There has been much said in the past months about the factors that make or break hybrid events, and even more about their benefits and potential pitfalls. Less discussed is the financial side of hybrid events, although great articles can be found about budgeting for this new-old event type. Arguably, for clients determining the costs for a hybrid event is one of the more difficult aspects of hosting one, since there are many moving parts and many hidden expenses that are not there neither for live nor virtual events. So is it worth hosting hybrid events? Absolutely! Will they cost you a fortune? Not necessarily!
Because through smart budgeting you can save on elements that are either not necessary for your event’s purpose, or focus your spending on the most important aspects of a hybrid event, which will help you eliminate other costs that do not contribute to them and your end goal. While there are more components (in addition to more AV equipment and more on- and off-site staff), you will need to invest in for a hybrid event than for their live and virtual counterparts, it offers you an unmatched opportunity to be creative and engage your audiences and sponsors in a way that provides them with a high-value event experience. Such a hybrid event will yield your company not only the extra revenue but more importantly an extended audience and exposure that you could never have achieved with live events.
At the same time, not paying attention or not dedicating the necessary resources to certain elements of a hybrid event can result in mistakes that can cost you more than the amount of money you should have invested in the first place but ultimately chose not to.
Budgeting for your hybrid event
Before elaborating further on the elements that should be the focus of your hybrid event planning, let us touch briefly on the subject of creating an event budget. Planning the financial side of any event is a somewhat arduous but necessary task that helps you make decisions based on the costs of your planned activities, get a better idea of what you can actually afford, and prioritize expenses in order to achieve the goals you set out to reach through your event.
Going from live events to strictly virtual, and then again from virtual to hybrid has thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into old budgeting practices. While the first half of 2020 saw event costs fall back drastically, partly due to meetings having to take place on Zoom instead of board rooms or convention centers, the emergence of hybrid events over the course of the past year created another brand new situation for organizers, one that has a much higher price tag attached to it. All of this pivoting has had many scratching their heads, asking themselves whether it is worth just waiting it out until live events as we knew them return once again? Of course, it is possible to stick with virtual events or basic live streams, however those who choose not to make use of the incredible opportunities that hybrid events present both creatively and business-wise, will soon find that their competitors did and have made a significant return on their investment.
1. Event technology
One of the three pillars of your budget and the foundation of any hybrid event is top-notch event technology that not only perfectly performs in both the live and virtual settings, but also connects in-person and virtual audiences as if they were together in the same venue.
Whether you choose to have a large in-person audience or a handful of physical attendees, the live segment of your event will need a certain amount of audio visual equipment that are adapted to the venue itself and provide the same quality of technology that you would ensure for any live audience. The virtual part of your event comes with its own set of AV gear that works specifically for your remote audience. The live stream input and output will require equipment that is separate from your live set-up, such as extra cameras, mixing, virtual platform, etc.
Without question, event technology serves as the bridge between your two types of audiences, as well as your presenters and MCs, and if it does not perform perfectly, your event’s engagement levels will drop, and the overall experience that people take away will be mediocre at best. Many clients make the mistake of assuming that hybrid events need minimal technical input for the virtual aspect, or worse, have a long list of requirements but do not consider the price tags attached to those, and create an event budget that puts technology providers and event producers in a tight spot: the less resources they have to work with or can afford to fit into the budget, be it equipment or human labor, the more difficult it is – if not impossible – for any AV company to provide the level of technology that creates the event experience you desire.
In reality, expenses for the following elements absolutely must be built into any hybrid event budget:
- Audio visual equipment: for both your live and virtual event elements the right AV equipment (sound system, video and screens, lighting, staging, digital solutions, etc.) is required. Microphones that usually work well for venue acoustics and in-person audiences will not necessarily be suitable for a live stream or a remote studio setting, and the same goes for camera systems, etc. Working with a trusted audio visual provider will ensure that you have the right gear for the right purposes.
- On-site and off-site crew: more equipment on-site will require a larger crew that do not only manage the live elements but also have a dedicated team to specifically handle the complex live streaming part, as well as navigate any and all virtual processes and tools.
- Virtual event platform: for hosting your online audience, select a platform that fits seamlessly with your live event’s needs and matches all your requirements for engaging remote attendees. Having a user friendly, tried and tested virtual platform is half of the success, it also needs to be prepared and managed by an expert team of event production professionals.
- Live stream: live streaming to a large (and potentially global) virtual audience requires a professional set-up, the right equipment, a robust webcasting software, as well as an internet connection that has constant, fail-safe, and secure bandwidth. Needless to say, the success of any event with a prominent virtual component rises and falls on the reliability of the internet strength, and it is imperative to ask for the help of an AV company to help establish that together with the venue.
If you want to create the event experience your attendees will talk about for a long time for all the right reasons, it is not worth choosing the cheapest technology for your hybrid event set-up. Working closely with your trusted AV provider has likely proved in the past that equipment that comes at the lowest price point will not fit your event’s needs or technical requirements, and will only result in performance issues but will also leave a bad impression on your audiences.
Every cent you invest in the right event technology and the people that make it work, will pay you in dividends by helping you reach a much larger audience than you ever could with an in-person event. Bringing your virtual attendees closer to your live audience through technology, and connecting and engaging with them in a meaningful way while providing them with glitch-free, high quality content will create an event experience that will not only increase your ROI but also your value for your potential customers.
At a hybrid event engaging your audience in a meaningful way cannot happen without robust AV technology backing you up, which involves providing glitch-free live streams, high-quality audio and video feed, troubleshooting, platform management, running a studio set-up for a virtual host, etc. All of this is imperative because what no client must forget is that treating in-person and virtual attendees as equals in terms of importance and involvement is the number one rule of hybrid events. A live audience can stay actively engaged throughout most of the event thanks to the constant interaction, impulses, and activities, but this is not the case of attendees who can log off at any time. This means that creating your budget, your agenda, and your content must be done with digital on your mind. Digital-first thinking allows you to factor in a range of tools and event elements that help you keep the focus of your online attendees, who have a different attention span thank your in-person audience due to real-time, face-to-face interaction.
Hybrid events have created, and will continue to create as technology continuously evolves, a brilliant opportunity for event planners, organizers, and AV professionals to come up with new and previously unthinkable ways to engage live and virtual audiences with each other, with the presenters, with sponsors, and with you. What feels like a completely new and perhaps unnecessary direction for events to take, will very soon become the natural way to connect with people, and it allows you to reach new target audiences that you did not have easy access to, if at all.
So how can you budget for engagement? By planning for costs that help facilitate it:
- Hire a virtual host who specifically focuses on engaging with your online audience and makes sure that you still have their attention even between sessions, or during times when your in-person attendees are off doing something that they are not able to, such as having lunch and coffee breaks. Your host is able to connect your physical and virtual audiences with each other in a meaningful way, and can interact with presenters as well, asking them questions that your online attendees may have or even bring them into a live Q&A session via video chat.
- Budget for content creation to keep engagement alive! Prepare video content – informative, educative, entertaining, or a mix of all three – to bridge gaps in the agenda.
- Entertainment is another great way to maintain engagement levels during down-times, and will be appreciated by both of your audiences: pre-recorded or live musical, performance, or comedy acts work like a charm not just for in-person, but also hybrid events.
- Invest in virtual tools that help facilitate engagement! Virtual platforms usually come with a range of built-in tools you can add to your package, but you can always ask for the advice of your event production partners to help recommend you features that are useful and can be managed seamlessly during your hybrid event. Incorporating functions such as a mobile app, Q&As, live chats, polls, social media walls, sweepstakes, competitions, and gamification allows your audience, physical and remote alike, to actively engage in networking throughout the entire event. There are virtual meeting tools that allow you to incorporate scheduled one-on-one meetings between physical and online attendees (as well as with sponsors), which can elevate the networking opportunities you offer to a whole new level!
Engaging two audiences at the same time a hybrid event is a challenging task that requires immense preparation, creativity, and it does come with a price tag – but the payoff will be worth every dime if you create a cohesive and memorable event experience for all of your attendees. Just like with event technology, investing in ways to engage your audiences is a fail-safe way to ensure your event’s success.
In the end, it all comes down to the event experience. In the industry we often paraphrase the famous quote by Maya Angelou and say that ultimately people may not remember what you said or did at your event, but they will always remember how it made them feel. If you dedicate the necessary resources and put in the effort to create something memorable, your attendees will not forget it. Sadly it is also true if they leave with the feeling that the event left much to be desired.
Besides meticulous preparation and testing, professional delivery and great content, it will be applying all the right event technology and creating deep, meaningful audience engagement will be what sets your hybrid event apart from the rest. Combining all of these elements will help you build a well-rounded and versatile event experience that will make your attendees, live and virtual alike, want to return to your next event, most likely in person.
There are more ways to create the experience that your audience desires:
- Make sure that the health and safety standards you apply are impeccable. Investing a little more in making sure that your in-person audience feels taken care of will go a long way in making a lasting impression. Signage (digital or physical), sanitation stations, manuals, pre-packaged food, etc. are all features that many hybrid events have been implementing with success over the past year, and new creative ideas are popping up every day to help your in-person attendees feel safe and relaxed at the same time.
- Contingency plans are a must when you plan any event, and we have learned that circumstances may change at the drop of a hat. With hybrid events the risk of cancellation is significantly lower, and due to the blend of in-person and virtual elements you are able to quickly pivot your event to solely virtual without sacrificing your content. Setting aside expenses in your budget for unforeseen circumstances will help you smoothly make changes or transition into virtual (or solely in-person) and cover any last-minute cancellation costs for services.
- If you have a hefty event budget with a lot of room to incorporate extra elements, consider upgrading your virtual element to an immersive, xR (extended reality) based experience that will blow the minds of your virtual audience, as well as impress your physical attendees. While xR virtual production is at the highest price point in terms of AV technology, it is swiftly becoming one of the most desired features to use by large multinational corporations.
Technology, engagement, and experience are three factors that not only go hand in hand, but also cannot exist without the other if you aim to host a hybrid event that is not only memorable but also delivers on all of the goals that you have set to reach. You can always add or take away from your event budget, however we strongly recommend that you keep the focus on these three pillars and see your ROI steadily increase from one event to the next.
Where can you save instead?
Finding the right venue partner is a crucial part in hosting a hybrid event. Instead of opting for venues that are strictly specialized for in-person events and are rigid in their pricing, choose a venue that is designed to be flexible and even adapted for hybrid events. This will be crucial if your live attendee numbers shrink unexpectedly, as you will not be required to still fork out a minimum spend, as you would with a hotel or pay cancellation fee for pre-booked but unused spaces. Your trusted event solutions provider may negotiate even better deals for you with venues that they regularly partner and work with.
More and more virtual studios, conference venues, and convention centers around the world offer hybrid-friendly solutions. Many hotel chains are also focusing on hosting hybrid events with innovative solutions, with some even offering clients to convert breakout rooms into live streaming studio spaces, which are able to connect presenters with virtual audiences for smaller, exclusive sessions. Such venues also have upgraded infrastructure to provide high-end technology solutions that enable clients to engage both in-person and remote attendees.
Reduce your costs even further by working with an event partner that already has a venue and event technology at the ready. Many of our AV Alliance members around the world are in partnership with such venues or even operate their own, which means that they are able to offer packages at a much friendlier price, without the added costs of logistics, sourcing rental equipment, construction, on-site event design, staging, venue rigging, booking fees, extra internet connection, mobile studio setting, green screen and LED backgrounds, etc. Such venues are usually affiliated with trusted catering partners, which make it even easier for you broker a better deal for your event.
With hybrid events companies have an unparalleled opportunity to expand their reach far beyond their regular audiences and attract people from any and every corner of the world. This is true for clients, and twice as true for sponsoring partners, who now have convenient and easy access to a significant number of online attendees and a range of virtual tools at their disposal to engage them while still having the chance of meeting and doing business with their target audience face-to-face. By offering different sponsorship level packages you can now attract even more partners than before, which can help offset some of the costs that have been added to your hybrid event budget.
In addition to charging in-person attendees as you usually would, monetizing the virtual segment of event by either offering various registration packages or offering paid access to on-demand streaming. Granting free access to certain parts of your event to your online audience while charging them for some of the content can secure an additional source of revenue for your company.
Hybrid events are a complex business, and some of the costs that come with them may seem unnecessary at first. It may even seem like a good solution to avoid them altogether, and stick with virtual events and small in-person meetings, and wait until the “hybrid craze” passes or they will have more budget to work with. For better or for worse, however, hybrid events are here to stay for quite a while, and for those not taking part in this change may be more costly than it would be to pay for them in the first place.
Hybrid events come with opportunities that companies did not have before to strengthen their brands and spread their message across previously unreachable audiences around the world. Falling behind competitors who are willing to invest in hybrid events and losing out on potential revenue are risks that are just not worth taking.
With all the latest technology and our vast collective experience at our disposal, we are ready to jump head-first into creating unforgettable hybrid event experiences for our clients. To learn more about the technical aspects of our hybrid event services, the necessary equipment, and the related costs, we invite you to get in touch with us and find out what our AV Alliance members can do for you and your event!
We are here and we are ready when you are.