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Hybrid Events – the way forward in 2021 (and likely 2022)

Even as the UK comes out of lockdown, the world is still a series of global interconnections; a large portion of organisations and businesses have many international components that, without the virtual, are paralysed by the pandemic. Covid is unlikely to recede at an even pace around the world (or even in the UK, for that matter) and so it is equally unlikely that events will continue as before. As such, hybrid events – events that have both a live and virtual component - are here to stay for the foreseeable. While some might be disappointed at the prospect, there is good reason to have faith in what hybrid events can accomplish.

In fact, some have achieved amazing technical feats in curating events that take place both live and virtually at the same time. For those who have attended such a hybrid event – myself included – the experience was maybe a little bizarre at first, but ultimately invigorating. Who doesn’t like to see live music in their pjs? We can lie to ourselves and say that we miss being surrounded by sweaty bodies and having beer poured on us by drunken gig-goers, but the convenience and comfort of being at home was, in all honesty, a nice change of pace.

Such was the case on April 16th 2021, where myself and my partner parked our butts on our sofa and tuned into a live session of Tom McGuire And The Brassholes, filmed somewhere in the East End of Glasgow but presented to us (via green screen no less!) on our television as if we were in a stylish, red-bricked music venue. It had all the benefits of a live performance: Tom’s energetic off-the-cuff ramblings in between (and sometimes during) songs, the satisfaction of hearing all the members play and bob in complete synchronicity with other each, as well as getting to hear new music yet to be released by the band. What was impressive too about the show was the way they were able to integrate audience interaction: set up in front of the band were various screens, and for an extra couple of pounds added to your ticket cost, you could video call in live to dance, clap, and generally show your appreciation. The audience were muted during songs for obvious reasons, but were unmuted in intervals so that they could give an applause, a nice change from the potential awkwardness of total silence that could accompany a hybrid event. Tom himself pointed out band member’s family to say hi and wave during intervals; it was a nice bit of interaction that musicians have noted that they miss most from pre-Covid gigging. Meanwhile, during the intervals where the various acts were getting set up, the audience were treated to pre-recorded music videos from a variety of bands, an interesting accompaniment to the event and an added bonus that would not have likely occurred at a fully live gig. All in all, it was a fantastic experience and best of all, there were no feelings of guilt or worry that the event wasn’t Covid-friendly.

And music is not the only venture that could benefit from this hybrid form of events: more personal events such as weddings can bring family members from all across the world together, in an era where travelling is even more nightmarish than it usually is. It is of course a shame not to be able to give them a hug or steer them off to the side of the party to chat about something funny or important or poignant. But it’s better than the nothingness that we faced before in the early days of the pandemic when we were still figuring out how to incorporate virtual elements into an event (and do it effectively). Being able to see your close friend or relative on walk the aisle on their wedding day when the prospect previously seemed impossible is really quite amazing, and without the hassle or expense of travel or accommodation. Similarly, as travel bans keep cycling through which lists of countries are greenlit and which aren’t, it means families can plan events such as these without the continual dread of potentially having to cancel should a country move to the no-fly list. And on the subject of travel, with Brexit now fully underway, travel will likely become more complicated between the UK and the EU anyway, so having hybrid events with a virtual option helps to simplify that complication.

Businesses too would benefit immensely from hybrid conferences, trade shows, sales kick offs, and the like, especially if their travel budget is limited. It also means that valuable people can continue in their positions and still attend important events or training despite living elsewhere in the world. And even further, hybrid events can easily be recorded and distributed afterwards to those who could not attend, meaning you can maximise engagement in the aftermath of the event too. Sorting out venues – one of the bigger stressors in event organising – is arguably easier also: even if the venue has a physical capacity limit, likely reduced due to covid, there is a much larger virtual capacity if the event is being livestreamed.

So while hybrid events are likely to stay, there are actually many benefits to having them in spite of the pandemic. Some technical expertise is needed, especially for an event that is as effective and engaging for a virtual audience as it is for a live one. But as the pandemic continues to cause delays and disruptions on a global scale, more and more investment is going into hybrid events to make them viable. It is worth tuning into them or considering them for an event you’re planning yourself, as they will be the way forward as we move into the uncertain 2020s.

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