November 30, 2020

UVMEXPO pivoting to hybrid

Part 1 - This is the story of how we delivered a successful hybrid event and the lessons we learnt along the way.

UVM Expo 2020

Each year UVM EXPO has historically been a half-day, table-top style expo, with entertainment and refreshments, showcasing our members to local and regional conference & events buyers. This year was to be our third expo, originally booked for June 2020, but because of Covid-19 had to be cancelled in its original format.

As the world took to virtual webinars, meetings and events, so did we. In partnership with Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce & Chamber Space, we delivered a series of networking events for both memberships. This was where the initial idea to take our expo hybrid started. From here, Beccy & I knew we needed to collaborate in order to deliver the event, so we started conversations and recruited partners we knew and trusted.

The core objective remained the same, to promote our UVM venues and partners to event organisers, however, we were also in agreement that we wanted to help build confidence within our industry and with our clients. To do this we felt the best way would be to showcase the different aspects of a hybrid event and how they could be delivered both live and virtually. This led to our first pivot, as our half-day expo became a full day hybrid conference and exhibition.

The lessons:

Without wanting to teach anyone in our industry how to suck eggs, my first lessons are:

1. Having a great team is vital

2. Do not under-estimate the amount of work involved in delivering a hybrid event.

3. Give yourself plenty of time (we were slightly dictated to by Covid-restrictions)

4. Once you have confirmed your event date, consider getting your platform live sooner rather than later. For our next event, I would certainly look to open registration about 6-8 weeks out and have the platform live with some pre-recorded content 2-4 weeks out.

The platform

Consideration to which virtual/hybrid platform we would use to deliver our event was a key aspect. We did a lot of research, running demos and getting quotes from a number of different platforms ranging from Brella, Eventcase, Glisser, HopIn, OnAir, Socio, Swapcard & a few others. Each platform offered something a little different in terms of their functionality, presentation format and licensing/pricing (which varied quite considerably from around £1,000 up to £16,000).

We decided upon Swapcard for a number of reasons, but some of the key ones were:

  • Given our expo roots and the importance of our exhibitors, the exhibitor display, information and links, as well as the connectivity and interaction with attendees, was really very good.
  • The pricing (a fixed rate per delegate/exhibitor) made budgeting simple and was affordable.
  • The seamless integration with Eventbrite registration, and the ability to directly import/export data & automatic synchronisation with emails, made communication with attendees very easy.
  • Creating sessions and the YouTube integration for the live feed into the platform

We found the platform logical, intuitive and user friendly, so we made the decision not to take any additional support. Whilst it probably took longer to navigate and get used to, time was less of an issue for us. However, if we were under time-pressure, having support or an allocated resource would have been necessary.

The interaction and engagement with the virtual audience was as important to us as the live audience. On the day, we allocated a technician, who’s focus was purely on the platform, from managing questions & polls, adjusting session times, linking in the streams when they go live and interacting with the virtual audience (notifying them if there is a slight delay, etc).

The lessons:

1. As mentioned, managing the platform and the interaction with your virtual audience is a specific job role. Consider either invest in the support from the platform provider, employ a third party (production company) or someone within your own team to take on the responsibility. Ideally you want someone with technical experience or knowledge of the platform, and whoever you choose will be needed both pre-event (for set-up) and on-the-day (for co-ordination & communication).

2. There are lots of platform providers out there at the moment, each currently offer something a little different in terms of functionality. However, it is my strong belief that each platform provider will eventually copy, incorporated, adopted or build those different functionalities into their own systems, providing a one-stop shop for all virtual & hybrid event needs. As a consequence, market leaders will start to rise, pricing variation will narrow and hopefully the process of finding a platform provider made easier for event planners.

The next part will cover the venue, the content, the production and the marketing & cost and will be available here from 27th November 2020. For more information or for help and support with your hybrid event email: mathew@uniquevenuesofgreatbritain.co.uk

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