Although COVID-19 vaccines are being deployed throughout the U.S., business event planners are anticipating the continuation of virtual meetings in 2021 and dipping their toes into part virtual, part in-person hybrid events. While people are looking forward to gathering with colleagues, they might not be ready for a giant in-person soiree. Luckily, hybrid expos provide many features that, if utilized, can make a hybrid or virtual event engaging.

Hybrid events will become increasingly popular because they give attendees the option to do what works best for them. Offering both recorded and live portions of your online conference allows employees who cannot afford the time off the ability to participate.

It also allows those attending in-person the freedom to "be in two places at once" by enjoying one session live and another at their convenience. Additionally, planning for smaller in-person events not only reduces contagion risk but also cuts costs for businesses, nonprofits, and associations already struggling to rebuild as the pandemic wanes.

As we settle into the new year, here's how to start planning your 2021 hybrid event:

Create value for both virtual and in-person attendees.

An effective hybrid event will include options for virtual attendees as well as physical ones. Just like the physical portion of the event, the virtual portion of hybrid events can, and should, be customized with company branding.

Event planners must create value both for in-person attendees as well as the virtual attendees. Virtual attendees need to be engaged on the same level as the face-to-face attendees. Whether the participants are attending live, digitally, or both, interaction is still just as important.

Make the virtual portion resemble an in-person event.

Create chat, breakout sessions, or coffee breaks for all attendees. These can be pre-recorded for your virtual attendees and live for those physically attending. Bake fun and relaxing activities into both the in-person and the virtual event. Consider offering online stretching or yoga sessions, directions to make a classic cocktail, tips to perfect your golf swing, and more.

Use polling, Q&A, networking, and moderators strategically for your virtual attendees. An artificial intelligence concierge avatar could be made available to virtual participants. Some proprietary event platforms even allow for virtual exhibitor booth games. The online portion of your hybrid event should also include virtual exhibitor booths and post-event polling.

Use technology to your advantage.

In a hybrid event, attendees can build their event schedule on a customized dashboard. Event registration payments can be easily processed online, you can use a dashboard to showcase upcoming sessions, and can even allow attendees to access past events.

Session information is easily updated in real-time and sponsorship placements can be placed strategically throughout an online event. The virtual portion of a hybrid event can also include live streaming and on-demand video to help attendees catch up if they were unable to attend. It can even feature translation services that bring people together from throughout the globe.

Consider in-person safety measures.

The venue is still just as important in a hybrid event. Do your research to keep attendees secure and be sure you have the physical space needed to create a true hybrid environment. Find ways to avoid having too many people in one place at a time.

Consider creating smaller pop-up events in different cities to take advantage of in-person networking, while still allowing guests to attend the conference virtually if they choose.

Put it all together.

A professional team can guide you through the technical and production aspects of a virtual or hybrid event. They can also help you decide when to live stream or record speakers who tend to get nervous under pressure. Regardless of whether you partner with a professional team or go solo in planning and execution, be sure to rehearse and do frequent technology checks.

COVID-19 has caused business meeting planners to rethink the way they convene. Hybrid events offer lower costs and allow increased flexibility, safety, and convenience, so they will likely remain well after the pandemic. While they may require a bit more planning, hybrid events are well worth the extra effort.