The term “hybrid event” is on every event organizer’s lips these days.
This format, which consists of mixing virtual and in person participants, is often seen as the savior in a world where everyone is tired of virtual events and where participants are hesitant to travel to an on-site venue because of costs, trouble obtaining visas, etc.
Despite numerous advantages like decreasing the event’s carbon footprint, increasing diversity and reach, providing more sponsorship opportunities, hybrid events are also more complex and costly to organize.
Some organizers are being creative and are experimenting with a new type of hybrid events called the asynchronous hybrid.
In this article, I'll explain what it is and explore the pros and cons of this new format.
What is an asynchronous hybrid event?
Sometimes called a desynchronized hybrid, an asynchronous hybrid event is when the virtual portion of the event doesn’t happen at the same time as the in person event.
This way of planning the event can be counterintuitive as it seems to break the idea of an actual event, but as we’ll see, it has many advantages.
Advantages of asynchronous hybrid events
Asynchronous hybrid events are less complex to organize.
First, there is no need to livestream the oral presentations as there will be no virtual audience to watch them. This decreases the stress because it’s one less thing to worry about. It also decreases costs, because it requires less audio-visual human and technical resources.
Second, there is no need for the moderators to keep an eye on the virtual audience’s questions or problems. This allows all the attention to be on on-site, yielding a higher quality event and service for the audience that traveled and maybe paid for the event.
Third, the scheduling will be less complex because there are no time zone considerations when all participants are at the same physical location. Having virtual attendees can sometimes require trying to accommodate participants from all across the world.
Lastly, when you have a virtual event in synchronization with an in-person event, the schedules are usually tied together, meaning you can’t leverage some advantages of virtual events like being able to have many parallel talks, which is limited by room availability of the physical space.
Disadvantages of asynchronous hybrid events
One of the main disadvantages of asynchronous hybrid events is that the excitement of having a shared experience with hundreds or thousands or participants is lost, because there is usually less participants on-site.
It also adds a bit of complexity because the event happens on more days. Maybe the participants will feel tired of having too many sessions and event types to choose from and it will dilute the impact of the event.
Considerations for organizers
So why would you organize an asynchronous event?
Every event is different and you should weigh the pros and cons accordingly to choose a format. One way to approach it is to survey your participants to know how many would like to attend in person versus virtually and whether an asynchronous event would interest them.
Before you do that, you must figure out more precisely what the program could look like. Below are some things to consider for this.
Virtual before or after the in-person component?
Will you have the virtual component before or after the in person component (or both)?
Placing it before allows participants that will attend in-person to talk to each other and break the ice in preparation for the in-person event.
Participants can start discussions that they can continue on-site, for example during a coffee break or an in-person poster session. Remember, it doesn’t mean you attend the virtual sessions that you can’t also attend the in person session.
You can also have the virtual component after the in person sessions. This allows participants that were on site to continue networking to other participants after the event.
There are no good or bad answers, but I have a personal preference for having the virtual component before the in-person event to act as an ice-breaker and because after the conference, those who attended in-person might skip it due to the event fatigue.
What type of content will be presented in each?
This is probably the most important aspect to decide. Will you provide different content or session types on-site versus virtual? The answer should probably be yes. Then again, it depends on your event. For example, in person events are perfect for collaboration or brainstorming sessions, for workshops or panels. While this is feasible virtually, the results are usually much better in-person where the conversation dynamics are better with body language, no lag in conversations, etc.
You can record talks at the on-site event and make some of them available after the event through your conference platform. Presenting the same presentations recorded at the live event but for the virtual attendance (simulive) should be avoided as it creates a sense of redundancy.
Instead, why not have a series of lightning talks. If you have a lot of participants, you can allow more to present with short oral presentations in parallel rooms. This can be hard to do on-site and is a great way to give participants a chance to present their work and get feedback from their peers.
Virtual Poster sessions
On-site poster sessions create a fun ambiance and you should definitely keep them if you have space for poster boards.
Poster sessions work well virtually, especially with the right tools. With a platform like Fourwaves, presenters don’t need to wait alone in front of their posters, they can optimize their time and go visit other posters. They are notified when someone visits their poster.
Discussion threads at each poster are also a great way for participants to connect. This thread can be used even during the on-site sessions sort of like a chat feature for participants to ask questions and interact.
How far appart in time should the virtual and in-person sessions be?
Some events have the virtual component immediately the day before or after. This seems obvious because in-person events are often on one or multiple continuous days. But be careful, in-person attendees might be traveling the day before, so why not spread it to a few days or a week before?
One month in advance might be to early because presenters will not necessarily have their material ready.
In the end, the goal is to find the best way to have the members of your community engaged and to achieve the objectives of your event. If this means having multiple smaller virtual events throughout the year and one big event, do it.
As time goes by, event platforms, organizers and participants will adapt. If there is one thing we learned in the past 2 years is the creativity of the industry to find elegant solutions to complex problems.