The Future of Virtual Events: Unpacking the Hybrid theory.

With the world opening back up, in-person events are expected to make a raging comeback. What does this mean for virtual events?

The Moonshot

  • I was excited about the prospect of accelerated growth.
  • I was sad because the backstory of this influx was quite tragic.
  • I was scared because I had no idea how our lean team was supposed to meet this insane demand.

Sounding Board

Why now?

  • Virtual events were never as popular as live events because no one really drank that Kool-Aid with intent. But when thousands of businesses battled an existential crisis in 2020, they were forced to embrace the technology for the sake of business continuity. Our customers revealed how many of them would have been run to the ground if the channel didn’t exist.
  • Several businesses didn’t even know what a virtual event really was. The RFPs and initial inquiries we received were all over the place. Most thought of virtual events as glorified Zoom calls. However, when they immersed themselves in the world of online events, the exposure to unique possibilities therein induced a shift in mindset.
  • There just wasn’t enough mental bandwidth available. A number of our clients were event management companies. By no fault of theirs, they historically had very little reason to explore our side of the fence as the live events industry was demanding enough. Few had the time, energy or the will to really evaluate what virtual could do for them or their clients. The pandemic, however, permitted them to escape this tunnel-vision, run online conferences first-hand and finally, better comprehend the potential of hosting virtual conferences & tradeshows.
  • Possibility of engaging busy speakers
    Since a primary selling point of a conference is who is coming to speak, coordinating logistics and availability with high-profile speakers was both a costly & taxing endeavor. Virtual events offered a way to circumvent such constraints and easily bolster speaker rosters.
  • Capturing attendees & exhibitors that can’t make the commute.
    The risk of a virus is not the only reason why people can’t make the trip. Costs, family commitments, fear of travel & other conflicts meant many attendees & exhibitors would be left out from participation. An online avenue presents a practical alternative.
  • Overcoming limited seating capacity.
    Venue rentals can be costly. This meant organizers can only accommodate a certain number of attendees at a location & would need to throttle registrations accordingly. With a virtual channel, however, attendance can be scaled to record numbers.

The Pie

  • Cheaper & easier to setup compared to in-person events that involve several moving parts like venues, stage, A/V, signage, equipment, security, F&B etc.
  • Scalable & Easily Repeatable. Once they’ve setup one event, running a similar one in the future requires a fraction of the effort. Moreover, instead of running events across multiple cities, they could afford to run one that brings in audiences from an entire region.
  • Insightful. Since digital activity is so easily tracked, they offer digestible numbers that their marketing analysts can slice and dice to justify future investments.

What are hybrid events?


  1. Sequential: an event where a live and virtual event (with the same theme) take place at distinct days and times. These are much easier to manage. This can work for trade shows to give audiences flexibility on when and how they’d like to attend.
  2. Parallel: an event where live and virtual audiences are in attendance at the same time. This model works better for conferences where live speaker sessions take place.


  1. Common: the demographic profile of attendees for the live and virtual events is the same OR the exhibiting entities/sponsors are the same.
  2. Distinct: the attendee base or exhibitors/sponsors invited for the live event is entirely different from the virtual version.

3- Networking

  1. Linear: events that don’t allow physical and virtual audiences to cross-interact. In this case, networking is limited where physical attendees can only converse with other in-person attendees. Similarly, virtual attendees can only interact with those logged in online.
  2. Inter-woven: attendees can network with any other attendee regardless of their mode of attendance (live or virtually).

4- Content

  1. Shared: the collateral, multimedia content & sponsorship presence on the in-person event is similar to the virtual event.
  2. Distinct: the content resources and sponsorship for both events is entirely different.

The Tech Stack

  • Virtual event platform: an online venue which attendees at home/office can log into, attend sessions & consume resources.
  • Live Event Mobile app/site: a smartphone app that allows live attendees to understand agendas, chat with other attendees, follow floor maps & receive push notifications.
  • Attendance Tech: physical devices that issue identification wrist bands with bar or QR codes to track turnout and activity of live attendees.
  • Screen Tech: live screen panels hoisted on the physical venue’s walls that display upcoming sessions, relevant social feeds linked to a hashtag, gamification leaderboards & survey results.
  1. Live Sessions
    The common denominator across all hybrid event flavors is that live speaker sessions are broadcasted to online audiences via a live stream. This is expected to a staple feature for all events moving forward. With recordings made available post-event, capturing live sessions with an audio/video setup will be the focal point of efforts in running successful hybrid events.
  2. Hybrid QnA
    Fielding questions from both live and virtual attendees by speakers will be important to keep both audiences hooked. This, however, is hardly a new concept as moderators on panel talks have in the past taken questions from Twitter.
  3. Hybrid Polls
    A poll thrives on high participation counts. Since input of a virtual audience can instantly skyrocket submissions, running polls across both audiences in parallel has the capability of generating impressive insights.
  4. Cross-Networking
    This will enable in-person attendees to search attendee lists and network with like-minded people remotely by using a mobile app or site. In theory it sounds exciting, but live attendees will mostly prioritize meeting others at the actual venue, rather than constantly secluding themselves to have chats on their mobile phones with their virtual counterparts. There is surely utility here but primarily before or after the in-person live hours.
  5. Unified Registrations
    Virtual and physical attendees will be directed to a single point of registration (a landing page) with customized workflows for each. This will be a handy tool for personalized outreach post-event.
  6. Consolidated Reporting
    Organizers will be provided with a single dashboard that reports attendee turnouts in both modes of the event. While it might centralize the data, the overlapping data points are far & few to make this anywhere close to critical.
  • Basic hybrid (roughly 70% of events moving forward): Events that have parallel & common audience but simply support a live stream component with linear networking.
  • Sequential hybrid (20% of events): Events that run a physical and virtual event of the same theme on separate days/time.
  • Complex Hybrid (10% of events): Events that will have several common touchpoints in play, most of the tech stack enabled and will explore inter-woven networking.

The timeline




Emergence of another category?


  • With COVID-19 on it’s way out, we will witness a new era where live and virtual events will play a role in tandem
  • While in-person events bring back the social aspect that was sorely missed, virtual events will continue to empower organizers with global reach and a larger surface area to monetize.
  • Hybrid events are certainly going to be in vogue soon. However, “hybrid” for the most part is a severely loaded term that requires unpacking. Every provider will have incentives to run their own definition and narrative in alignment with what they have to offer as a product. It’s important to be wary of the spectrum of execution types that exist to be able to budget & plan appropriately.



Director of Marketing, vFairs. Product Management enthusiast, lover of marketing, LinkedIn writer & dad of 2 boys that keep me humble.

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Aatir Abdul Rauf

Director of Marketing, vFairs. Product Management enthusiast, lover of marketing, LinkedIn writer & dad of 2 boys that keep me humble.