The word “hybrid” has been showing up more and more during these past few years. IBM has an entire campaign of athletes and entertainment celebrities talking about hybrid technology, the video conferencing and webinar space has gotten increasingly competitive, and the automotive industry has been investing into hybrid cars with increasing consistency. But what does hybrid mean for the event industry? With large gatherings now back in vogue, are hybrid events still relevant? Is it a passing fad, the future of event planning, or something else all together?

What is a hybrid event?

A “hybrid event” is any event that includes elements of both in-person and fully virtual events. Often, it means streaming your live program for virtual attendees, but may include a hybrid auction, remote speakers, facilitated interaction between in-person and at-home attendees, and more. Here are some personal thoughts on hybrid events from organizational leaders we’ve worked with:

“Going hybrid allowed us, for the first time, to bring both of those groups together.  Because people who didn’t want to come to a gala were very curious to try it out, and being able to do so virtually has made such a huge difference to us. So now whenever we’re approaching any of our events it will always—always in my mind—be a hybrid type of a thing.”

Karen Dickerson, Director of Development at Quest Academy

“So what we’ve learned? Evolve or die, we’re not going to go back to just a live event. And there definitely needs to be that community element of it, but we know that our ask process in the past followed the typical scripted event that we all know you do. And we’re gonna evolve that. We’ve learned enough from the hybrid event to say we’re going to make [the evening] a journey.”

Drew Glassford, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dundee Township

In our opinion, while most donors (and organizations) are very much over fully-virtual events, the unique accessibility provided by hybrid events makes them an extremely competitive choice for most organizations. They provide people with options. If they’re out of town, can’t find a sitter, or just don’t want to spend 40 minutes driving to and from the venue, they can still attend your event. If they’re visiting their grandparents next weekend and are worried about COVID, they can still attend your event. If they’re from another part of the state (but heard about your organization from a friend and want to learn more), they can still attend your event. Giving people options is crucial.

How would it change our live program?

That depends. Some organizations don’t alter their live programs as all, they just set up a few cameras and stream the evening’s keynote speakers. Usually, though, the most successful hybrid events involve more creative planning. While the live audience is enjoying cocktail hour, for example, you could have a professional mixologist walk the virtual audience through making their own at-home cocktails (with ingredients you’ve sent them beforehand). Or you could have a hybrid auction, and allow virtual attendees to bid competitively against their in-person peers in real time. There are tons of possibilities.

The most important thing, though, is reaching out to donors for input on what they’d like to see in upcoming programs.

“What about doing an internal workshop like this with your board members, or your ‘A’ donors, or your ‘B’ donors, or your key stakeholders to sort of help you co-create and design your future event experiences, giving them a feeling of ownership? Like they’re a part of the decision making process. Because then they’re more likely to invite friends, to get excited about it, and then to support it.”

Joey Goone, President of Utopia Experience

Regardless, it’s necessary to evolve and shift. Hybrid events provide an easy way to engage with both live and virtual audiences, and how accessible they are gives them the potential to greatly expand your donor base. Organizations that can pivot, that are always looking to innovate and get creative, will be continue to be the leaders in the event space.