Virtual and hybrid event trends for 2021 and beyond: Events Reimagined by Hubilo

The second part of Events Reimagined by Hubilo focused on presenting key virtual and hybrid event trends that we’ll see more of going forward and shared advice on how best to adapt. 

Event co-moderator Teresa Al Dente shared the story of her company, Drag Taste. Drag Taste’s ‘Sangria and Secrets’ is considered the world’s number one online experience. Teresa Al Dente, President & CEO at the Drag Taste virtual experience, spoke with Rachel Moore, Director of Global Campaigns at Hubilo and told the story of their pivot from live to virtual events.

Teresa has been doing cooking classes for 15 years in Lisbon and offered them daily on Airbnb, TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide. But there came a point when she wanted to add something extra to this concept that involved more fun. As a result, she created the ‘Drag Queen Cooking Party.’

In March 2020, when they had to shut down due to COVID-19, five days later, they developed the virtual experience. Teresa  shared, ‘We were many people working together, a big team, and we decided that we’re not going to lose our job—we’ll reinvent ourselves.’ Virtual event tech helped to scale the business, ‘The virtual world started for us in March 2020, in a big way.’

‘We reimagined everything we were doing at the time. We are show people and are used to being with people. So, we brought that to the virtual world. We created the “Sangria and Secrets with Drag Taste’” experience, for corporate and public, which today is the number one online interactive experience globally.

‘This virtuality that came down on us was our salvation. We began to do sangria classes every day but in an interactive way; we were talking with the people, and they were asking questions while we were cooking.’

‘I think that the virtual event industry is going far’ Teresa shared and continued, ‘The things I’ve done with all the Drag Taste queens and the entire team from the production, studio, set, music etc. in the past year and a half have been so crazy; I’ve done weddings, bachelorette parties, baby showers and birthday parties. People were crying and excited. They were connecting virtually, not only because of the pandemic. A remote location is forever. Forever, you will have people who live in different countries who want to connect during a special celebration. You will have forever-remote companies. The most important department in any organisation is HR, and you need to make sure that your team is happy, connected and that they know with whom they are working. The only way you can do that is by organising virtual or hybrid events and fun team building.’ 

‘I’d never done virtual experiences before the pandemic began. We started the pandemic by bringing our in-person experiences to the virtual world, adapting them. And now, we have created six online experiences. Our concept is Portuguese authentic food, fabulous drag queens and breathtaking performances.’

‘Now, we are creating things that when we open again in January 2022, we will bring them from the virtual world to the physical one. We’re going to make events next year where people will be in Shanghai, New York and Rio de Janeiro watching our live performances with physical people in the venue, and will interact with people on stage, people who attend in person and those virtually. I think this is the future. The most important aspects here are the performances, the interaction and the show.’ 

Teresa concluded, ‘It’s important to bring the artistic side to virtual and hybrid events. Bring a piano player, magician, dancers—bring the art to the virtual world. At Drag Taste, we bring these performances in, but we make them unique and branded, such as with a branded clothing item or a branded song.’

Gary Vee keynote: Virtual and in-person events, or both.

If you’ve followed me for long enough, you might know that I’m a big fan of Gary Vaynerchok, who has inspired me in many ways with respect to content marketing. I was thrilled to listen to his keynote, which was moderated by Cathy Song Novelli,SVP – Marketing & Communications at Hubilo, where he also took questions from the audience. As a serial entrepreneur and highly in-demand speaker, he experienced some of the most iconic events and organised his own. This time, he spoke about his new event, the VeeCon, dedicated to non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which will be an exclusive conference for VeeFriends token holders. 

Gary shared the idea behind launching this new event, ‘I thought it was important to take advantage of the actual NFT and blockchain infrastructure. This technology offers smart contracts—not just the art or the collectible nature of that collectible or art. The smart contract is something I wanted to use for this conference.’

‘I do think NFT will probably first penetrate our society in ticketing, with the vast majority of concert and sporting event tickets becoming NFT somewhere in the next half decade.’ 

Speaking about the conference, Gary shared that VeeCon is a conference that, in addition to offering the business element, also speaks to kindness, empathy, humility, compassion and accountability. ‘These are the characteristics of my projects as alpha traits in business. One might say these are the soft skills, but these are the actual hard skills.’

‘This conference is created for someone who is curious. Curiosity has been foundational in what I have accomplished and what I enjoy. The casting of the keynote speakers and the panels will be focused on subjects such as NFT, the current status of Tik Tok, influencer marketing and direct-to-consumer brands. It’s going to be contemporary conversations in a business lens with a little bleeding into societal impacts. It will be for the entrepreneur, executive, business or individual who’s also looking to get a step ahead.’

Now comes the very interesting part about this new conference. Gary revealed that the only way to gain access to the conference is by purchasing the VeeFriends NFT that serves as payment into the event and provides 3-year access. ‘I’m committed to doing at least three years of this conference. By that, I want to allow my original supporters to win. It is possible that the VeeFriends token increases in value after the first year’s event because there will be FOMO and demand, and that’s going to allow the individuals holding the token to decide whether they want to sell that for a premium, or perhaps they may wish to return in 2022 and 2023. 

Gary shared what advice he would have for those that are at the tipping point of an industry that is making a turn.  

‘I think “and” and “both” will be very powerful words. Virtual and in-person events, or both—that companies will be saying, “We’re going to do both virtual and live events this year”. There’s so much that people can do when they don’t have an ideology. Many people don’t want virtual because they don’t love technology. And they grew up really loving events and knowing events. I just don’t think it’s “or”, live or virtual. Just get “or” out of your vocabulary.’ 

‘Do what’s right for the audience and the client, and have both tools in your shed. Become that person, and never stress another day. Find yourself on one side or the other, and you’re going to be stressed because you will see clients who want to do virtual, and you only do real-life events or vice versa. Don’t put yourself in that vulnerable position.’

Moving to audience questions, ‘What draws you to attend certain events and not others? What makes an event worth your time to attend?’ According to Gary, ‘It is in a belief of networking. Capabilities that have access to people with whom I want to network has nothing to do with the curriculum on stage. Where the event is structured in a way so that serendipity, cocktail hours and rubbing elbows with like-minded people is encouraged by the physical structure and the event’s nuances.’

‘There are two different event types—one with very high-end business people that either I already know or would like to know. That’s where I am in my career. But let me give you the opposite. A very large event around NFT that is more like South by Southwest. Give me 10,000 people with no VIPs, no green room, and I would go tomorrow as well because I’m in that community right now, and I want to meet everybody from the first day—enthusiasts learning and those working on important projects.’

What did you learn from 2020 and virtual events? 

‘Many events should consider to take place virtually. One example is expenses. For example, if you do two live events per year, why don’t you do one live event and four virtual events so that you’re doing more things more often. I think that virtual is providing more flexibility to do more and stay on top of mind, not just once a year (when hosting a live event). It’s something to think about.’

What will the attendee experience require of events in 2022 and beyond? 

‘People care about different things. Some people are there for the speakers, whereas others are excited about the venue and accommodation. I don’t think anything has really changed other than virtual and digital give people more options. Maybe the 9 am keynote can be virtual so that people can stay in the hotel and have their morning coffee and come to the 10 am instead of having to wake up early. That way, the event can also save money on live speakers while still leveraging the name of the virtual speakers for event marketing.’ 

There has been a shift in event and meeting formats, but has there also been a change in goals and expectations from an event? 

‘I think that most events underdeliver on letting people leave with meaningful relationships. One thing that clearly happened for me is relationships with key executives became better over Zoom, not worse. That should be a new expectation: How are we helping people at a physical event make meaningful relationships?’ 

How to Prepare for Hybrid

Virtual and hybrid events are here to stay. I want to wrap up the article with tips from Mahoganey Jones, Founder & CEO at Event Specialists and Steve Krauthamer, President & CEO at Precon Events and a session moderated by Rachel Moore, Director of Global Campaigns at Hubilo about how to prepare for hybrid.

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was the challenge of pivoting from live to virtual. Getting out of the pandemic, the challenge is changing from virtual to hybrid events. According to Mahoganey, the pandemic has allowed her to reimagine and redesign what a hybrid looks like and can look like going forward. Steve added, ‘The biggest difference is having attendees who are coming to the event and are now more familiar with the options and the platforms. We need to advise our clients what hybrid should look like.’

Steve is testing various types of hybrid activations. These range from very large-scale environments with large Zoom walls behind where it looks like there are hundreds of attendees watching, down to attendees attempting to log in with their mobile devices or streaming to social media or to the Hubilo platform.

Steve shared, ‘At this point, it’s about trying to work with the clients to determine how they can get the most value for their spend—what they can do most effectively to connect and engage with their attendees. The question is: “Are you trying to broadcast the event out to your attendees in the virtual space, or do you want to have an engaging hybrid experience?” Currently, the focus is on figuring out and educating our clients what budgets they need to spend, what kind of resources are easily accessible, what will be more cost prohibitive and how to find the perfect balance.’ 

Mahoganey added, ‘We are starting to see curated experiences coming back to the forefront and really understanding what the audience is looking for. We are seeing it in the form of micro experiences in person to be married with a virtual audience.’ Steve added, ‘Technology such as Hubilo does allow for the virtual audience to engage with the on-site audience.’

How can food and beverage experiences be reimagined in the hybrid world?

According to Mahoganey, ‘It’s about the micro experience. We are seeing an increase in cost because the numbers are decreasing at in-person events. Now, it’s almost for a VIP audience because in-person audiences are smaller. We are seeing different designs in food presentation, and all COVID-19 food protocols put in place are actually allowing us to experience a better way of enjoying food and beverage. According to Steve, who is working on the production side of the event, ‘We are working with the client to adjust the programme’s flow. Organisers need to ask what they are going to do for the virtual audience for 45 minutes when in-person attendees are having their dinner. Virtual audiences require a different offering during the food service and networking.’ 

What trends do you see growing and going away for the future of events?

According to Steve, the term hybrid will go away. ‘Instead, we will see the terms “in-person events” and “virtual events”, and both will have a virtual or in-person component. Further, finding solutions to engage the audience will form a focus. Television has been doing it for decades; exciting, flashy, high-level production, high energy, constantly moving and changing. If you want to engage your audience, learn from people who do it well—broadcast news and cable news have the recipe. Now it’s up to us to determine as production experts how to take a Zoom call or regular broadcast and turn them into something that people really want to watch. 

To conclude, both this and the previous article provide food for thought. The past 18 months have been a lot about experimentation and gut feelings. But now, event planners have the tools, case studies and the expertise to deliver impactful events. Let’s reimagine our events—there’s so much we can do!

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