The hybrid event model is taking over


Hybrid events combine the energy of live venues with the realtime tools and tailoring of digital platforms. The format is exploding. Find out why.


It’s impossible to deny that the landscape of the event industry has changed drastically during the pandemic.

Global restrictions hit the industry particularly hard. As mass gatherings moved online for a longer period than anticipated, organizers were forced to adapt. If you’ve been a regular attendee of streamed events over the past year or so, chances are you’ve had a mixed experience.

Virtual event facilitation isn’t an easy task. Without serious consideration for new ways to energize remote audiences, it is easy for engagement to dwindle. Despite being in such a digitally-driven age, going virtual was still a foreign concept for many planners until recently.

Event organizers have had to put fresh thought into how to level up content and experiences, especially to account for the social gap resulting from a lack of face-to-face connection. Conferences, gigs, festivals, trade shows, fundraisers and corporate get togethers across the world have shown a marked improvement in virtual management success as they implemented new ways for attendees to achieve that sense of community.

Our own tech talks channel, Pusher Sessions, has seen some interesting engagement metrics over the last year as our meetup partners moved to streamed events. Changes to the ways people view and interact have left us considering how we can develop our practices to best support the thriving tech community in London as the city opens its doors again, and offer more to our friends and users further afield.

What does it take to create a successful virtual event?

There are a number of features that can help to create a successful remote event platform:

  • Networking tools like chat rooms and contact sharing so that audiences can engage with each other, share knowledge and grow ideas. Gaining sponsors is a major hurdle for streamed conferences, as they can lack the personal interaction sponsors benefit from when meeting attendees in real life. These features can be a major selling point for sponsors and vendors.
  • Activity feeds which display upcoming activities, announcements, comments from viewers, interactions and even Q&As for speakers or performers.
  • Presence indicators which mimic the social buzz of an in-person event and allow other visitors to see who else is online and watching. This could be as simple as having a live attendee list using presence indicators, or be a much more complex live map featuring realtime avatars which move around in a virtual venue.
  • Collaborative spaces with task cards, multi-contributor documents and live updates for events like hackathons and meetings, so attendees can work together on building projects or solving problems.
  • Interactivity displays where the number of viewers of a live stream, live likes, and featured comments are visualized in dynamic ways.
  • Live results for competitions or content and engagement metrics.

Complementing in-venue experiences with digital tools

Real world events are on their way back. As restrictions gradually lift in a number of countries, many are craving true human interaction. But the success of digital event tools makes it clear that in-person events have needed to evolve for some time.

IRL interactions can be successfully enhanced with virtual tools. There is little doubt that the format is here to stay. While major players like Google and Apple have had digital elements implemented in their live events for many years, the traditional event space is beginning to catch up.

Forced virtual events have worked really well as a catalyst for innovation in the industry. Remote events have in many ways enhanced and expedited the event experience and we are already seeing examples of organizers who are exploiting the success of their digital features to upgrade live events: we are seeing a rise in popularity of the hybrid model.

The hybrid model: best of both worlds?

The hybrid event model lets on-site attendees benefit from digital features and tools which upgrade the experience. Many of the features listed above can also be used for live events to enhance engagement and offer in-venue guests the personalization which people have come to appreciate online.

Dedicated event apps can include networking tools, synced display for performances, Q&A submissions, activity feeds and notifications for in-venue announcements, attendee photo-sharing, competitions and even upgraded features such as a “ask the performer” for VIP ticket holders.

Having a hybrid model which also includes a remote streaming option is another big win for organizers in terms of ticketing and accessibility. Planners can offer different ticket styles to attract larger audiences who may not be able to attend for various reasons. Realtime features can keep the two audiences connected and ensure no-one feels like they are missing out, regardless of their presence at the venue.

They also open up the opportunity for special guests or speakers to attend from afar without excessive costs or complex logistics for hosts. See Coldplay’s recent collaboration with major K-Pop player BTS, who have attended a number of performances virtually; a great example of a team going further to bring modern tech elements to their events, as they plan to address sustainability concerns by having fans power future concerts via “kinetic flooring”.

Hybrid events are a great bridge. Take your traditional live event, complete with the energy of an in-person audience, venue, on-site sponsors and heavyweight invitees, and add virtual components (interactive streaming, dedicated apps) to offer all guests a tailored experience, and the chance to participate wherever they are in the world.

Let’s see it in action…

Some of our favourite Pusher-powered projects have been helping to bring attendees high value experiences and are continuing to innovate the industry as it moves forward into a more sophisticated event model. Check them out…

Listening Party by Lee Martin

Long-time Pusher user Lee Martin has been building Channels-powered web apps for musicians for some time. Listening Party is a newer project which places fans in location specific listening parties for an album launch so that they can interact and celebrate with each other in realtime.

Visits, messages, and any unlock confirmations are sent back to awaiting clients as they happen, using WebSockets via Pusher Channels.

BIG launch for the incredible @_girlinred_ aka Marie last night for her new album #ificouldmakeitgoquiet . A @YouTube @Pusher @Mapbox @Auth0 powered listening party and visualization. <\>

— Lee Martin (@leemartin) April 30, 2021

Appix Tech’s second screen companion

Appix provides impressive interactive features for streamed and localised event attendees. With their second screen device companion, attendees can use their mobile device to access features like bonus content sharing, timed displays for audience-powered light shows and even “send a message to the band” style options so users can be involved directly in meetings, performances and talks.

The Appix team used Pusher to enable device display sync on a huge scale, so second screen content is shared with all users as the event progresses. They recently completed a major project for the Tokyo Olympics closing ceremony and are offering their companion feature to a number of major music events in the coming months.

A magical moment ✨#Tokyo2020 | #ClosingCeremony

— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) August 8, 2021

Realtime user presence for the Next.js Conf from Vercel and Replicache

The Replicache team built a stateless app using the Replicache “poke” system for Vercel’s Next.js conference in June 2021. Pusher Channels served realtime via WebSockets to a much larger number of users than typically seen on collaboration tools. With so many users appearing at the same time and concurrently navigating the app, the stateless pattern was a bit of an experiment, and was pulled off with real style.

Attendees could log in to the conference to see each other’s cursors navigate the screen in realtime, share messages through the chat function and truly feel part of a live event.

Together Vercel and Replicache managed to pull off a genuinely interesting and fun experience for their conference audience just from a desktop. Something which has proven very difficult to do. Following great feedback from attendees, their next global community conference is coming up on October 26th, undoubtedly featuring more impressive remote engagement tools.

Get your ticket!<\>

— Guillermo Rauch (@rauchg) May 18, 2021

Givebutter’s social fundraising platform

DC-based fundraising platform Givebutter – which leads in online donations, fundraising campaigns, and ticketed events for nonprofits around the world – launched their Livestream app last year, a platform built specifically for virtual fundraising events. Organizers use the tool to sell tickets, stream events, and collect donations online and in real time.

Using Pusher Channels, Givebutter provides realtime engagement for donors. The platform displays live, rolling donations to all viewers in the dashboard to encourage additional contributions.

Realtime tooling for hybrid events

The past couple of years have been very unpredictable, but we have learned a great deal about being prepared. Incorporating virtual elements into live events is not just a backup plan any more, but something attendees look forward to for a more inclusive and captivating experience.

If you’re building exciting event spaces and tools using Pusher, get in touch to tell us about it. We love hearing from developers!
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