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How to Figure Out What Members Want When It Comes to Hybrid Events

Even as in-person events return, some members still want hybrid options to stick around. While associations want to be responsive, they also don’t want to face a budget shortfall if virtual attendees don’t materialize. An expert shares how to find out what members really want so you can meet their needs and improve your organization’s bottom line.

What if your association decides to invest in hosting a hybrid event after members were asking for it, but then you don’t get the registration numbers you were expecting for the virtual portion?

That’s a worry for many association pros, according to a recent discussion in ASAE’s Collaborate community (member log-in required). To find out what your members truly want when it comes to hybrid events, Kara Dao, senior director of client engagement and operations at JDC Events, said it’s all about what questions you ask and how you ask them.

“We have to survey, and we have to ask them the right questions,” Dao said. “We cannot ask the question: Do you want to have a hybrid event?”

Survey Specifics

Because different people mean different things when they use the term “hybrid,” Dao suggests asking specific questions about what content and programs your audience is most interested in for both live and virtual offerings. Specific questions about virtual events might include: Do you need matchmaking with products, services, or individuals? Are you looking for an online job fair? Do you want online networking? Do you want to watch content live? Do you want to ask questions of the speakers?

“We need to ask them what it is they’re expecting from the digital experience,” Dao said. “Then we need to say, ‘What are you expecting from your in-person experience?’ Because unlike years before, now when people come onsite, the most important thing they want to do is network. They’re not interested in listening to talking heads. They want to go to small, roundtable discussions on a topic that interests them.”

Dao recommends associations allotting two months to get survey responses—and once you’ve received them, look for common ground. “If we could do nothing else, what’s the one thing that has to happen?” Dao said. That’s what organizers should focus on.

If survey results reveal a high portion of respondents are prioritizing hybrid items, Dao said this doesn’t necessarily mean the organization needs to go through the expense associated with livestreaming everything and trying to put on two events simultaneously. Focus on the most important aspects of the hybrid experience members want.

“Look at your two surveys, so you can decide what portions to give them,” Dao said. “Make sure you give them the things that are most important.”

Even if surveys indicate members really want hybrid, if an association can’t afford that expense, explain to members why it’s not possible at this time and what you’ll still offer in its place.

“Say, ‘We understand. We hear you, community. You want all of these things. Unfortunately, the operational expenses are too large to be able to give you all of these things, but we heard you and these two things were most important. So that’s where we’re putting our investment’” Dao said.

Next Steps for a Registration Shortfall

If your association finds itself in the position of having already committed to hybrid and falling short when it comes to registrations, Dao susggested a couple of approaches you can take to salvage the situation.

“Once you spend the money, it’s not like you can just like retract the money,” Dao said. “Let’s say you’re down by a $100,000. You take all of that [livestreamed] content and gate it [post-event]. Tell people for 100 bucks, they can view all the gated content they want anytime. A lot of people will drop a credit card to get access to stuff as long as you give them enough.”

While video content from the conference can live on the site for a while and recoup money, Dao said organizations shouldn’t stop there. “Go to sponsors and say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this gated content,” she said. “Would you like this branding opportunity? Try to get as much money as you can for that. Maybe you break it up into four times a year, and it’s $25,000 to sponsor each quarter.”

(nadia_bormotova/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a senior editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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