Just as it seemed like there was a window of opportunity for safe in-person events, the rapid rise of Omicron slammed it shut. The much-anticipated annual Consumer Electronics show (CES) saw only 45,000 in-person attendees in Las Vegas this year, down from it’s usual 170,000+. The World Economic Forum postponed its annual meeting in Davos to early summer. The Sundance Film Festival, which kicks off this week, will happen almost entirely virtually, without the annual crush of film fanatics to Park City. But after two years of pandemic ebbs and flows, event planners are able to take it in stride, because many events are now hybrid events from the start. This new style of event — in which some attendees participate in person and others join online — offers opportunities to rethink business conventions and the potential to engage new conference-goers.
About 50% of corporate event attendees believe hybrid events are the right format — even beyond the pandemic — because they offer the benefits of in-person attendance with the convenience of virtual participation.
Hybrid events make it possible for more people to participate, since a plane ticket and hotel room aren’t required. “It makes an event more accessible, and it can bring new folks into your community,” says Rachel Heller, senior event content manager at the Santa Fe-based cloud accounting software firm Sage Intacct.
Ensuring remote participants feel included
In 2020, Sage Intacct went virtual with Sage Transform, its annual 4,000-person conference, where accountants come to network and learn new skills. But in 2021, Sage Transform decided to go hybrid. Some 2,000 people convened in Las Vegas in early November for the event, while another 2,000 joined online. Heller and her team used the RainFocus event platform to integrate in-person and virtual elements, paired with the CLEAR app to verify COVID-19 vaccination status for in-person attendees. They planned 100 in-person breakout sessions and delivered livestream and on-demand content to remote attendees, along with branded notebooks sent in the mail.