28 Ideas for Better Virtual, In-Person, and Hybrid Event Content and Experiences

When everybody stayed home, in-person events moved online.

Two-thirds (67%) of B2B marketers and 39% of B2C marketers said they were doing virtual events in 2020, according to CMI’s most recent research. Shutdowns in the early months of the pandemic made the shift to virtual a necessity, but not every event hit the mark in terms of content and experience.

Many marketers have permanently shifted how they think about events. Still, with lingering pandemic concerns – and the realization that some audiences like the convenience and accessibility of digital options – virtual and hybrid events have joined in person on the event menu.

We asked the speakers presenting (virtually and in person) at Content Marketing World for their advice on creating better events in a hybrid world. These 28 experts don’t all agree on the best course of action. But they do agree on one principle – keeping the audience top of mind.

Here’s what they suggest.         

Aim high to meet audience expectations

Understand that attendees’ expectations about the experience of the event are significantly higher than they were 15 to18 months ago. What can you deliver to online attendees that the in-person audience can’t, and vice versa? – Carla Johnson, marketing and innovation strategist

 Attendees expect better virtual and in-person #event experiences now, says @CarlaJohnson. What can you deliver that’s only for online attendees (or only for in person)? @CMIContent #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Buddy up

Make sure everyone feels included regardless of whether they’re virtual or in person. One way to achieve this is to assign the virtual attendees an in-person buddy to help them feel part of the live experience. – Dr. Leigh George, CEO, Freedom

For a welcoming hybrid event, assign an in-person buddy to make virtual attendees feel part of the live action, says @LeighGeorge via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Grab an energy bar

You gotta’ think of how you communicate online. Given the limitations of Zoom (etc.), you have to invest energy into your voice and body language (yes, use your hands) to compensate for the distance imposed by virtual media. – Jonathan Kranz, principal, Kranz Communications

Amp up the energy in your voice and body language to bridge the feeling of distance in a virtual event, says @JonKranz via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Wake up your audience

Keep sessions short, actionable, and interactive with a focus on the benefits. Use tools like Zoom polls to engage the audience. – Karen Hesse, CEO and founder, 256

Keep #virtual event sessions short, actionable, and interactive, says Karen Hesse of @256Media. Use polls and other tools to engage the audience via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Practice, practice, practice

Content marketers should spend a significant amount of time getting in reps with dry runs before the actual event. Practicing making the event as engaging as possible will help hybrid events turn out better for those joining virtually and in person. – Chris Craft, co-founder and chief content officer, NeoLuxe Marketing

Practice making the #event as engaging as possible to help hybrid events turn out better for people joining virtually and in person, says @CraftWrites via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Create community and connection

Test and iterate. Find ways to replace what’s missing when you don’t attend in person by creating communities or ways to connect beyond the workshops and sessions. – Ashley Guttuso, director of marketing, Simple Focus Software | Curated.co

Replace what’s missing when you don’t attend an in person #event by creating communities, says @GuttusoAshley via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Use FOMO to avoid no-shows

Give incentives to engage. Leverage FOMO. If people feel like they’re missing out, they’ll show up. – Inbar Yagur, vice president of marketing, GrowthSpace

Give incentives to engage. Leverage FOMO. If people feel like they’re missing out, they’ll show up, says @content_fairy via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Keep attention

Ross Brand said on the Business Storytelling Show that we need to get people off social media so they can actually pay attention. I think there’s something to that as it can limit distractions. Of course, just because I’m in a conference software on one screen doesn’t mean I can’t have Twitter open on another screen. – Christoph Trappe, director of content marketing, Voxpopme

Get people off #SocialMedia to limit distractions during an online event, says @ctrappe via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Make it human

Find ways to have human interaction. We are all done with watching videos only, and we tune out. – Adam Morgan, executive creative director, Adobe

Find ways to have human interaction during an #event, says @askadmo via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Think small

Make them smaller and more defined. Maybe it’s a group of exclusively invited people that are sent real-world swag and given opportunities to talk to experts in that industry. The more exclusive and intimate you make it, the more the attraction. No one wants to be the 655th person on GoToWebinar. – Ahava Leibtag, president, Aha Media Group

No one wants to be the 655th person on GoToWebinar, says @ahaval. Make your virtual #events small and exclusive via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Mix it up

Do small in-person events in fun places with a mix of virtual events. – Michael Bonfils, global managing director, SEM International

Do small in-person events in fun places with a mix of virtual events, says @michaelbonfils via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Create premium IRL

The live portion of a hybrid event will be the premium ticket. Make it feel exclusive. The virtual portion will be the watch-it-later, stream-able version. Make it evergreen. The value proposition is very different for the two audiences. To win for both, you’ll need to adapt the content a bit. It’s impossible to throw a great virtual party. Don’t try. And the things that work in a live setting don’t win on YouTube. To get an A+ at both components, you need to understand that there are really two separate value propositions. – Andy Crestodina, co-founder and CMO, Orbit Media

It’s impossible to throw a great virtual party. And things that work in person don’t win on #YouTube. Virtual and in-person events are two separate value propositions, says @crestodina via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Think virtual first

To create a compelling hybrid event, start by creating a truly engaging virtual event, and wrap an in-person experience around it. When you try to do this the opposite way, you too often end up with a video archive of a live event, not a truly valuable hybrid event experience for those not at the event in person. – Erika Heald, consultant, Erika Heald Consulting

Start by creating an engaging virtual #event, then wrap an in-person experience around it, says @SFErika. Otherwise, you end up with a video archive of a live event via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Connect IRL and virtual

For events that have in-person and digital components, ensure that there’s adequate (and even strategic) cross-over between the two. The digital audience shouldn’t exist on their own island, disconnected from the in-person audience. Find ways to bring them together as seamlessly as possible. – Dennis Shiao, founder, Attention Retention LLC

Create strategic cross-over between in-person and digital components. Find ways to bring the two experiences together, says @dshiao via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Pick one

Choose. Go virtual or in person. – Joe Pulizzi, founder, The Tilt

Choose. Go virtual or in person, says @JoePulizzi via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Go for distinct experiences

Treat the in-person and virtual audience as two totally different experiences and build something unique for each one. – Andrew Davis, author and keynote speaker, Monumental Shift

Treat the in-person and virtual audience as two different experiences and build something unique for each one, says @drewdavishere via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Go hybrid

Offer options for virtual vs. in person. There are so many benefits to each type of event that I think scrapping one for the other is a mistake. I always like to say that you need to meet your customer where they are, and for some, that might be cozied up in their home office with headphones rather than jumping on a plane and spending time away from home. Offering both options is a great way to reach a wider group of people around the world. –   Michaela Alexis, LinkedIn trainer and LinkedIn Learning instructor  

Offer options for both virtual and in-person #events – scrapping one for the other is a mistake. Meet your customer where they are, says @MickAlexis via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Make it on-demand

Keep providing on-demand viewing of sessions. We’re all busy, and sometimes the one-hour time slot isn’t feasible on a specific day, particularly if we couldn’t travel to the event in person due to busy schedules. – Mariah Obiedzinski, AVP content services, Stamats

Keep providing on-demand viewing of sessions due to busy schedules, says @MariahWrites via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Play for the individual

Stop convincing yourselves that people value and attend events the same way. They don’t. I’m a fan of one-time-only virtual aspects so that there’s both scarcity AND a reason to be there live. I’m convinced people don’t regularly go back and watch recordings (they tell themselves they will, but …), so give people an actual reason to watch live. – Tamsen Webster, CEO and chief message strategist, Find the Red Thread

People don’t go back and watch recordings (they tell themselves they will, but …) So give people a reason to watch live, says @tamadear via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Embrace hybrid

Embrace what a hybrid world can do to extend your platform: Allow more people to time-shift their consumption of events, create spaces to live chat during events, and empower your speakers to act as boots-on-the-ground journalists to share what’s happening at the event online in real-time. The goal isn’t to make an event that has the same features online and in person. The goal is to have an event that leverages the best of both worlds. – Zontee Hou, head of strategy, Convince & Convert

The goal isn’t an #event that has the same features online and in person – it’s to have an event that leverages the best of both worlds, says @ZonteeHou via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Change things up

Rethink every event as an experience. Think about that flow. Make it fun, challenge new ideas, allow for networking, and help people unlearn old ways of thinking. – Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder, Keeping it Human

Rethink every #event as an experience, says @kathyklotzguest via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Tailor for venue

Attendee behavior and expectations differ wildly between physical events and virtual events. It’s not enough to plan a physical event and then just throw it online. The digital component needs to be treated like any other digital experience with careful UX, planning, and strategies that recognize the way people actually interact online. – Matthew Rayback, creative director, Adobe

It’s not enough to just throw a physical #event online. Treat the digital component like any other digital experience – with careful UX and planning for the way people interact online, says @matthewrayback via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Create a great –and accessible – experience

In a hybrid world, ensure that you treat people attending in person and virtually equally. You don’t want either group to feel like they’re missing out on something or less valued. Also, make the event as accessible as possible, including captions and ASL interpreters for all presentations. – Meryl Evans, digital marketing pro, meryl.net

Make the #event as accessible as possible, including captions and ASL interpreters for all presentations, says @merylkevans via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Set expectations

Plan for the why and the what. Successful events explain why you should participate and what you’ll learn. Why should I leave my home or block off my workday to attend your event? What specifically will I learn that can help me in my daily life? You’ll attract the right people with specific event messages, session titles and descriptions, speaker bios, and details of the surrounding activities. – Penny Gralewski, solutions marketing, Commvault

Successful #events explain why you should participate and what you’ll learn, says @virtualpenny via @CMIContent. #CMWorld #EventMarketing Click To Tweet

Add a live component

The most successful events I have attended offered live engagement opportunities that encourage live viewing rather than just on-demand. If everything is pre-recorded, ensure there is a live Q&A option after the viewing. – Rachel Mann, digital engagement supervisor, American Fidelity Assurance Company

The most successful #events I have attended offered live engagement opportunities that encourage live viewing rather than just on-demand, says @rachelizmann via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Go pro

Don’t try to do it yourself. Work with experienced professionals who have a turnkey system for producing such events. Because of the pandemic, many marketers think virtual events or hybrid events are new. They’re not. We’ve been producing virtual and hybrid events for 13-plus years. – Sydni Craig-Hart, CEO and co-founder, Smart Simple Marketing

Work with experienced professionals who have a turnkey system for producing virtual and hybrid #events, says @sydnicraighart via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Make it high quality

It’s all about production quality. For a hybrid event to work, you need studio-quality production for the folks at home. The virtual audience can’t feel like an afterthought. – Joe Lazauskas, head of marketing, Contently

For a hybrid #event to work, you need studio-quality production for the folks at home, says @joelazauskas via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

It’s not over when it’s over

Great marketers know that an event isn’t “over” the day after the event. Virtual events mean the event greatness can be repurposed and reshared to create genuine re-engagement long, long after the virtual curtains have closed. – Gina Balarin, director, Verballistics

Virtual #events mean the event greatness can be repurposed and reshared to create genuine re-engagement long, long after the virtual curtains have closed, says @gbalarin via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

In the past 18 months, you’ve probably attended more than a few events. What have you seen that works? What didn’t? What would you like to see changed as people are able to gather in person?

Please share your advice in the comments.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

See these speakers put their advice in action when you join us in person or online for Content Marketing World 2021, Sept. 28 – Oct. 1.  Use code CMIBLOG100 to save $100 and register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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