Bring me a hybrid love: A refresher on how to build hybrid events

Edward Snowden’s appearance at TED; Photo from Wikimedia Commons

File this under “there’s Something Wrong With This Picture”: The overwhelming majority of event and experiential pros — 75 percent — are planning hybrid events for this year and next, but only 30 percent of said pros know what hybrid XP actually is.

Given the numbers above — and the rolling IRL-friendly reopenings across the U.S. — it seems like a good time for a refresher on some of the core principles of hybrid XP.

Very basically put, hybrid combines IRL and virtual events to create unique, integrated and interactive experiences for both audiences. While B.C. (before corona) we might have considered an event like the Oscars hybrid because it has both an in-person component and is streamed/broadcast to at-home viewers, these days our definition of hybrid is more sophisticated and involves facilitating interactions between both the content and the attendees themselves, whether they be in-person or on the couch.

Here are a handful of the basic tenets of hybrid to keep in mind as you scope out your projects moving forward:

Keep it Cohesive

Connecting the IRL with the IDL is the secret sauce of hybrid. Your concept needs to translate across both worlds, visually and in terms of execution, so make sure you nail that before you map anything else out. The design elements should be synched, the content should draw people together and the interface should allow for interaction between your audiences, as well as with the content itself. Video networking, for example, allows attendees to meet up whether they’re at a central venue or at home, and virtual Q&As allow anyone to participate from anywhere.

Consider the Differing Value Props and the Impact on Your UX

While you want to tell one cohesive story with your XP, that doesn’t mean that the in-person and virtual experiences are going to be exactly the same. That’s just not possible and it’s important to embrace it. There are strengths in both realms and you should capitalize on them. Consider why an attendee might choose to engage digitally with your brand over IRL — how are the expectations different and how can you create a user experience that delivers on that? Many elements of your virtual and physical XP will overlap, but plenty won’t, and that’s okay. A conceptual throughline does not mean that everything has to be identical. (And this is why we don’t like to host virtual events in faux convention centers!)

Set Success Metrics for Your Audiences

One of the reasons brands are loving our brave new world of hybrid is that the sky’s the limit when it comes to attendees and there are all kinds of ways to measure the impact of your XP. But that also means you need to come up with a framework for evaluating the project’s success on both the IRL and IDL fronts, and the numbers and metrics (and pricing) are all going to look pretty different. Consider your objectives, think about how you could quantify them and analyze them before making wild guesses. This takes practice and lots of experience in a world that is ever-changing. Start modest and leave room for optimizing and iterating.

Prioritize Flexibility

Be agile! If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that we have no idea what’s around the corner and we need to be prepared for anything. That’s part of what makes hybrid so great — you already have two channels going. The important thing is that you need the ability to dial one of them up over the other at your discretion. So think about having a couple/few different settings for your IDL and IRL experiences — don’t go too crazy, minor adjustments can do a lot. Maybe you have a “go big” spot on the dial and a “just right” spot so you can tune up or down as you please.

Assemble a Truly Hybrid Team

How you staff your project will vary hugely depending on the XP you’re creating, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to hybrid projects. The first is that the tech element is bigger than it’s ever been and you need someone who is 100% devoted to it. We’re not talking about the olden days TD’s who supervise the trussing and the lighting and the staging (and whom we ️love and still very much need). We’re talking about someone who is totally up-to-date — and hopefully a few steps ahead — of all the latest event tech trends and will be able to advise you on which platform is the best match for your XP and will shepherd you through a perfectly executed hybrid experience. We also advise having one cohesive vision — with a producer devoted to IRL as well as one devoted to IDL to ensure that both audiences are equally advocated for and looked after. These two will clearly be in constant communication, and in lockstep, of course.

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Experiential Is Everything

XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.