Seeking a Hybrid Conference Steady State? Here’s a Framework

With live conferences’ comeback, event organizers need to make complex decisions about how to incorporate digital product extensions into their business model. Based on our research, we estimate that there’s an even split between conference owners who are including synchronous or asynchronous hybrid options and those who aren’t. The half who is pursuing hybrid knows that they can’t just go back to what worked in 2019 despite the return of in-person events. They crave a predictable steady state for their hybrid business model.

In his blog post, “The Model for Hybrid Experiences,” The Experience Economy coauthor Joe Pine offers a thought-provoking approach to amplifying your conference content and reach based on four different levels or options: The Live Experience; The Digital Simulcast + Social Experience; The Post Event Asynchronous Experience; and The Recap. Here’s my framework based on this model.

The Live Experience

This is your premium ticket option that includes in-person, high-value networking and deal making. Consider offering an upsell option — would you like fries with that? — that bundles the post-event experience. This should be offered at a bargain — maybe $100-$200 additional. Associations who offer CE credits tend to be able to charge a higher price. Individuals who opt for this add-on option build the initial base that will increase the chances of a successful post-event.

The Digital Simulcast + Social Experience

This model is a synchronous (same time, different place) experience. It’s expensive. Conference organizers need to invest significantly in bandwidth, video cameras, lighting, and labor. It’s also a heavy lift for planning staff, often requiring a separate dedicated team. Unless you have the best CE in your profession, it’s difficult to make the simulcast numbers work.

What we are seeing, however, is that there is absolutely no better time to market and convert those viewing the post-event experience than during the live conference. If you incorporate FOMO into your marketing campaign by streaming a few sessions or communicating “Here’s what you missed,” a call to action to register for the next in-person event can be very effective.

The Post-Event Asynchronous Experience

Contrary to Pine’s hybrid model, conference organizers should not limit the post-event offering to only asynchronous (different time, different place). Participants value live or semi-live scheduled, social learning experiences significantly more than on-demand. See below for suggestions on how to increase the value of your post-event digital product extension.

The Recap: Digital Extensions

To differentiate your digital learning product and maximize its potential, consider these three tips:

Timing — Schedule the digital extension to occur three-to-four weeks after your live event. Program two consecutive days of no more than four hours of content each day.

Product mix — Content during the programmed days/times should be 100-percent synchronous (live or semi-live). To entice live event attendees to show up, include a good dose — at least one-quarter — of new content. The balance should be repeated content from the live conference. Participants like to have the ability to access sessions they missed. Create a robust on-demand offering that includes 1) all of the post-event programming with 2) live meeting sessions with audio synced to slides.

Digital price — This varies, especially when it comes to CE. The most common model is to charge about one-third the registration price of the live conference.

Which of these strategies are you considering for your next hybrid event? What kind of digital extensions have you used with success?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2022.

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