By Anna Anisin, founder at DataScience.Salon, overseeing community and business development.
Since the first quarter of 2020, there has been a major shift in the way events are organized and experienced. The business-as-usual, in-person experiences became virtual-only when it was impossible to gather physically. People then became fascinated with virtual events such that when normalcy returned, hybrid became more popular because of the flexibility it provides to combine virtual and in-person experiences in one single event.
However, when it comes to organizing your business events, there can be the dilemma of which of these event formats would be most suitable for you, especially when it comes to budget considerations and revenue generation.
This article highlights the important factors to consider to help you arrive at a favorable decision on how to host each of your events in a way that can help you realize your business goals.
So what factors should determine the ideal event format?
An event format shouldn’t just be picked based on guesswork. It should be influenced by your business goals, the audiences you are targeting and your event budget.
• Event goals
Is your event learning-focused, a networking event or both? Are you interested in revenue generation or leads? An event that is focused on content will thrive in the virtual space. Virtual will help save cost and provide an extended reach. Also, revenue and lead generation goals can be a guide to choosing which format is most suitable. However, if your event is essentially networking-focused, then in-person is the way to go. That’s because networking virtually has been proven to be tough for many.
• Concentration of your audience
Are your target audiences concentrated locally or globally? If global, are most of them willing to travel down to a location to participate in the event, or is it a mixed audience that includes people who would like to join from their screens? In-person experiences can be planned for a local audience, while hybrid or virtual might be ideal for a global audience.
Your event budget determines a great deal of what you can do. Therefore, consider your budget to streamline your plans.
When does it make sense to keep your event ‘virtual-only’?
A virtual event will be the best option if you are interested in sharing a limited amount of content and have no networking and other physical engagement plans with attendees. Another reason you might want to consider virtual-only is if you want to achieve more with less budget. Once you can procure a suitable tech stack, which doesn’t cost a fortune, you can reach a wider/global audience with your event.
Also, virtual-only makes sense if you are looking at sourcing speakers, sponsors and volunteers from anywhere without securing huge travel expenses. Besides, virtual provides the opportunity for real-time event analytics that can be used to measure engagement, track poll results, facilitate Q&As, live chats, etc. When done right, virtual events can help increase your event ROI as well.
When should you go fully ‘in-person’?
As much as there are robust technologies that help people meet and interact seamlessly, no software can completely replace human physical interactions. It’s those physical interactions that can truly produce long-lasting relationships. For example, when people meet physically, there are more networking opportunities. Speakers can read the room and make their presentations more impactful.
Also, sponsors have the opportunity to meet and engage with leads more warmly. During in-person events, you can create happenings around the main event, including hosting VIP dinners, cocktail hours and entertainment. This means you can even create tiered event tickets to increase ROI.
Once you’ve “locked in” attendees for a physical event, you have the most of their attention. On the other hand, you can’t have the full attention of virtual event attendees who might have several other tabs opened while your event is on.
Go for ‘hybrid’ to have both in-person and virtual benefits, but…
Hybrid helps you engage physically with local audiences while also providing content to a wider or global audience. There are event apps that help to integrate both the physical and online components into one event ecosystem. Attendees can access the event with either in-person or virtual tickets depending on their preferences, and this format reduces outright cancellations as people can upgrade from virtual to in-person or downgrade as the case may be. Everyone has an offer that matches their budget.
The only challenge with the hybrid event format is that it requires a greater budget to create. For an event to be truly hybrid, it has to be immersive for both in-person and virtual attendees. This will require both the entire budget of a physical event as well as that of a virtual event combined, along with additional resources to manage both. Therefore, hybrid events are only recommended for companies with a large audience base so the cost could be recovered.
There are no hard and fast rules to which event format is best for your business. You might need to try out different formats at first and then stick to the one that yields the best result. However, it is also good to consult with critical event stakeholders such as speakers, sponsors (partners) and attendees before making a final decision.