How to Host a Virtual or Hybrid Event
Zoom happy hours, online conferences, and weddings celebrated over a live stream would have been a strange notion at this time last year, but now we barely blink an eye. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the meetings & events space took a hard hit and the pivot to virtual events rapidly became a necessity. The past year has shown us that while we spend time apart, it can be easier than ever to connect, collaborate, and celebrate via virtual means.
Read on to learn more about how to successfully host a virtual and hybrid event until the time is right for you and your organization to meet again. When you’re ready to convene, celebrate, and meet face-to-face again someday soon, we know that Hilton Head Island is absolutely the best place to do it, and our dedicated Meeting & Event Planners are here to support you every step of the way.
Decide on a Platform
Just because your event is virtual doesn’t mean that you don’t need a “venue”. The platform you choose to stream your event can make or break the user experience and engagement, so be sure to choose wisely and research various platforms to choose the technology that best suits your organization’s needs.
Free and low-cost platforms such a Zoom, Google Meet, and Facebook or YouTube Live could be the perfect options for small-scale virtual events like private online celebrations or meetings for small organizations and social groups.
If you’re hosting an online conference with diverse programming that will reach a large audience, it might be best for your organization to invest in the services of an online event hosting technology platform. There are plenty of companies that offer simultaneous streaming capabilities, panels, Q&A functionality, breakout sessions, and other interactive tools. Here are a few wonderful options to consider:
6Connex: A leading provider of virtual environments for tradeshows, town halls, conferences, webcasts, and education. Their platform offers interactive polls, 1:1 sessions, social gamification, robust analytics, and lots more.
Crowdcast: Designed to host “webinars that don’t suck” (their words), Crowdcast offers attendees an easy experience with a one-click URL and no downloads required. Crowdcast offers plenty of interactive engagement tools to keep your audience paying attention.
Demio: Another platform that requires no downloads and can be streamed in almost any web browser, Demio offers custom branding capabilities to create an immersive experience and serves as an “all in one” platform. Demio hosts registration pages, the live stream itself, webinar replays, and offers the ability to host polls, share handouts, and communicate via a modern chat interface.
Surprise & Delight With Details
Let’s face it, virtual events are great but they don’t offer the same hype, buzz, or excitement that in-person events can generate. When attending a conference or work retreat, half the fun is visiting a new locale, attending happy hours, and meeting new people. To set your virtual event apart don’t discount the power of doing something to surprise and delight your attendees.
If your plan was to host a real life event at a desired locale (like Hilton Head Island!) but you’ve had to pivot to online instead, bring the fun of the destination to your audience via a branded gift box. Here’s what we’d put in a Hilton Head Island-themed conference box to get attendees excited about the event ahead and to show that we value their attendance. You can adapt these suggestions to your own brand and attendee demographics, but this is a great start:
Hilton Head Island-branded oyster knife
Hilton Head Island-branded notebook
‘Island Time’ mini cocktail kit
Beach-themed scented candle from a local vendor
Sustainable straw made of glass or stainless steel
Hilton Head Island-branded reusable water bottle
A mix of savory and sweet snacks
We recommend working to ship items to attendees to arrive approximately 5-7 days prior to the event. This will serve as a reminder of their registration and will excite guests to attend.
Another way to focus on details and to get attendees excited is to create various branded assets to level-up the details of your event. Provide panelists with branded virtual backgrounds and design branded social media assets for attendees, such as event-focused Q&A templates, branded cover photos, and profile picture frames.
Focus on Engagement
When you can’t mingle in person, it’s a bit harder to make attendees feel like they’re truly a part of the event and not just silent observers. That’s why it’s important to consider using a platform that can easily offer opportunities for two-way conversation between attendees and panelists, and networking opportunities for attendees, too. That said, there are plenty of ways to take engagement to the next level and across platforms. Consider integrating the following into your virtual event:
Create a branded hashtag and encourage attendees to share their insights, observations, and questions across social media platforms with the hashtag
Encourage panelists to make use of interactive tools on the event platform and social media such as polls, question boxes, and live Q&As
Allow attendees to submit questions to panelists in advance to ensure relevant content is being shared and addressed
Have a Back Up Plan
Technology can be finicky at best, even on the most robust platforms and with the most preparation. Virtual events will be at the mercy of internet connections far and wide, so delays or lagging connections may be a reality. Be sure to export presentations in various formats in case of technical issues and have a “point person” who can step in and carry a presentation should a presenter become disrupted.
Consider recording sessions for those who cannot attend live, and distribute in an accessible format immediately following the event.
Consider a Hybrid Event
A hybrid event brings the best of both event worlds together, and they’re likely the future of the meetings & events industry. A hybrid event combines the live audience and networking aspects of a traditional event with the virtual event environment. Hybrid events can be extremely successful because they are accessible to various audiences, budgets, geographic locations, and attendee comfort levels.
Event planners can invite panelists, presenters, and key stakeholders to attend and host the event in a traditional or special venue with all of the elements of a successful event in place: decor, a stage, podiums, special branding, shared meals, excursions, and entertainment while attendees who can’t or won’t be able to attend tune in to key elements via livestream.
Virtual attendees can get a taste of the real life event with receipt of the event swag box described above, while stakeholders and/or C-suite attendees can get down to business in a safe and controlled environment.
Hilton Head Island is the perfect place to host your hybrid event and traditional conferences, meetings, celebrations, and retreats when the time is right. When it comes time to choose your venue for your special event, we have something to please everyone and room for every group. Hilton Head Island is home to six resorts ready to host your special event. Work together in traditional boardrooms or make use of unique outdoor venues complete with picturesque ocean views to allow your team to leave your event feeling energized and refreshed. The perfect setting, paired with delicious menus inspired by our quintessential Lowcountry hospitality and Southern flavors will leave attendees with full bellies and fond memories.
There are ample outdoor activities on Hilton Head Island for those seeking an adventurous outing after a long day of meetings and hard work. From nature walks to water sports and everything in between, you can achieve the perfect balance.
With its breathtaking scenery, limitless amenities, and more, your next meeting, convention or event is sure to be a success when you choose Hilton Head Island. Host a meeting or event at one of six spacious Hilton Head Island resorts from now until March 31, 2022, and save up to $11,000.
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