How to Design a Virtual or Hybrid Event

2020 has been a very difficult for many.  But we have all learnt a lot. Like with most world crises humanity has jumped forward in terms of innovation!  It looks like science has come to our rescue again with vaccines, tests, and treatments.  Our frontline workers have kept going through incredibly hard times doing a fantastic job. We have a lot to be grateful for.

Not so vital, but still a positive, the events industry has also jumped forward in terms of innovation, with the development of many virtual and hybrid event platforms.  It has been a steep learning curve for all.  At HotelRes we have been working hard to research and gain experience with as many of the virtual platforms as possible.  There are now so many options each offering something slightly different and varying in price from a few £100s per event to £1000s.

What Makes a Virtual or Hybrid Event

Virtual and hybrid events are incredibly useful tools, but it is important not to think of a stand-alone webinar or a Zoom meeting as the extent of virtual.  Platforms have evolved to mimic a live event as closely as possible, utilising main halls, breakout sessions, workshops, exhibition areas and networking lounges.

Moving Live Events to Virtual or Hybrid

It is important not to simply try to move a live event online.  Many of us are guilty of switching off during virtual talks that just don’t grab our interest.

Delegates behave differently in the virtual world.  We have to design the online part of our event for the virtual audience.  At a live event we can completely control the delegate flow, where they eat lunch, which stand they walk past to get a coffee, they have to stay in the main hall during the talks (or do the walk of shame past their fellow delegates).  In the virtual world the delegate is in complete control. People often choose to skip the exhibition hall or networking rooms on a virtual platform.   Many people don’t have the confidence to engage online.  And we are very much more easily distracted. So, we have to careful design our virtual content to capture delegates attention and once we have it we need to make sure that we keep it.


The content and the quality of your speakers are both essential…they will be what keeps your delegates engaged. Often having a host who is asking questions and having the speaker respond makes it easier for the virtual delegate to concentrate.  Definitely consider making talks shorter, perhaps with extended time for questions and answers at the end.  Make sure you have some “fake” questions prepared in case your audience are shy.

If your virtual audiences are in different time zones, then you need to schedule the keynote talk at a time where most can see it live.


Gamification is a way of encouraging delegates to visit as many areas of the platform as possible; points are awarded, and you can offer prizes.  But this only works with a certain type of delegate; so, you have to know your audience.

Exhibitors and Sponsors

Because not everyone will have time to visit exhibition stands it is important to ensure exhibitors feel that they get value for money still. Allow them to include their “message” in the content or in the follow up material.

Hybrid Events

With hybrid events it is important to design the live and virtual events separately; of course, you can stream your keynote speeches and include virtual delegates in the breakout sessions.  But virtual audiences are not likely to stay in front of their devices for 2 solid days.  Space the “must attend” content out.  Add pre-recorded content online for delegates to watch at their leisure.  Consider making all sessions shorter, virtual delegates are not able to remain focused for hours, this will allow you to add bonus content for the Live delegates, or indeed allow then time for additional networking (which is always better live).

Measure of Success

The key thing is making sure that we do not forget that just by having 3000 attendees to a virtual or hybrid conference that would normally have 500 live does not make it more successful.  If those 3000 delegates do not hear the “message” or call to action of the conference and do not engage with your exhibitors or sponsors, then it is not really successful.

Make sure that your event goals are delivered in as many different ways as possible, so it is hard for the virtual delegate to miss.  The beauty of most platforms is they enable delegates to log back in after the event to view content they missed or re-watch content that was not understood. You can analyse which talks or sessions were the most watched.  Some platforms enable you to produce an engagement score for each delegate.  The score looks at the delegate journey through the site including; questions asked, stands visited, content downloaded, sessions taken part in etc.

Follow Up

With the lack of face to face engagement follow up is even more vital to the success of a virtual or hybrid conference.

If your goal at an event is new sales, this is hard to actually achieve at a virtual event; your sales team can’t simply “grab” a virtual delegate for a chat.  So, follow up becomes vital, with the event analytics you know what areas of the event the delegate visited, so have an ideal subject to start dialog.

If your message is training or learning then follow up can be in the form of a questionnaire, or even smaller group sessions (live or virtual).

The good thing with virtual or hybrid events is that you have the ability to record and upload content to the site.  This can also be used in the follow up communications.

Other Considerations

  • It is important to remember that there are limitations to every platform. Design your event to make the most of the platform you choose.
  • Internet connections globally are not always reliable, so it is vital that you make sure that where you are broadcasting from has stable fast wired connection.
  • Make sure you have enough people to help on the day.  Have a person monitoring the chat and Q & A feeds at every session.  They can delete inappropriate comments and flag questions to the panel or host.
  • Have someone on “technical support” to help delegates that are having issues with the platform.
  • Be prepared for things to happen.  Have your registered delegates contact details handy so you can send out emails should the worst happen. Some platforms allow you to send out “loudspeaker” messages to everyone logged on. If a speaker is having issues or a session is delayed you can easily let everyone know.

HotelRes have been working hard attending as many virtual events as possible in 2020.  We have picked up many tips and are happy to help you talk through the planning of your hybrid and virtual events.

If you want more help, we do have an extended team that can work with you every step of the way even providing the platform and support on the day.

Please just send us your ideas, questions and enquiries we would be happy to help. Email Us

Link to a previous article you may find interesting: How to use Hybrid Events to your Advantage.