Hybrid Events: Who is doing what right now?

Craig Janssen
8 min readMar 1, 2021

What happens to events after over a year of being limited to digital connection? What happens to arts venues, classrooms, arenas, stadia, conventions, and plain old conference rooms as people come back?

Will it be the same?


We’ve all developed new muscle memory when it comes to connecting in groups.

Event planners, sports strategists, educational consultants, and theatre planners are talking about “hybrid events.” We all know the future will be a combination of in-person and digital presence.

But what does that mean? And more importantly, what will it look like?

What is a “hybrid” event?

Every event has two dynamics when it comes to connection. There is the “source.” This is the performer, presenter, professor, singer, pastor, actor, or sports team. And there is the “audience”. The participants, attendees, fans, students, ticket-holders, or congregation.

In a hybrid event, there is a combination of who participates live and who participates digitally.

If the idea of a live presenter to a remote audience sounds familiar, it is. It’s broadcast.

The difference in hybrid events, is that the communication needs to go both ways. The audience needs the ability to connect back to the source (or each other) and engage.

This bi-directional connection can include:

· the ability to ask questions

· be heard cheering or giving applause

· chat to other participants

· respond to a poll, game, or other interactive

· have audience-created content shared

· or any other type of engagement.

To be clear, if the communication goes only one way, it isn’t hybrid. It’s just broadcast.

Hybrid is a contribution-model, not a consumption model. The audience has a role in creating the event.

Another differentiator between broadcast and hybrid events is that the participants can be known. Just like live participants register when they purchase tickets, remote participants have a login. They are not anonymous to the organizers the way they would be in a broadcast.

When participants are known, there is an opportunity for connection after the event is over — a defining factor in digital events.

The need for hybrid engagement

Audiences have now learned a new muscle memory. We aren’t going backwards. The future won’t look like the past.

And it shouldn’t.

The digital world creates opportunities to broaden reach. You can connect with audiences without the limitations of time and geography.

Because of that, the next five years are going to explode with innovations.

Technology development is already on fire. Everything from Extended Reality (XR) to hybrid event platforms to AV renovations of existing venues to better accommodate hybrid experiences.

As William Gibson put it: “The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

Who is doing what with hybrid events right now?

If you want to know the future of hybrid events, it helps to see what people are doing right now. While the quarantine has fueled innovation, in some cases people have been experimenting with this for years.

Here’s what we are seeing:

Live Presenters Interacting with a Virtual Audience

NBA Virtual Fan Experience

The NBA’s virtual fan experience allows fans in virtual seats to watch the game in real-time. Since they are connected to the venue via a live video and audio feed, they can be seen and heard by players and other fans in their section. Game hosts interact with virtual fans the same way they would with real ones. They start chants during key moments in the game. And the virtual seats are visible on the NBA’s broadcast. (Source)

Tony Robbins Unleash the Power Within

Author and philanthropist, Tony Robbins, took his live events virtual during the pandemic. Tony and his team created an immersive studio complete with two 180-degree wraparound screens. Tony was able to achieve spontaneous two-way interactivity with any participant at any moment while freely moving about the space. The event also integrated elements such as live performers, music, lighting, and visual effects on the fly. (Source)

Times Square 2021 New Year’s Eve Celebration

When the pandemic closed the annual Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, the organizers created VNYE(Virtual New Year’s Eve). VNYE brought the experience to mobile devices and computers through an XR platform. The gamified experience allowed participants to create their own avatar to explore a virtual Times Square. (Source)

Philadelphia 76’ers Youth Camps.

The Philadelphia 76ers’ — like many NBA teams — engage young fans through camps and clinics. When the pandemic halted that, the team worked to create digital opportunities. The 76ers hosted a dribble challenge through the HomeCourt app. Using the app’s artificial intelligence, fans recorded videos of themselves completing the challenge. Fans uploaded their videos by tagging @jr_76ers and using the hashtag #StayInTheGame. The 76ers also used HomeCourt to power sponsored virtual camps. (Source)

Tomorrowland Virtual Festival

Tomorrowland, the world’s biggest dance music festival, was set to celebrate its 16th anniversary in 2020. Rather than cancel the live event, they took it digital. Eight stages, 60-plus artists, 16 webinar sessions, and extra activities became a moveable, scalable, virtual world. A green screen was used for on-stage recordings for wide sweeping shots of the 280,000 virtual festival-goers. (Source)

Annual Corporate Meetings

Meeting Planner, Joanna Newcomb, working with Premier Meeting & Event Management, helped to recreate an annual large corporate meeting. They shifted from the “big event” to a more distributed model. Keynotes were streamed to small regional groups meeting in-person so the networking aspect of the event was preserved. Small groups made COVID protections manageable, and people were more likely to go because they could drive rather than fly.

Cloud Clubbing

When nightclubs closed, EDM DJ’s in China started “cloud clubbing” on Douyin (China’s version of Tik Tok). The DJ is live and participants — participating in small groups in their homes — send messages. Not only that, but they are able to spend real money on virtual gifts for performers. (Source)

Wonderlab FiestÓN en Casa

Tech-forward, corporate event planner WonderLab which typically features interactive bracelets and apps at live events, launched FiestÓN en Casa during quarantine. The experience starts with a digital invitation, then there is the lead up to the party where photos and videos create the hype, then the day of the party the event is steamed with a live DJ, personalized trivia, and interaction with the guests. Catering is also coordinated in the app and delivered to each group of guests in their homes. (Source)

Event Cinema Livecasts

The Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, and the Sydney Opera House along with multiple ballet and theatre companies provide live events virtually to audiences in cinemas and parks across the world and have been doing this for years. (Source)

HBS Hybrid Classrooms

Harvard Business School created a unique remote and in-person learning experience that maintains the integrity of the case method pedagogy while ensuring health safety. The goal was to create an equitable experience for remote and in-person participants. The team used a prototyping design process to quickly innovate through feedback and iteration. Remote students can read the chalkboards, see their fellow classmates individually, watch the professor, raise their hand, and easily participate, while the in-person experience facilitates a familiar teaching environment and supports interaction between in-person and remote students. (Source)

Best Cities Global Forum

The Best Cities Global Forum transitioned engagement online for in-person attendees while creating a designed experience for their digital attendees. Live attendees were given a unique link which gave them access to the platform to engage with the online attendees. The event combined both in-person and remote speakers and audiences via the platform. Remote attendees were able to participate in live Q&A sessions, and in-person attendees could engage with online attendees via the chat bar and Q&A widget. (Source)

Wolves Summit

The Wolves Summit made history in October 2020 as “Europe’s first hybrid event.” The event will again be hybrid in 2021 and includes digital experiences including multi-stage and matchmaking functionalities, an Investor Podium, dedicated Scale-up, Accelerator, and Community Partner Stages. (Source)

Separate virtual track to a live experience

C2 Montreal Online

The C2 Conference is a mix of business innovators, social game-changers, and experts representing diverse fields. The C2 conference in-person event is designed to create spontaneous interaction between participants. From the conversation prompts in the queues to “Braindates,” everything is about engagement. C2 Online launched in 2020 as a completely digital event separate from the annual C2 Montréal conference each spring. (Source)

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival

With limited tickets available and many millions more who wanted to attend, the Coachella team invested in live streaming for both weekends of their event on their Youtube channel. For ticket holders attending the live event, it was business as usual. But for folks who couldn’t make it that weekend (or that year at all), this move toward a hybrid event was game changing. A new term, Couchella, was born to signify the shared experience that virtual attendees could have at home on their couches. (Source)

eNASCAR iRacing Pro invitational Series

NASCAR reached 1.7 million new fans during the early days of the lockdown through simulated racing. The iRacing experience is a sophisticated racing simulation that takes place on iRacing.com. Anybody can sign up to race, but there are system requirements. While all three of NASCAR’s premier series were on hold, its iRacing series featured drivers from Cup, Xfinity and Trucks to provide fans with a unique, fun and competitive experience on race day.(Source)

What’s next in hybrid events?

While much of the innovation in virtual events happened because of the COVID quarantine, it won’t stop there. This creativity is sparking new thinking for how we connect in groups. What’s possible has expanded and it won’t go back in the box.

We are at a pivot point where hybrid event strategy needs to be part of every organization’s conversation.

The question is — how are you going to embrace a hybrid strategy going forward?

//Want to enhance your virtual presence? To get practical advice for individuals and companies, download Idibri’s report.



Craig Janssen

I help leaders navigate engagement and technology shifts. I lead the team at Idibri. More at craigjanssen.com.