Welcome to the Era of the Hybrid Conference

As we begin to return to some sense of normalcy, we’re emerging from our caves, stretching and turning our faces to the sun. We’re starting to interact with others in person again.  And we’ll soon start convening at conferences again.

Of course this won’t all happen at once.  We’ll test the waters.  Some of us will physically attend a conference while others will still interact virtually. Welcome to the era of the hybrid conference.

Hybrids are here

A hybrid conference is, quite simply, a mix of both live and virtual components within a single event. While some audience members and speakers will physically be present, others will be engaging from their devices at home.

The conference industry has made amazing progress in the design and execution of virtual conferences during the pandemic.  In early 2020, virtual conferences were a novelty, and an unknown for most conference producers.  A year and a half later, the best producers have learned how to reach their audiences effectively bringing high quality content to them in new and engaging ways.  The industry is now preparing to begin layering a physical event component back on top of that hard won virtual event knowhow.

To consider

As a speaker, navigating a hybrid conference can open new opportunities but can also pose some challenges.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is a hybrid event better or worse than a virtual event?

Like most things, there are pros and cons to this evolving conference format.  One of the major reasons for attending a conference is to interact with industry peers and subject matter experts. While conference organizers have started to create better means of interacting virtually, nothing can really replace face to face contact. A hybrid conference will certainly help to foster more interaction amongst attendees but may not be as cohesive as a purely physical conference where everyone is in the same space and can interact easily and at will.  However, keeping a virtual conference component enables more people to participate, including high profile speakers, which can increase the quality of the content presented.

  • Should you pursue a speaking role at a hybrid event?

The answer to this question depends more on the quality of the event than on the hybrid format itself. More important for a speaker than whether a conference employs a physical or virtual component are the considerations we’ve always recommended you consider. Is the conference developed by a competent producer that has assembled a strong, focused agenda with expert, non-commercial speakers attracting an engaged audience?

  • If there is a choice, is it better to attend and speak in person or virtually?

We believe in the benefits of speaking at a good conference in person when possible.  We find that speakers are typically more dynamic and can feed off the energy of the crowd when they are presenting in person. It also increases the chances of meeting people and hearing ideas you may not have planned on.  That said, some companies are still maintaining strict no-travel policies, and travelling to another city or country for a conference can cost a significant amount of time and money.  Bottom line: get there in person if you can, but if you can’t, presenting virtually still has many benefits.

  • What aspects should you consider when evaluating a hybrid speaking opportunity?

Assessing a hybrid speaking opportunity is very similar to evaluating any other type of speaking opportunity.  The most important considerations continue to be:

  1. Conference producer reputation – Is the conference producer well known with a good reputation? Do they have a track record of producing good conferences over time?  Were they successfully producing virtual conferences over the past year?
  2. Subject matter – Do the topics being addressed at this conference match your areas of interest and expertise?
  3. Speaking opportunity quality – Does the speaking opportunity offered enable you to make the points you want to make? Is it the type of speaking opportunity you prefer, whether standalone, panel or 1:1 conversation?
  4. Audience size and profile – Will this session get you in front of enough of the types of listeners you really want to address?
  5. Other speakers confirmed (physical or virtual) – Are other speakers at the conference or on your panel of equivalent stature to your own?
  6. Media coverage – If this is an important component of our speaking goals, will members of your industry’s media be in attendance covering key conference points in their publications?
  7. Location – Is the conference close to you or in a place you’re willing to go to? Can you do other business while you’re in town?
  8. Physical/virtual mix – With a hybrid conference, another consideration is the relative mix of physical attendees and speakers compared to online. If a conference has too many folks attending online, then being there physically may not provide as much of the unstructured interactions between people that you may prefer.

A new opportunity

After over a year and a half of virtual conferences we are gearing up for a busy fall conference season. The second half of 2021 will bring us a mixed bag of completely virtual and hybrid conferences. Even as we enter 2022, and possibly beyond, we believe there will be a virtual component to most, if not all, conferences. By maintaining a virtual component, conference producers can attract higher profile speakers whose schedules may not otherwise allow them to participate. And opening some or all conference content to online attendees will also enable greater participation.

Hybrid conferences offer attendees and speakers new benefits, but they also come with some compromises. We recommend that speakers look at hybrid conferences as a new opportunity to gain access to more high-quality conferences with well-defined, engaged audiences.