Are hybrid events the future of academic conferences?

By now, most of us have become used to virtual conferences and events. For most of this year, everything from business meetings to major academic conferences have been held on Skype, Zoom, or other forms of video conferencing software. There have been some benefits to this; without the requirement to hire spaces or arrange catering, conference costs have decreased substantially. Add to that transportation, and we have a situation where academic and research conferences can be attended freely by people around the world, bringing a new level of democratisation to conferences.

It can be easy, then, to assume virtual conferences are the future. At the same time, as lockdown measures lift, and we see things return to normal, we may also assume conferences will return to their more traditional in-person, location-based format. We believe that both of these are true, and that academic conferences, and events in general, will follow a hybrid model bringing all the advantages of physical in-person events and the benefits of virtual conferences, together.

How do hybrid conferences work?

Hybrid conferences aren’t a particularly new or original idea, with many hybrid events having already been held successfully prior to Covid-19. With hybrid conferences, the talks and keynotes may be delivered in-person and on stage at a conference venue or lecture hall, but viewed both by delegates in the venue and at home. This way, organisers have a simple way to mitigate any impact of social distancing measures, while also allowing the conference to be attended by large numbers of people (albeit virtually). But that is not the only benefit.

Benefits of hybrid conferences

  • Hybrid conferences are perfect for those on a budget, as you don’t need to book a large venue, catering, or pay for transport/accommodation.
  • For those physically in attendance, hybrid conferences allow for the intimacy and greater networking opportunities of normal conferences, but at the same time, give delegates a choice.
  • As delegates don’t need to fly, drive, or take the train to the conference, they are more environmentally friendly.
  • A hybrid conference provides the focus of a core location, but opens up your event to the world. For many, flying long-haul for a conference is too much of a commitment, giving people the option to attend virtually enables people from around the world to attend.
  • Hosting a hybrid conference will create much needed revenue from in-person attendees, that can be used to subsidise the often difficult to monetise virtual hosting.
  • Hybrid conferences are convenient. We’re all busy people, and taking a day or two out of our lives for a conference can be difficult. With hybrid conferences, virtual delegates can drop in and out at their leisure. Plus, if your event is being recorded, delegates can easily catch up on presentations they may have otherwise missed.

    There are of course downsides. Setting up a hybrid conference does require a degree of technological savviness. But as they become more and more popular, they will become easier. Indeed, there is a plethora of software available that allows you to manage abstracts or make your conference more suitable for a virtual or hybrid audience.

So, in many ways, the benefits of hybrid conferences far exceed the need to maintain social distancing. Why not consider making your next conference a hybrid conference? Get in touch and see how Oxford Abstracts can help.