Let’s get serious: the past year has revealed so many flaws with the way we’re “used to” doing things. Conversations about work-life balance, sustainability, social justice and equity have bubbled to the surface, and event professionals should take note. As we enter a an era where in-person events are being planned as usual, going back to normal shouldn’t be an option when a more inclusive and sustainable way forward is available.
Enter: hybrid events. Combining in-person and virtual elements, hybrid events are the way forward. They’re better for our planet, better for global audiences and better for diverse voices that struggle to be heard at your typical industry event. With 63% of companies starting to include hybrid formats in their event portfolios, now’s the time to challenge the event industry’s status quo.
In this post, we discuss how hybrid events are more sustainable, affordable and inclusive than their traditional in-person counterparts - and why that’s so important for the future of events.
Annual meetings, trade shows, conferences -- events are how we connect with like-minded people to affect change. Amazing strides in science, technology, healthcare are possible because great minds have opportunities to come together and further advance their fields. But how can we view the valuable connections and developments that come out of industry events as a net positive when the events themselves can have such a detrimental impact on our environment, or turn a blind eye to inclusivity? An event’s experience isn’t just the programming and the swag bags; event organizers should also include sustainability and inclusivity as part of a great event.
As the world starts to return to "normal", why should we go back to the way things used to be when we can vastly improve our events’ social and environmental impact?
According to a recent World Travel and Tourism Council survey, 58% of respondents are now more concerned with the environment and sustainability than they were before 2020 began. And after the conversations about race and equity that many companies started having in the summer of 2020, accessibility and inclusivity should be at the top of event professionals’ minds.
Hybrid events are uniquely positioned to reduce events’ environmental impact and reach more diverse audiences in a more accessible way. Going forward, the event industry’s priorities should shift for the better, and hybrid events can help achieve goals of sustainability and inclusivity.
Badges, drawstring backpacks, pamphlets, branded pens and USB drives and travel mugs and wristbands and… If you’ve been to a large event before, you’ve probably tossed some of these promotional items in the trash. Standard in-person events create a lot of waste. MeetGreen estimates that at your average 5,000-person event, like a trade show or conference, 62% of trash and organic materials thrown out end up in a landfill. That’s 7,672 pounds of trash.
Carbon emissions are higher than you’d think, too. Attendees generally use air travel, the transportation method with the biggest carbon footprint, to get to conferences or symposiums. Attend a few events a year? That’s an even bigger footprint.
Peer-reviewed journal Nature reports that large in-person events create CO2 emissions “comparable to the global annual per capita CO2 emissions in many countries.”
Hybrid events create a best-of-both-worlds meeting model that cuts down on waste and emissions. Virtual programming and engagement allows guests to tune in from home and opt out of receiving swag that’ll end up in a landfill. Morressier’s chief strategy officer Lauren Kane agrees that a hybrid event strategy “presents the best future strategy for most conference organizers” when it comes to an event’s environmental impact. Remember, virtual does not mean less interesting; the virtual side of a hybrid event presents just as many enriching, engaging opportunities as in-person events without the toll on our environment.
In-person events can get pricey. Individuals, or companies sending their teams, can run up an expensive tab between travel, lodging, food and networking events. Nature writes that “the total cost of attending large national and international scientific meetings is in the thousands of dollars.” This creates a massive financial hurdle that many people just can’t clear, effectively shutting new perspectives out of important industry events.
Hybrid events are a great way to reduce financial barriers to entry. Creating tiered pricing models with more accessible pricing for the virtual side of your hybrid event ensures that those who want to attend, can. Take Outbound 2021, powered by PheedLoop, as an example; they offer a variety of ticket packages ranging from virtual and in-person access, VIP in-person experiences and solely virtual access. Hybrid formats are primed for opening up your event to those who may not have had the opportunity to attend expensive events in the past -- plus, on your end, going hybrid allows you to boost your profit via virtual event sales, engage a broader audience, and stay sustainable.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that about 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a disability. If 20% of people are living with disabilities, that means you’ve probably planned an event that was attended by someone with a disability. Yet, many event organizers don’t take into consideration the needs of people with disabilities, from choosing ADA-compliant venues to hiring ASL interpreters or providing closed captioning.
The virtual versions of hybrid events create awesome opportunities for accessibility. With the option to join an event online, attendees with disabilities don’t have to worry about the effort it could take to attend an in-person experience. Virtual events have the potential for connectivity and engagement without attendees having to worry about challenging logistics at best, or discrimination at worst. Check out how PheedLoop powers accessible virtual events.
Using a virtual event as a blanket solution for accessibility shouldn’t be the only measure you take. To make the in-person side of your hybrid event more accommodating, consider the following from Meetings Today’s accessibility guide:
Traditional in-person events can be challenging for parents, international attendees and those from underrepresented backgrounds to attend. Between passport and visa issues, familial or work obligations, and high event costs, voices can easily get silenced.
This disproportionately affects women and people of color. Research tells us that caring for children negatively affects women’s career mobility; one of the main reasons women leave their industry is because their professional life “is unfriendly to the growth and maintenance of a family.” It makes sense, then, that events in the status quo are a reflection of this exclusionary attitude. Nature also brings up that obtaining short-term visas to attend conferences and other meetings is a major hurdle for professionals from developing nations. Some countries, like the U.S., have made it clear that people of certain nationalities are not welcome, or will have to go through a lengthy and expensive process to obtain a visa.
Hybrid events open up a world of resources and networking opportunities to those whose circumstances make it difficult to travel. With virtual components that allow guests to tune in from their homes comes a larger scope of experiences and knowledge from attendees who don’t usually participate in important industry conversations. Hybrid events open the exchange of ideas to everyone, not just those it’s convenient for.
Let’s be honest: the appeal of in-person conferences, meetings and trade shows is connecting with other people. Anyone who’s been to a professional event knows that the eating, drinking, partying and socializing is the real draw; sure, lectures are enriching and useful, but a weekend getaway is enticing. There’s nothing wrong with having fun at a conference! But the party aspect of “conference culture” isn’t for everyone, especially when it comes to academic conferences where the main attraction should be learning.
Hybrid events create a space where participants can feel empowered to opt for virtual access. This allows guests to engage with the valuable content and learning opportunities your event offers without engaging in social drinking or partying, if it’s not something consistent with their values or religion.
Hybrid events embrace sustainability, accessibility, and global inclusivity. Think of hybrid formats as the best-of-all-worlds model; you can host an incredible in-person event while still including those from all walks of life with on-site and online participation opportunities. A shift in our priorities as event organizers is needed after the awakenings of the past year. Keep the momentum going by using a hybrid format for your next event to maximize social good.
Embrace the potential of hybrid events. Use PheedLoop to plan your next hybrid experience.