Will Hybrid Meetings Become the Standard Event Format?

Although associations may be able to hold smaller, in-person events that follow social-distancing mandates, a lot of people may still not feel comfortable traveling or attending. To navigate this, more associations will implement a hybrid strategy for all of their meetings.

With travel and gathering restrictions still in place in many locations around the world and not expected to ease anytime soon, large conferences and tradeshows are likely not in the cards for associations in the coming months.

At the start of the pandemic, that meant associations had to pivot their events to completely virtual. But now associations are looking at the hybrid model as the way to offer attendees two options: a smaller, in-person event that adheres to social-distancing requirements or a virtual experience.

The format is rapidly gaining popularity. According to a recent survey by Etc.venues, 73 percent of event professionals say they are planning to host a hybrid event before the end of the year.

While implementing a hybrid meeting structure will raise additional logistics to work through, it also comes with benefits. For example, you may be able to attract new attendees to the online component, such as working parents, those with compromised immune systems, caregivers, and international participants. In addition, hybrid meetings could provide new ways to deliver content and allow you to extend the life of your event by giving attendees the ability to watch sessions on demand.

More importantly, a hybrid format will allow those who may be uncomfortable traveling to take part remotely and connect with fellow industry professionals. This shows that your association is putting its members’ and attendees’ comfort first—something that could translate into better retention and loyalty.

A few groups already have plans to host hybrid meetings in the months ahead. For example, November’s Event Tech Live conference will take a hybrid approach. ETL will expand its typical two-day tradeshow in London to include five virtual days of content as well.

“There is no doubt that COVID-19 has accelerated our plans to go fully hybrid just as we have seen many events around the globe pivot to online-only to keep their community connected and provide value for their sponsors,” said ETL cofounder Adam Parry in a press release. “What’s most exciting to me is using this opportunity to push the boundaries, to once again experiment with the formula of an ‘exhibition.’”

Other associations that have hybrid meetings planned include the American Fats and Oils Association, American Trail Running Association, and New England Water Works Association. Even the behemoth CES 2021—which is currently expected to have an in-person component in Las Vegas in January—says it will “continue to make the show’s content accessible for our digital audiences” and “provide a platform for our exhibitors to showcase their groundbreaking product launches and technology breakthroughs digitally, as well as physically in Las Vegas.”

While these are only a few examples, I expect the list of associations taking a hybrid approach to grow. In fact, to use a cliché, I expect hybrid meetings to become “the new normal.”

How are you incorporating hybrid meetings into your event strategy in the months ahead? Please share in the comments.

(LeoPatrizi/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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