The new spectrum of live communication

02/2022 | On the strengths and weaknesses of physical, digital and hybrid event formats.

These days, our calendars are filled with physical, virtual and hybrid entries. As attendees, we think less about the nature of the event format. We simply notice whether we liked the event as a whole or not. However, in event planning, the choice of format is an important step that has a significant impact on the event. In this article we compare the typical characteristics of the three event formats to give a first orientation.

 

Physical events

As the original among the event formats, we do not really have to define a physical event: people come together at a real location and have a common experience. Physical events often strive to create special, one-off, you-have-to-be-there experiences and there are so, so many reasons to have them! As such, the variation is huge. In our agency history alone, the range of physical events includes small gatherings, dinners, workshops, openings, celebrations, activations, anniversaries… you name it.

It sometimes seems like there is nothing that physical events can’t do, since your only constraints are the actual real space, the laws of physics and your budget. They are the only format that can truly cater to all human senses, which makes it relatively easy to evoke emotion. Physical formats are at an advantage, if you want to create both an intimate atmosphere or the big spectacle, and for when you want to empower, motivate, and inspire.

The last years have brought along new considerations to bringing people together in a physical space, forcing many event organizers to create digital formats instead. More importantly though, for even more years, physical events have been on a trajectory to become modular touchpoints in a more and more cross-channel communication anyway. A modern physical event is nearly always interconnected with digital tools and touchpoints. For us, the path to more digital, innovative event formats has begun far earlier than 2020 and we see it as an exciting development in the industry.

 

Digital events 

In contrast to physical events, people do not come together in the real space at all for digital event formats. Instead, the whole event takes place in a designated digital space from beginning to end.  With plenty of technological tools at our site, nowadays the range of digital events starts with something more akin to a TV-format, where one source broadcast to many passive viewers. On the other side of the spectrum are high-quality virtual experiences with a lot of real-time interaction between the participants. In between those two is truly something for everyone.

The advantages of digital events are exciting and challenge innovation: In the digital world, we are not limited by the same realities as in the physical world.  Considering staging, for example, you can create literally anything you can think of – the digital world is a true creative blank space. It was also never easier to bring a group together, that is geographically widespread.

Digital events often are critiqued on being less entertaining as their physical counterparts. It is indeed proven that the attention span of participants is far lower in the digital space, where E-Mails, notifications and the complete content of the internet are just a click away. There are also some aspects of physical events that are still not recreated digitally to a satisfactory level, like the sensory experiences of smell, taste and touch or the harder-to-define ways humans interact, like seizing on a serendipitous chance encounter.

However, many of these disadvantages can be addressed and counteracted during the conception of a digital event. We understand digital event formats to be their own genre, and do not see them as copies of physical events. With near endless customization possibilities, digital event formats are a universal tool in the modern live communication strategy.

 

Hybrid events

Hybrid events are defined as events that are happening on- and offline simultaneously. They are in some ways, where physical events have been evolving towards for years – for example by incorporating digital event apps and on-demand content. This makes it even difficult to pinpoint exactly where physical ends and hybrid begins. But in the end, the definition is not as important as choosing your physical and digital building blocks with intention.

The biggest advantage of hybrid formats lies within its very nature as a hybrid: You can pick and choose the best of both worlds, the physical and digital. Hybrid events offer the maximum potential reach and most flexibility for event organizers or attendees. Hybrid concepts can, for example, connect global satellite events to form one shared event journey. Hybrid allows your participants to choose how they would like to attend or enables physical participants to engage with competing program points on-demand. With their diverse touchpoints, hybrid event formats are also easily inserted into cross-channel communication campaigns.

One could assume, that planning a hybrid event means just lining up a physical event with a digital copy of the same event, but as alluded to in the post about digital formats, there is more to it. The digital event journey differs from the physical one and must be planned independently. In other words, a simple “digital copy” of an originally physical event journey, will never be as good as an intentional digital journey. This translates to essentially conceptualizing two separate – but still connected – customer journeys to form a hybrid event journey.

The merging of physical and digital audiences into a truly hybrid audience is subsequently one of the biggest challenges of hybrid events and much harder to achieve on a large scale. What might work in a team meeting of ten, where some are in the meeting room and some in home office, is much harder to achieve with thousands of festival attendees. A seamless experience is key to this: the event should “feel the same” in the physical and digital space, and the transition between the two must be as smooth as possible. We are excited to witness and shape how hybrid events journeys evolve now that hybrid event formats are more established.

Lena Fritz

Concepter

After studying Biological Sciences in Constance and Scotland, Lena built a bridge towards Live Communication by working in PR for the environmental sector. Now she is thinking creatively and conceptually for Live Lab.

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