Hybrid Events: What They Are and How to Get Started

Hybrid Events: What They Are and How to Get Started

Should you host your next conference or meeting both in-person and online? Also known as a hybrid event or multi-access event, this approach is becoming more and more popular. In this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of hybrid events, and what to keep in mind when considering doing an event both online and in-person at the same time.

If you missed my first article on alternatives to Zoom video conferencing, hi! I’m Tony, and I’m the Community Program Manager at Team SPI. Since 2007, I’ve been hosting gatherings in person and online, from running a coworking space to weekly mastermind groups to multi-hundred-person conferences over Zoom and other platforms. I’m always looking for the best possible tools to help people connect in meaningful ways.

I’m super focused on creating experiences that are accessible, inclusive, and meaningful. As we’ve all had to deal with the balancing act of in-person and online meetings of various kinds, I’ve been looking for ways to have the best of both worlds. We can keep a lot of what we learned from this time, so our meetings and events can be that much more rich and available to people going forward. And hybrid events—ones that offer an in-person as well as an online experience—allow your audience to join and engage with your event no matter where they are.

Let’s get to know what it looks like to host a hybrid gathering, and why you might (or might not) want to give one a try. Here’s what we’ll be covering in this post.

  • What events can be made hybrid?
  • Is hybrid worth the trouble?
  • Advantages of hybrid events
  • Disadvantages of hybrid events
  • Tips for organizing a great hybrid event
  • In summary

What Events Can Be Made Hybrid?

Hosting a gathering both in-person and online is more work.

Events & conferences

It’s hard to imagine big conference-level events taking place anywhere but in person, but online gatherings mean the ability to scale up to thousands of participants all around the world, without the need for renting out a venue and asking people to fly in. When people don’t have to book a flight and a hotel to attend, your event becomes a lot more accessible!

Team meetings

Some of your team wants to meet in person, while others (for various reasons) would prefer to meet from outside the office. While it’s always tricky to mix in-person and virtual participation in a meeting, careful planning can make it a possibility.

Social gatherings

We’re all dealing with enormous Zoom burnout, screen fatigue, and just generally being done with video happy hours—but there are still plenty of ways people can and do enjoy participating in social programming online. The trick is to design ways of engaging that actually meet people where they’re at, instead of just assuming everyone’s going to be on video.

Is Hybrid Worth the Trouble?

Hosting a gathering both in-person and online is more work, but doing so opens up access to a much wider portion of your audience.

Whether that’s worth the trouble will depend on your goals for the program, the needs of your audience, and your capacity for facilitating what are effectively two different programs simultaneously. Let’s break down some of the strengths and weaknesses of going hybrid, and get you what you need to get rolling!

Advantages of Hybrid Events

Going hybrid offers some powerful benefits:

More people can participate.

More forms of access mean more people can join. No matter what you do, someone isn’t going to be able to join one form of gathering, but they may be able to join for another. If you’re hoping to reach a wider array of people in your network, the more avenues the better.

People can join from anywhere.

Geography is a huge constraint when producing an event—no matter where you hold an in-person event, it’s likely going to be inconvenient for a good number of people. This is especially true for anyone with accessibility considerations or loved ones who have them, and doubly so during a pandemic!

Related: How to Organize a Massive Event (Brick by Brick with Chad Collins)

Hybrid is more inclusive.

People deal with a variety of challenges you may never know about. Some people get anxious riding a subway or driving a car; some people are sensitive to bright light and sound, some people just get nervous around other people. Plus, life happens, and sometimes people aren’t feeling good about leaving the house and being among other people. Beyond this, people have all manner of physiological constraints that make meeting in person difficult.

All of this is to say: offering multiple forms of engagement is inherently inclusive.

Online offerings do come with their own accessibility tradeoffs (see my thread on that here), which are worth accounting for as well, but ultimately more people will find an option that works for them when they have more than one to choose from.

Multi-access opens up our imagination, giving us more than just two options for how we gather. While hybrid thinking leads to a fixed duality of synchronous programming (offering an in-person and virtual option for the same moment), multi-access reminds us that our experiences, learning, content, and gatherings can happen at different times, in different spaces, for different people, in different ways.

—Cantor Rosalie Will, Rabbi Esther L. Lederman, And Rabbi Leora Kaye, “Don’t Call it Hybrid: Multi-Access is the Future for Jewish Communities”

Disadvantages of Hybrid Events

Not everyone should immediately jump into hybrid events; in fact I would rather you assume you shouldn’t do it until and unless you’re sure you need to and you’re sure you can do it well. A few challenges to consider:

They’re more work.

You’re going from producing one program in one medium to two programs in two forms of media. They require different skillsets, additional staff, and more overhead. Doing either format (online or in-person) is challenging enough—doing both at once is an order of magnitude greater in difficulty.

They’re hard to do well.

In many cases, a given event is going to have a native format it was originally designed for. An in-person event that’s being adapted to go online, for example, will require extra attention to ensure virtual participants have a quality experience. It’s often hard to avoid the feeling that virtual participants are second-class citizens compared to the people meeting in person.

Remote participants can feel excluded.

People who are online are never going to be able to feel the same kind of connection people feel when they meet in person. Inevitably, people who meet in person will have more serendipitous encounters and side conversations, which enrich the experience for them in a way that virtual participants just can’t reproduce in the same way.
Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate these challenges and take advantage of the opportunities these new approaches afford. I’ve compiled some of my most important tips for you in the next section!

Tips for organizing a great hybrid event

Taking into account the above tradeoffs, let’s get to work planning a great hybrid event!

Get clear on your goals.

This disruption gives us a chance to step back and investigate why a given gathering is happening in the first place—don’t just scramble to re-create what you’ve been doing all along, just because you’ve always done it that way. Make sure you know why you’re doing it! Getting solid on this will be critical in informing how you approach designing your experiences.

Focus on making both of them great experiences on their own.

To the extent possible, online participants should feel like they are participating in an experience designed for them, and not just tuning into something that’s really supposed to be in real life.

That means both experiences should be designed with their respective audiences in mind. If additional programming or effort needs to be dedicated to the online event to make that more of a complete experience, do what you have to do.

Related: Tips and Tricks for Getting the Most Out of the Conferences You Attend

This gets much easier when you…

Designate a dedicated remote production team and ambassador.

Think of a sports broadcast—there’s a team of people at the venue producing the event for in-person ticketholders, but there’s also a whole other team of people who are working to create an enjoyable television broadcast.

Similarly, when you have separate people who are focused on the in-person and online experiences, each can focus on doing their job well.

You can then have someone on the online team play “ambassador,” representing the online participants in person on their behalf. This ambassador can ask questions or contribute perspectives from the online community, bringing their participation into the physical realm and helping those folks feel represented.

For public-facing broadcasts and events, the person in this role might also be monitoring social media chatter as well.

Consider time zones.

Extending your offering online means accounting for where people will be viewing it. If you’re in the eastern time zone in the USA and want people from the west coast to join, you probably don’t want to do an event before 12:00pm ET (9:00am PT). Similarly, if you want people from Europe to join, earlier tends to be better.

If your event falls outside those time ranges, just make sure you’re clear in your communications so people can plan accordingly. Get in the habit of always appending times with their time zones, so people don’t get confused.

In other words, don’t tell people an online event starts at 12:00. Tell them it starts at 12:00pm ET. For bonus points, include a link to a handy time zone calculator! I love Every Time Zone for this.

Design for asynchronous participation while you’re at it!

Giving people the option to join in person or online substantially widens the potential audience for your event. If you want to widen the scope much further, consider adding one final layer of engagement—asynchronous online participation.

While it’s clearly not the same kind of participation you get from a synchronous experience, people who are unable to attend an event they really want to attend can in fact still feel very much like they have been a part of the event if you give them quality ways to engage with the content and conversation before and after the event takes place.

Are there question prompts you can offer to asynchronous participants before the event happens, so they can be invited to contribute their questions or responses? Can those responses then be read aloud during the event, so you can record how people react? Can you then post the recordings along with followup posts after the fact, so the asynchronous participant can keep the conversation going from there?

All of this, fortunately, is useful in extending the impact and meaning of a program for the synchronous participants as well, encouraging continued engagement long after the event has ended.

Focus on quality over quantity.

People aren’t necessarily starving for more time in front of their screens, so if you do one event really well, people will be more likely to make time for it. If you try to do too much all at once, you spread your own resources thin and risk overwhelming your audience with options—leading them to skip everything.

When you’re really able to focus your energy on one great experience, however, you can figure out exactly what works best—and then, when you’re ready, you can roll that out to expanded programming from there.

In Summary

Identify your business goals, talk to your people, design both experiences separately, and iterate!

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WP Event Manager Review (2020): Best WordPress Events Plugin?

WP Event Manager Review (2020): Best WordPress Events Plugin?

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Need to manage events on your WordPress site? You could be launching some digital webinars or maybe hosting some local workshops.

Either way, WP Event Manager is a freemium WordPress event plugin that might be able to help. It makes it easy to share events on your WordPress site, along with lots of filters and custom information to create a great experience for your visitors. With the premium features, you can even sell tickets to your events, charge people to list events on your site, and lots, lots more.

In my WP Event Manager review, I’ll share more about this plugin’s features and show you how it works on my own test website.

WP Event Manager Review: Introduction to the Plugin

WP Event Manager does exactly what the name says – it helps you manage events on your WordPress site. It supports both digital events, like a webinar, as well as physical in-person events.

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One of the most powerful features is that you, or others, can create/manage events from both your backend WordPress dashboard and the frontend of your site. For example, you could let other people register and submit events from the frontend of your site, like creating a sort of public event directory.

You can also add custom fields to manage information about your unique events. You can add as many custom fields as you want and also edit/remove any of the default fields. This lets you customize your event pages to display the exact information that you need them to.

To organize your events, you can add different categories and tags. You can also assign venues and organizers to events. Your visitors will be able to filter by all of this information and you can also create different event views, like creating a dedicated page for a venue that lists only that venue’s events.

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That’s all in the free version at WordPress.org. If you want more features, there are also lots of paid add-ons that give you advanced features.

Paid Add-Ons

  • Sell tickets via WooCommerce and check-in visitors at events by scanning a QR code on your smartphone.
  • Charge for event listings via WooCommerce. Great for event directory sites.
  • Integrate Zoom meetings for “online” events.
  • Show events on Google Maps.
  • Display events on a calendar listing.
  • Create automatic recurring events.
  • Easily add events to iCal or Google Calendar.
  • List all of the attendees at an event.
  • Send alerts related to events.
  • Integrate Google Analytics.
  • Send customizable emails to event attendees.

I’ll explain some of these premium add-ons in more detail later in the review.

Who Can Benefit from WP Event Manager?

I think WP Event Manager can benefit pretty much any type of business that runs events.

For example, let’s say you have an online business and you run webinars. WP Event Manager can help you create “digital” events that link to your webinar platform, which lets you easily manage and display all your upcoming webinars on your site.

It’s also useful for local businesses, though. For example, maybe you have a local restaurant and you occasionally have live music acts come in. WP Event Manager makes it easy to organize those acts and lets your customers quickly find out which artists are playing when. Or maybe you have a yoga studio and you want to showcase all your upcoming workshops – WP Event Manager can help there, too.

You could also go another route and create your own event directory website based around a local area or a specific topic. For example, you could create a site that lists all of the events in your local city. Then, you could monetize your event directory by charging local businesses for featured events (a feature which WP Event Manager offers).

Basically, WP Event Manager is useful for more than just typical “event” businesses.

Now, let’s go hands-on and I’ll show you how WP Event Manager works.

How WP Event Manager Works

When you first install WP Event Manager, it launches a simple setup wizard to help you configure the basics, like the default pages that you need to manage events. For example, it will automatically create the pages that list events and venues.

This is a nice feature to get you up and running quickly. From there, you’re ready to start creating events right away.

How to Create an Event in WordPress

WP Event Manager lets you create events in two ways:

  1. From your backend WordPress dashboard.
  2. From the frontend (which is especially helpful if you want to let your visitors/users create their own events). You also get the option to manually approve events that are submitted from the frontend.

This is pretty unique as a lot of other event manager plugins require the premium version for frontend event submissions – WP Event Manager gives you this for free.

On the backend, you can use the regular WordPress editor to add the event title and description. You’ll also get options in the sidebar to add event categories and types, which helps you organize events (and will help your visitors find the events that they’re interested in).

Then, below the editor, you’ll get a meta box where you can add all of the event’s details including information like:

  • Whether it’s online (like a webinar or livestream) or a physical event
  • The event location (for physical events)
  • Start/end times
  • Venue – each venue gets its own page that lists all of the events for that venue.
  • Organizer – each organizer gets their own page that lists all of the events they’re organizing.

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If you create an event from the frontend, you’ll get the same options – the interface is just a little different:

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One really nice thing here is that people get a live preview before they submit the event. This helps them avoid silly mistakes and creates a user-friendly experience for your event organizers:

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And just like that, your event will get its own dedicated, SEO-friendly page on the frontend. WP Event Manager even adds social share buttons to give your event more visibility, along with an option for people to register for the event:

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How to Manage Events

Just like creating events, WP Event Manager lets you manage events from both the backend WordPress dashboard and the frontend of your site.

On the backend, you’ll get a list of all events, along with icons to help you quickly see their statuses.

For example, you can see that one event is pending approval, while the other is active:

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You can also see that information from the frontend. Users also have the option to edit their approved events or cancel them:

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How to Add Custom Fields to Your Events

While WP Event Manager comes with lots of fields to help you add information to your events, you might have specific information that applies to your use case.

For example, maybe you host public speaking events and you want an option to list all of the individual speakers that will be speaking at your event.

To help you capture this information and display it on your event pages (or venue and organizer pages), WP Event Manager comes with its own built-in field editor.

Here, you can:

  • Add new fields to events, organizers, or venues.
  • Edit the default fields.
  • Remove the default fields.

For example, you can see that I added two fields for speakers:

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Now, you’ll see those fields when you go to add a new event:

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WP Event Manager will also automatically add them to the frontend event page in an Additional Details box:

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Overall, this is an incredibly useful feature because it lets you really customize WP Event Manager to meet your needs.

Overall, that’s most of what you can do with the free version, which is already quite flexible. But with the Pro add-ons, you can unlock a lot more features.

What Can You Do With the Premium Add-ons?

Everything that I showed you above is available with the free version of WP Event Manager that’s at WordPress.org.

However, there are also 20+ Pro add-ons that give you a lot more flexibility. Let’s go through some of the most notable premium features…

Sell Tickets to Your Events

With the free version, you can let people register for your events, which would let you manually charge them in-person. However, there’s no way to charge people for a ticket automatically.

The Sell Tickets add-on changes that, letting you sell tickets to individual events via WooCommerce.

You can have multiple ticket pricing tiers and even mix free tickets and paid tickets together.

The really cool thing is that each ticket gets its own unique QR code, which lets you verify attendees’ tickets at your event just by scanning the code with your smartphone.

Attendees can download their tickets as PDFs which makes it easy to print them and you can also attach the ticket to an automatic confirmation email.

Charge for Listing Events

If you allow users to submit events from the frontend, another way to monetize your site is to charge them to submit events.

For example, you could create a local event directory and charge people to list an event (which they would pay because it gets them access to your audience).

To set this up, you’d need the WooCommerce Paid Listings add-on.

Connect With Zoom Events

I’m writing this WP Event Manager review during the Coronavirus pandemic, so this feature is especially relevant.

With the Zoom add-on, you can create virtual Zoom meeting events that embed right on your website. This also works with the other add-ons so you could, for example, sell tickets to give people access to a private Zoom webinar.

This is a really great way to monetize your website/business during this period of social distancing. For example, if you have a local gym, you could use this feature to sell access to paid online classes that stream over Zoom.

Display an Event Calendar

Unlike some other event plugins, WP Event Manager doesn’t give you a calendar view for free. However, the Calendar add-on lets you display all of your upcoming events in a calendar view. This makes it easier for visitors to see all of your upcoming events.

Create Recurring Events

If you have events that repeat on certain schedules, it can be frustrating to have to manually recreate them each time. The Recurring Events add-on lets you simplify your administrative work by automatically repeating certain events on a schedule that you set.

Note – if you’re on a tight budget, some other event plugins give you this feature for free.

Explore the Other Premium Add-ons

Again, there are over 20+ premium add-ons, so the list above is just some of the most notable features. Click here to view the full list.

WP Event Manager Pricing

WP Event Manager comes in a free version at WordPress.org, as well as various premium add-ons that you can either purchase individually or as a bundle.

For most of this WP Event Manager review, I’ve focused on showing you what you can do with the free version at WordPress.org.

However, if you need more features, there are 20 paid add-ons to choose from. Each add-on costs either $19 or $39 if you purchase it individually. Or, you can also get a bundle of all 20 add-ons for $235.

Final Thoughts on WP Event Manager

If your WordPress site deals with any type of events, WP Event Manager is a very interesting plugin to consider.

One of the most unique features is that, even with the free version, you (or other people) can manage events from both the frontend and backend. Most other plugins only work from the backend, at least in their free versions. This opens up a lot of flexibility, especially around any type of event directory site.

The ability to add your own custom fields also makes it very easy to customize WP Event Manager to your needs, even in the free version.

However, while the free version is pretty flexible, you’ll need the Pro add-ons for many important features, especially related to monetizing your events. For example, you’ll need Pro add-ons to sell tickets or charge for event listings.

However, the nice thing about the premium features is that they use a modular approach. If you only need a single feature, you can just pay for that feature. Or, you can also get a bundle if you want access to every feature.

If you want to get started and learn more, here are some links to help:

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