Virtual vs Hybrid: Why Hybrid Experiences Should Be Virtual-First

Technology is constantly innovating, elevating, and shaping our daily lives. More than any other industry, tech is fundamental to how we communicate, experience the world and access content.

So why, when it comes to events, do we think of the internet as the secondary platform, and onsite as the headliner? If you ask us, virtual is the main stage.

A Happily hybrid production takes a virtual-first approach to programming and experiential design. Why?

As we explored in ‘What is a Hybrid Experience?’, harnessing the power and potential of broadcasting is the magic ingredient for hybrid online-offline interactions. Today, we are going to think through what a virtual-first program looks like, and explain how critical this approach has already become to modern productions for events and any kind of content.

The Portal at AREA15, Las Vegas

Image: The Portal room at AREA15, Las Vegas. A 6,584-square-foot space with floor-to-ceiling projection mapping. Can you imagine digital attendees mapped along the walls?

A virtual audience is larger than any onsite one could ever be

If you focus on an onsite audience and leave the online audience as an afterthought, you are not directly communicating and engaging with as many people as you could be.

An online audience lives in the present, and they also live in the future. A virtual-first event can be fully experienced by a virtual audience long after the studio lights have been turned off. It can be shared and replayed across the country and around the globe, and there won’t be any feeling of having ‘missed out’ on something.

However, if you create a hybrid experience for an onsite audience, it is more likely to live and die in that moment. It was a ‘you had to be there’ thing.

Virtual Audience Wall on Britain's Got Talent

Image: Virtual Audience Wall on Britain's Got Talent

Virtual participation stimulates conversations

By planning virtual-first, your fresh ideas and creativity for audience engagement will pour into the places that most leave as an afterthought. Live chat can be a fun and powerful experience that onsite guests will actually miss. Some of our favorite moments of a talk happened in the audience comments, not on the stage.

Take a little extra time to creatively leverage the capabilities of technology - both familiar like chat and fringe like augmented reality - to spark more conversation both onsite and online.

Imagine how much more interesting an onsite experience can be with virtual community participation:

  • Express the collective conscious with real-time polling data surfaced as art pieces
  • Stimulate critical thinking by surfacing hilarious or insightful chat comments during a talk
  • Cross-pollinate research and ideas from anywhere with shared whiteboards

Build better, longer-lasting outcomes with your sponsors

At Happily, we’ll work on both sides of the fence. Sometimes we are helping event organizers develop their sponsorship product strategy and other times we are helping sponsors make a splash and get the most out of their sponsorship dollars.

In either case, the secrets to a great partnership for a hybrid event are:

  • a deep understanding of how to capture the interest of target audiences
  • a laser focus on conversions for the call to action
  • a post-event strategy that extends the ROI and shelf-life of the sponsor product

A virtual-first hybrid model allows us to offer strategic value for our partners with evergreen content products, tailored to their brand and target audiences.

While this does take more effort from producers and event hosts to understand a brand and curate content, there is tremendous upside for sponsors and organizations

  1. Reduced operating expenses on virtual products
  2. More likelihood to achieve or increase partner ROI with targeted evergreen content
  3. A more collaborative, meaningful partner engagement reduces churn

Exclusive sponsor content can have endless uses for remarketing, future promotional material, community engagement and allow your event to live on well beyond the day.

The opportunities in these VIP and sponsorship spaces is really tailor for the hybrid event or hybrid summit, however, here are some examples:

  • Sponsors can have an interview opportunity with a VIP guest, record it without them having to worry about all the tech side. The result would be a shareable video with a high production value and the event’s logo branded all over
  • Keynote speakers and influencers can record a quick video optimized as ‘ready-to-go’ content for social media (30 - 60 secs) that can be quickly uploaded and shared. Eg. a ‘thank you message’; answering a quick and relevant question; providing expert advice as an extension of their presentation
  • Have a ‘media wall’ filled with the logos of sponsors that would be used as the backdrop for these videos, meaning their brands would be given enduring exposure
  • Sponsors each are able to record content promoting their service or product in a professional space that can be broadcasted on a screen at the venue, used for web content, remarketing material ect.
Winky Lux, Image source: Beautycounter

Image: Inspiration of a VIP room? This is a Instagramable room from Winky Lux, a NYC cosmetics brand, designed for customers who enjoy creating social media content. Source: Beautycounter.

The venue selection process needs to include virtual criteria

Just like any onsite production, the venue is selected, designed and planned to achieve the goals and accommodate all the various elements of the event. A hybrid event that puts virtual first will certainly reflect this as well.

The venue of a virtual-first hybrid event will combine your stage, space and studio all in one. The location should offer a visually appealing backdrop and ample open space for a stage that can be equipped for sound recording, lights, and cameras to move easily across the space.

The layout of the room and placement of all the AV tech should allow panning shots of the audience, as well as what is happening on stage. Just like a TV set, these audience shots will allow virtual attendees to connect to the onsite experience.

And, don’t forget to ask about the wifi - both the cost and the speed. The higher the upload speed, the better the quality of your live broadcast will be. We recommend two dedicated lines for every tech table - one for comms and one for broadcast with a minimum upload speed of 100mbps.

You’ll also need to consider how many dedicated lines will be required for any hybrid exhibits or activations. We’ve seen costs for wifi quickly surpass the cost of renting the venue! So make sure to get your wifi quote before signing your deal.

Customize your own virtual-first hybrid event with Happily

Going virtual-first will look differently, for different events and clients. So let’s chat about what it could look like for you!

Each of our Happily productions is unique to your brand. Whether you’re looking to host a hybrid fundraiser, a hybrid webinar, a hybrid summit or even a hybrid podcast live event! You are soooo close to making it happen.