and your unique audience. 

At Agents of Hybrid, we got an exclusive look at how many of the world’s leading brands are planning their own events in 2021 and 2022, and in keeping with the hybrid spectrum, they each had a different approach specific to their needs.

"Right now, ZenDesk isn't going to be producing any physical events in 2021 (2022?). We are planning digital-first because that offers us the opportunity to take risks, to experiment, and to do the right thing by our business and our audiences.”

Sarah Reed, Zendesk

“We are an incredibly in-person, face-to-face organization.”

Ajith Krishnankutty, Capital Group

“Following our move to virtual in 2020, we made a decision to never put on another INBOUND that lacked a digital component."

Laura Moran, Hubspot

 

Bizzabo's VP of Global Events, Devin Cleary, recently shared his tips for thinking about the Spectrum of Hybrid Events at The Insider's Guide to the Hybrid Event Experience. Below's an excerpt from his discussion. You can watch the full Insider's Guide event here.

 

2. Hybrid is About Creating a Shared, Integrated, and Personalized Experience

"The goal is a unified hybrid event experience event isn't to create the same experience but to create the best experience for each audience."

Oz Richter, Bizzabo

Live Audience - Agents of Hybrid

The main goal of a hybrid event is to move from siloed experiences to one shared experience that creates value and drives impact for everyone. The hybrid era is about more than just integrated experiences, it’s about the fact that people are craving connected moments - now more than ever. 

"We need to move away from this notion of hybrid and move back to the notion of convening...We need to pull back and remember the purpose of what we are doing."

Julia Cyboran, C2 International

So rather than thinking of the virtual and on-site as two separate events, plan your event with the goal of creating a holistic experience. It can be easy to treat your event as two separate pieces, but if you think about hybrid as an integrated experience every step of the way, the final product will reflect that. 

The tricky part is finding the right balance between unity and personalization. In an ideal world, on-site and virtual attendees would have shared moments and the overall feeling of connectedness, but they also feel their experience was unique and that the event organizer truly took into account their personal event journey.

The future of events is all about connecting in new ways while personalizing the experience to each individual so everyone gets the most out of the event.

"We're seeing the merger of virtual and physical experiences...and we're seeing that there's value to both. It's different but very complementary."

Dara Treseder, Peloton

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3. Be Authentic

People are drawn to authenticity. And when it comes to events, everyone - especially attendees - can sense whether we are being authentic. Hybrid is an opportunity to double down and be true to your brand and your audience.

Authenticity opens the door to create even more impactful experiences because we can focus on what is real and amplify what makes our brand at its core. At Agents of Hybrid, Dara Treseder, SVP at Peloton, spoke to this idea and shared how Peloton thinks about authenticity on a daily basis.

“We celebrate what’s real. We focus on this as a core truth and that makes it feel authentic and real. People feel authenticity.”

Dara Treseder, Peloton

Be real, be transparent, and think about your audience through the same lens of authenticity.

“When you cater to everyone, you cater to no one. That’s key to events as we navigate hybrid. You’ve got to be clear on the value proposition for your target audience. And don’t forget your first love - don’t forget your core audience.”

Dara Treseder, Peloton

Dara and Katie at Agents of Hybrid

4. Be Intentional

These days event teams and attendees alike are busy, distracted, and looking to cut through the noise. It’s going to take attention and intention to stand out and make a real impact on our audience.

The key to driving value and engagement is being thoughtful at every step of the way - the content, the format by which you deliver the content, and the speakers you choose to deliver it. 

"It's about purposeful content, purposeful experiences so the engagement level stays high."

Sarah Reed, Zendesk

Invest wisely in the right event format, content programming, and engagement tools to be sure you are planning your event with intention.

Another part of being intentional is constantly iterating. Just because an event worked before, doesn’t mean it will work again.

Ask the right questions and consider everything when thinking about your next hybrid experience. For example:

  • How might global factors around health and the willingness/ability of attendees to travel impact the way you approach your event?
  • What are the resource limitations of your team, and where can you make the biggest impact? 
  • Who is your audience and what are they really looking for and seeking in their event experience: To learn? To connect? To experience something new?

"You have to be very intentional about creating experiences. The programs we ran before may not be relevant in 2022."

Ajith Krishnankutty, Capital Group

5. Accessibility & Representation Matter

The initial industry shift to virtual showed us both the immense need and benefit of accessibility in events. Now as we are amid another shift to hybrid, there are even more opportunities to promote inclusivity both for the on-site attendees as well as the virtual.

"What challenges might they have in viewing your event? Let's pay attention to accessibility."

Adele Durham, Haymarket Media

There are many aspects of accessibility to consider and each is vitally important. 

Here’s a glimpse at some of the ways you can start to think about inclusivity at your hybrid events:

  • Timing. From time zones to busy schedules, there are multiple barriers your attendees could be facing and it’s important to show them that you acknowledge those struggles and are doing what you can to mitigate them. Virtual attendance and on-demand recordings are both great examples of how to provide more access for those attendees.
  • Accessibility On-Ramps. Everyone deserves to experience your event and it’s crucial that as event organizers we recognize that some of our audience might require different circumstances in order to enjoy the experience. As an industry, we must work towards creating inclusion and continuing to remove barriers of entry for every attendee, from closed captioning and language services to on-site accommodations.
  • Diversity & Inclusion. With the virtual aspect, hybrid events have the power to bring people together from all over the world. At Agents of Hybrid, 37% of our audience was international, which is a testament to the opportunities for inclusion in the digital space. 

Another important topic that came up was the responsibility that event organizers have to make sure that speakers, sponsors, and other partners are representing the different intersections of their audience. While we can’t take credit for coining the term ‘Manels’ (male panels), we can help to do our part by shining a spotlight on this important topic and leading by example. Out of our 33 speakers, 22 (67%) were female-identifying.

The hybrid age is ripe with opportunities to promote inclusivity and meet your audience where they are in order to provide the best possible experience for everyone.

“Inclusion and diversity have always been a pillar for Twitch, so for GlitchCon, we were trying to create an escape from 2020 and we had to make sure it's open to everyone. We had ASL, closed captioning, and global language co-streaming where we hired global content creators to take our content and translate it in real-time to their native communities and make it regionally relevant."

Jennifer Jessup, Twitch

6. Be Bold and Embrace the Unknown

Zeppi - Agents of Hybrid

Event organizers, attendees, speakers, and sponsors are all figuring out the future of events together. No one has the answers yet, and no one ever really will. We will simply continue to test and iterate as the industry and needs of our audiences continue to change and evolve. 

Because we are all navigating the waters of hybrid, people are open to new ideas and excited about the possibilities. Now is the time to push the boundaries, test the limits, and show them the art of the possible.

"This year is a free pass, people don't know what to expect, so be bold, get out there."

Mark Wilson, Cramer

"Be unique. Disrupt the norm, push boundaries, even if you're not 100% confident in the outcome. When we were shifting our tentpole event, the PR Week Awards, online, a lot of our competitors were streaming their events via youtube and I realized I could create a more unique experience. We built a virtual environment and brought to life and mirrored what you would get with a live experience. We were bold and we disrupted what was going on."

Adele Durham, Haymarket Media

7. Get Inspired

In order to stay at the top, we need to continue to inspire and be inspired. Look to other companies, events, and industries to find inspiration. And it can be found anywhere. Many companies who presented at Agents of Hybrid expressed that they were looking to B2C brands and taking a consumer perspective to find new and fresh takes on event experiences.

“Take inspiration from consumer content, like Netflix and movies - how can we create those cliffhanger moments? When structuring content - how can we hook the audience”

Elise Orlowski, Cramer

The future of events is going to continue to change rapidly and to keep up, we must continue finding new ideas and new ways of doing things. And that inspiration can come from all around.

“Embrace curiosity. Don’t just check boxes. Read up and go to other events to get inspired. Don’t lose the spark. If you lose it, your team loses it and your event loses it.”

Dara Treseder, Peloton

8. Humanize Your Events & Let Your Audience Guide You

We are living in a hybrid age where the lines between work and life are blurred. Embrace that your attendees are more than their job title. Get to know them on a deeper level. What are their wants and needs? What makes them tick?

The key to driving memorable experiences in 2021 and beyond will be humanizing our approach to every aspect of events. It’s what people are used to and what they’ve come to expect. They want to feel seen and understood, so empathize with their goals and their struggles. 

“We need to go beyond what that person does for a job and look at what makes them them because that vulnerability really comes across.”

Adele Durham, Haymarket Media

For a truly unique and personalized experience, put your attendees in the driver’s seat. Let your audience choose their own adventure and create interactive experiences by allowing them to guide the content and programming and tell you what they want out of their event experiences. 

“Create a feedback loop. At our recent event, we encouraged attendees to use voting and polling. The content was created so the audience could determine the outcome in real-time. It was a great way to have everyone involved in the conversation.”

Jennifer Jessup, Twitch

Beyond the actual event journey, take a zoomed-out view and make sure that you consider your audience’s perspective at every turn. Take your attendees into account and keep them at the forefront as you plan and ideate your hybrid experiences. If you do that, you can be sure it will be tailored to their wants and needs. 

“We need to think about the experiences we are creating through our audiences' perspectives. It should be about: what experience does our audience want to have with us?”

Mindy Weisenborn, T. Rowe Price

Wrapping Up: Hybrid Is Now

Hybrid experiences are already here and Agents of Hybrid was the perfect introduction to the exciting future of events. As we look to the rest of 2021 and 2022, we’re all leaning on each other to share best practices, tips, and strategies. Agents of Hybrid brought some of the world’s most respected event leaders to give a glimpse into their very own strategies and frameworks and that’s just the beginning of the conversation. 

Learn even more about exactly what it took to make this event happen at the Insider's Guide to The Hybrid Event Experience—featuring a hands-on Design Thinking session with Duncan Wardle, former Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney on August 4th, 2021.

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