For venues and events alike, the digital experience is now part and parcel of the event management process. Via hybrid hosting and live broadcasting, events have opened up an entirely new revenue stream. To get (and stay) ahead, you need to do more than offer a virtual alternative - you need to master the digital experience.
So, where do you start?
The most important thing to keep in mind when thinking about the digital experience is that the way we interact with technology and the world at large has fundamentally changed. Attendance is far more flexible and people are now more open to operating in a hybrid online format. Attendees expect to be engaged, regardless of how they attend events. Personalisation and accessibility are the fundamental elements of providing an optimal experience, regardless of attendee location. Experiences should leave their mark on attendees and create buzz - foundational elements that build your event's reputation.
What makes a seamless digital experience?
We spend each day of our lives in hybrid experiences. We flit between real life and digital experiences with little to no thought. Consider the times you’ve pondered: Will I go to a brick-and-mortar store or will I shop online? Maybe I'll go into a store, find something I like and see if I can get a better deal online. Will I see my friends in person or will I video call them? Attendees within the travel radius of your event will be asking themselves the same thing.
This same principle applies to past event attendees. They're still expecting to attend your events and it's unwise to refuse them. Your biggest challenge is to maintain pace with this demand while still delivering a memorable experience for both audiences. Don’t look at hybrid events as a complete rework of what you’re already doing, think of them as the next logical step to improve your event experience.
The hybrid event experience
It could be a social post, blog article, email, or website enquiry. Regardless of the content type, remember that every time someone sees or engages with you online, it's a step in their buyer’s journey.
Regarding social media, your strategy needs to be absolutely on-point. Research where your potential customers are spending their time and engage with them there. While brand presence is important, there's no point in pushing your advertising budget onto a platform that doesn't match your target market demographic.
Secondary to this is providing the right type of content to capture interest. A clear and concise content marketing strategy can help you to increase lead numbers, improve exposure, and provide potential attendees with valuable, engaging content.
Once potential attendees are engaging with your content, you need to be guiding them to where you want them to go. Your website has to be designed in a way that makes it immediately obvious. Alternatively, if contact details have been collected in agreement with receiving marketing material, you can develop email nurture campaigns to slowly move them towards becoming a customer.
Website design tips for events and venues
Your website is often a deciding point of contact between you and your potential guests. That's why you have to make sure that your website is designed in a way that's informative and simple to navigate. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Make sure your website is mobile-friendly. Nearly three out of every four dollars spent on online purchases is done so via mobile devices, so ensure you’re putting the time and effort into mobile optimisation.
- Include clear calls to action. What do you want people to do when they visit your website? Make sure your call to action is clear and easy to find.
- Use high-quality images. People are visual creatures - in fact, coloured visuals increase people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80%. Make sure your website is full of high-quality images to capture attention.
- Keep your content engaging. No one wants to read a wall of text. Breaking up your content into smaller chunks and using headlines and subheadings will help to keep people engaged.
Creating compelling content
If you want to create a seamless digital experience, all content needs to be high-quality and compelling. Content leading up to events has to be just as compelling as the event itself. The more engaged people are before they come to your event or venue, the more likely they'll be likely to enjoy their time there.
To help you get started:
- Write for your audience. Who are you writing for? Make sure that all of your content is relevant and interesting to your target audience.
- Keep it fresh. Don't just regurgitate the same information. There is absolutely nothing wrong with repurposing content, but make sure it's not all you're doing. Use a combination of written, visual and audio content. This content doesn't have to cost you mountains of money - people react to raw and personal content, so experiment with content types and publishing platforms.
The hybrid experience
You already know that you need to be prepared for guest expectations, but how can you prepare?
First things first - review your audio. Audio is one of the two fundamentals of any event, especially corporate events. Both your in-person and online attendees are relying on that audio to stay engaged. If your audio isn’t seamless, you’ll start to lose people pretty quickly.
So what do you need to consider when deciding on microphones? Firstly, the size of your event and what space it’s being held are key factors. If you’re in a large theatre-like space, consider using wireless lapel microphones. Not only do they look the most professional, but they’ll also provide you with great audio quality. Furthermore, if your speaker prefers to stand, these microphones will give them the ability to move around the stage and gesture as they please. This movement is also good for the visual aspect of presentations and will help hybrid audiences stay engaged.
In addition to audio equipment, it’s also recommended to hire a sound engineer who is versed in both in-person and digital sound engineering. They will
be able to ensure that all attendees have the best sound quality possible.
Do you have permanent members of your team trained to manage hybrid events? You can train members of your current team to do this, but may also need to consider hiring extra staff who specialise in specific hybrid or virtual delivery. Having extra expertise on your team can take you to the next level and bring you to the forefront of the industry. These team members will also drastically reduce the chances of glitches and mishaps in streams.
Production value is important for all attendees. You’ll want to heavily consider stage design, as well as layout for any break-out rooms. In-person attendees will be spending a lot of time in these areas, so while you don’t want them to be boring, you also don’t want them to be distracting. When presentations are done, attendees will go to communal areas - think of how you can specialise areas for different types of interaction.
While in-person guests may be able to get up and interact with each other during breaks in the schedule, hybrid guests will have a different experience. Designing the hybrid aspect of your events website is extremely important for these periods. Virtual attendees should have equal opportunities for engagement and interaction. Some good examples of how this is done are the Hubspot Inbound Conference. Esports are also a great event example to take engagement inspiration from. Many of these events keep people in their chairs for hours at a time and have mastered the ability to keep participants’ eyes focused on screens.
When planning larger corporate events you should absolutely have a full-fledged broadcast set up. Anything less than this will do you, speakers, and attendees an injustice. This means multiple cameras all covering different angles with different lenses. Your lighting needs to be on-point to ensure speakers and panellists are looking their best. This may seem like a lot but there are benefits beyond giving your attendees the best experience. A high-quality set-up will also give you HD marketing content to share through your various channels. It will also provide your speakers and guests with content to share through their channels giving you greater reach.
Internet connection has to be fast and stable, there are no two ways about it. High-quality streams require a lot of bandwidth and without it, virtual guests will have a tough time engaging with your event.
Budget and planning
All of these things are incredibly important to implement but can end up being quite expensive. If you’re a larger event or venue and you can afford it, that’s great - go ahead and start planning. If you’re a smaller event or venue it simply may not be in your budget to become a broadcasting powerhouse and that’s fine.
What you need to do is take stock of what you already have and where you consider your shortcomings to be. When making these decisions, I recommend approaching them in this order:
Why this order? Audio is the most important as it’s the primary way that all guests will interact with the event. Secondly, no matter how impressive your production value is, that won’t matter if virtual guests can barely see it. Thirdly, production value can be done pretty affordably once you’ve got everything else in place, you should just be focusing most of your money on the first two areas. If you’re interested in the different ways you can tackle hybrid events, take further inspiration in iVvy's exclusive interview with Endless Events founder Will Curran.
The key takeaway?
Through every step of the process, you should be asking yourself “what’s best for my attendees?” In fact, this question should be at the heart of every venue. Driving your business to become more people-focused can do wonders for any guest experience - event attendee, hotel visitor, or dining guest.
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