Virtual vs Hybrid Events: What’s the Difference

Hosting events has changed dramatically in the last few years. Social distancing guidelines caused by the global pandemic have taken a lot of events that were once held physically and forced event planners to use virtual or hybrid event formats instead. But instead of being a problem, COVID-19 restrictions have given event hosts an unprecedented opportunity to test virtual event platforms. Even now, when social distancing guidelines are lifting, many event planners are looking to virtual and hybrid events as a way to save money and increase audience engagement. 

If you’re looking to plan an upcoming event while improving the event experience, it may make sense to take advantage of the opportunity for a virtual audience. Knowing the difference between virtual and hybrid events helps you choose the right tools for the job. 

Virtual vs. hybrid events is a relatively simple concept to understand. More important is understanding how different types of events can be used to bolster audience engagement, save money, and overall improve the experience of in-person and virtual attendees. 

Virtual vs Hybrid Events: How Are They Different?

If you’re looking to move away from traditional in-person events, then the decision for the type of event to host is going to come down to virtual vs. hybrid events. 

Virtual events are held completely online, and feature virtual audiences, while hybrid events have both online and in-person components, and require both a hybrid event platform and a physical venue. When looking at virtual vs. hybrid events, spotting the difference can help you determine the right strategy for your upcoming event. As a result, you can allocate your budget, find the right technology, and advertise accordingly. 

Virtual Event

Virtual events were the initial response to Covid-19 restrictions. They allow audiences to interact with each other without any risk of physical interactions. 

One of the biggest benefits of hosting virtual events is that the cost for virtual event platforms is much lower than for in-person venues. You can open up a Discord server for free. And while adding in tools for engagement and marketing costs some money, those costs pale when compared to the costs — including venues, food, and staffing — associated with hosting events with an in-person component. 

A virtual event is defined by two characteristics: It is online from start to finish, and it has an online audience. 

Online Event From Start to Finish

A virtual event is, by its very definition, virtual. If your event has any in-person components, it is not a virtual event. 

Virtual events work very well for certain things. Using a combination of live-streaming and pre-recorded content can keep online events engaging. 

For example, YouTuber LilSimsie hosts an annual charity event throughout May to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Her event includes daily live streaming on Twitch as well as recorded videos posted on YouTube. Keeping this event entirely online keeps costs down while allowing her to reach a broad audience. This allowed her to raise more than $350,000 throughout May 2022. 

Online Audience

One of the biggest benefits of an online event is that your target audience is completely online. An online audience can help with accessibility. About 63% of the world has internet access, and the majority of people without internet access reside in Asia and Africa. This means that if you’re targeting a Western audience, the vast majority of them will be able to enjoy an online event experience. 

Virtual events allow at-risk populations, including the elderly, to enjoy your event without the risks of exposure to other people. They’re also great for participants with special needs who may have trouble accessing in-person venues. 

Hybrid Event

Hybrid events combine the benefits of online events with the benefits of in-person events. Your audience can enjoy live event options, including live food or music, while also choosing to participate online if they prefer. 

If you’re new to hybrid events, you can download our ebook on hybrid events, which gives an overview of hybrid events and their uses. Hybrid events can be useful because they add technological elements to typical in-person events, allowing you to engage your audience in new and exciting ways. 

In-Person Event With Some Online Elements

Although hybrid events can include any combination of online and in-person elements, one of the most popular ways to host a hybrid event is to have a largely in-person event with some online elements. 

For example, you might host a couch-to-5K event over several weeks, and then have it culminate with a live 5K charity walk/run event. You can use virtual elements to gain sponsors for your participants, sell tickets, and advertise, while still hosting the majority of your big event at an in-person venue.  

Both Virtual and Physical Attendees

Hybrid events allow participants to choose between participating online or in person. This makes sense if the majority of your target audience will want to participate in a live event but you still want to make your event accessible to people who can’t participate in person. 

For example, most people may enjoy attending a concert or festival live. But recording the live event and streaming it online can allow at-risk participants or participants who need mobility devices to enjoy the music without the stress that comes from attending in person. 

What To Consider When Choosing the Right Event Format

Considering virtual vs. hybrid events — and then deciding on which one to do — is one of the first, and most important, aspects of planning your upcoming event. Knowing the event type you’re hosting will impact every part of the planning process, from the budget you need to the types of activities you can realistically include. 

1. Audience Size and Audience Engagement

One of the biggest determining factors when considering virtual vs. hybrid events is who your target audience is. If your target audience consists largely of at-risk individuals, or participants hail from all around the world, an online event makes the most sense. Online events provide the greatest accessibility and allow participants to enjoy your event from their own homes. 

On the other hand, if you’re trying to engage with a local audience, hybrid events may make more sense. Hybrid events allow for online elements but foster the deep connection that comes with face-to-face interactions

2. Type of Event Being Hosted

Different types of events demand different venues. A live-streaming gaming event works perfectly well in an online-only capacity. Similarly, technology can help you run fitness events online without a problem. On the other hand, something like a world food fair or a musical festival demands an in-person component. 

Knowing what type of event you’re hosting, and what types of events you want to feature, can make deciding on a virtual vs hybrid event easy. 

3. Virtual or Physical Restrictions

Both virtual and physical spaces have certain restrictions. Virtual spaces limit connection and communication between people. While online tools can improve this by allowing for live chats, rented one-on-one times with VIPS, and video components, it’s never quite the same as being able to shake someone’s hand or see a live performance. 

Certain events, like town fairs with rides, simply can’t be replicated in a virtual space. 

Hybrid events have their restrictions. Space becomes a premium with hybrid events, with any venue only capable of supporting a select number of people. In-person event components can be derailed by the weather, and live music or theater performances only have a few good seats compared to numerous seats where it’s hard to see or hear. 

4. Physical Event Size and Costs

The final factor that can help you decide between virtual vs hybrid events is the cost of having a physical component to your event. 

Though some budget is needed for both virtual and hybrid event formats, one big difference between virtual and hybrid events is that virtual events don’t require a physical venue. Knowing how many people to expect at your event can help you decide what kind of physical space you would need to secure and evaluate the cost of renting that space for a day or weekend. Your budget for the event will then determine if a hybrid event is even possible for you. 

Organize a Virtual or Hybrid Event With Ease Using Technology

Whether you’re looking to host an online event or a hybrid event, technology can help you bring your event organization to the next level. Leading event management software can help you: 

  • Analyze incoming data in real-time and make updates to your advertising strategy accordingly
  • Build customized event landing pages that match the vibes of your brand
  • Convert new leads to active event participants
  • Drive awareness of your upcoming events

Ongoing support and functionality that scales ensure you get the most out of your event management software. Before long, you’ll be a pro at designing both virtual and hybrid events that excite your target audience. Get in touch today to learn more about the management software.