It’s hard to believe that nearly three years have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The live event industry came full circle in that time, first contending with scores of unplanned shutdowns before meandering its way through a messy middle and now back again as distancing restrictions abate.

On the plus side, those unexpected circumstances forced innovation in a long-stagnant space. Marketing teams made the most of the countless virtual platforms that sprang forth, making them viable along the way.

And now, as live events come back, there’s a silver lining. Event organizers can now offer customers a combination of virtual and physical events, providing them with connected and consistent experiences that deliver real value.

Virtual Events Complement In-Person Trade Show Booths

Virtual events won’t overtake in-person shows anytime soon. On the contrary, in-person tradeshows will still dominate because there’s simply no replacement for face-to-face interaction, networking, and community building.

But that doesn’t mean virtual experiences are entirely disposable. Why? Because they offer benefits to customers and marketers alike.

For customers, there’s a convenience factor. Whereas live events work on the marketer’s schedule, virtual events work on the customer’s. Pre-recorded event content, breakout rooms, live stream presentations, on-demand chat features, etc., create experiences that can help customers connect the dots in real time.

As marketers, virtual experiences allow us to cast wider nets and take advantage of in-the-moment opportunities that we might otherwise miss. Plus, we get the added benefit of customer data to get a feel for things like the topics our customers care about and when they’re most active.

The Key Elements of a Hybrid Event

So, what makes for a successful hybrid event? We compiled a list of tips below to give you some ideas.

Keep branding consistent

Consistently presented brands are 3.5 times more likely* to enjoy excellent brand visibility than those with an inconsistent brand presentation. That includes the event space, too. Whether catering to in-person or virtual audiences, it’s important that you infuse cohesion into everything from the style of the booth design to how in-person and virtual representatives interact with attendees. Catering to those little details is the foundation of creating a seamless experience that your customers will love.

Note: If you need an objective eye, drop Dennison Creative a line for a free consult. We’re happy to take a look. We can help you think through your strategy, create stunning booth designs and graphics, build engaging attractions, and work with you to create a virtual experience that complements your in-person strategy.

Mirror physical experiences

Most physical trade show booths are designed around attractions (presentations, demonstrations, vignettes, etc.) to draw in and engage passers-by. Some event organizers try to attract attendees by catering to their needs (e.g., providing phone charging stations), offering free interactive games with a product offer, or hosting networking events (e.g., happy hours, live music, etc.). Others may promote contests, such as sweepstakes or drawings to win a prize. And some may even hire celebrities to make special appearances at specified times.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here – you’ll know the types of experiences that work best for your audiences. But it is advisable to mimic these experiences for your virtual attendees. Offer unique spins on your in-booth activations to create a sense of cohesion and belonging. For instance, maybe you can parlay that celebrity experience into an exclusive meet and greet for your virtual audience. Or perhaps provide pre-recorded, on-demand demos.

Engage often

Hybrid event planning is a juggling act. Event organizers have the difficult task of creating immersive experiences for those who attend in person while simultaneously encouraging virtual participation. Unfortunately, the virtual component often gets the short end of the stick.

So, what can you do to keep your virtual audience engaged? A simple idea is to personalize the experience. You can start small (e.g., dynamically inserting virtual attendees names in all communications) and work your way up (e.g., collect audience interests before the show and then, during the show, make your virtual audience an offer for a one-on-one conversation about the topics that interest them).

Live polling and Q&A is another easy way to get attendees engaged. For example, while presenting a demo at the physical event, you could live stream to your virtual audience and give them the opportunity to answer polls and ask questions. As those questions roll in, you could simultaneously share them with the presenter and your in-person attendees to create a connected online/offline experience.

Promote social sharing

Social sharing is a proven and effective way to amplify your brand. That’s especially true of hybrid events, where you can leverage the power of your virtual audience to complement the sharing power of your in-person attendees. Some of our favorite examples:

  • Twitter sweepstakes promotions that give physical and virtual attendees equal opportunities to win a prize for sharing content.
  • Social influencer meet-ups that promote online and offline collaboration.
  • Virtual selfie apps with filters that encourage virtual participants to share.

Be ready to respond

We saved this one for last, but make no mistake: Customer service is the most crucial aspect to a successful hybrid event. While your first inclination may be to assist customers at the physical show, don’t discount the needs of your virtual attendees.

At the end of the day, attendees who choose to interact with your brand all want respect. And If you want them to buy from you, it’s in your best interest to give it to them.