Making the extra step: embracing hybrid events

Alex Melia

With face-to-face conferences, events and seminars cancelled, you might have expected to see events management companies struggling throughout lockdown and strict social distancing measures.

But in the case of First Event, that’s not what happened at all. The challenges of the pandemic have changed their approach to events, in ways they would never have expected.

“Somebody asked me recently, ‘Do you think that, now we can go back to live events, that virtual is dead in the water, that no one wants to do it?’” said Alex Melia, First Event’s Head of Marketing.

“And actually, it’s not the case at all. Everyone loves live events and are very glad that they are back, but the flexibility that virtual events offered us during Covid opened up a wider conversation around the accessibility of events across the industry.’’

“Hybrid events, the perfect mix of live and virtual, have evolved out of the ashes of the pandemic, and have changed the way we look at events forever.”

While First Event’s audiovisual and technical expertise meant they had experience of recording and disseminating events before the pandemic, the team utilised and deepened this technical experience to the full extent in the midst of lockdowns and social distancing. They created a socially distanced, state of the art virtual event studio space, right in their Yeadon based offices.

To compliment these technical capabilities, running successful virtual and hybrid events has demanded a new style of creativity.

“If you don’t have the right team behind you, it’s really hard to create a slick and seamless hybrid event. Not only do you need technical specialists, you need creative experts who can map out how the immersive experience should look and feel, translating this onto a virtual platform. You also need live event experts who are good enough to stitch the two ways of attending together in a way that means each experience is inspiring, enjoyable and unites both audiences.’’

‘’Even for the day-to-day strategic meetings of our clients, we always keep in mind what the key client goals are for the event, and sometimes we have to get creative to ensure that these are reflected across every element of the hybrid experience.’’

“Creating wow moments across a hybrid event presents its own unique challenges too. Captivating an online audience, keeping them engaged and involved, all whilst communicating key event messages is entirely different from just encouraging people to watch something online.”

First Event recently created a virtual gaming world, which event attendees could explore with their own avatar, moving through the virtual space to catch live speakers in digital auditoriums, and interact with other avatars as they would at an in person event.

“It was amazing,” said Alex. “Gamification is a huge draw to virtual and hybrid experiences, and these are the extra steps we like to take for our clients. Without support from our teams, virtual events can feel a bit like a Zoom call with slightly better graphics. When it’s planned and executed to perfection, a hybrid event is almost escapism.”

Hybrid events are also effective at bringing people together from across the globe. At a recent First Event experience, with the main stage set up in person in Wyoming, attendees joined watch parties in London, Berlin, Cape Town, Miami, New York and Tokyo. All attendees could also access the virtual world to interact with people at other watch parties or those watching from home too – creating a truly global experience.

“The sustainable benefits that these hybrid events bring can’t be overlooked. When the options to attend virtually are made available and accessible, we can create jaw dropping experiences that don’t cost the earth.”

How First Event utilises hybrid events, as Alex explained, is more than just about helping their clients reach their goals, it’s about using technology as a force for good.

“The event industry deals in the unpredictable. That’s kind of our jam,” Alex said. “We overcome challenges, we resolve difficulties, and we go above and beyond to find solutions, all to create events that exceed expectations and provide exceptional experiences.”