Expect the Unexpected for Your 2021 Hybrid Conference

Planning your association’s next (or first) hybrid conference? OpenWater offers some tips to get you started.

Guest Post by OpenWater    

Now that venues are opening up, we’re entering a new phase. Organizations are pivoting from hosting a virtual conference to hosting a hybrid conference. For clarity, a hybrid conference is an event that has an in-person conference component such as a live presentation, and a virtual conference component for remote participants attending virtually.

Now is the best time to learn about hosting a hybrid event. In this article, you’ll learn why hybrid is happening, how to stay flexible with your hybrid strategy, and three scenarios you will have to work around when hosting a hybrid event.

Many associations have no choice but to go hybrid

It is unclear when events will return to in-person. Although we don’t know for certain, evidence suggests the majority of people will not be comfortable attending in-person events for the rest of 2021.

Even though most people won’t go to a large in-person event in 2021, event venues in general are still booked up for the rest of the year. And since it’s safer to host events in-person, those event venues have no inclination to offer the same cancellation policy they did at the beginning of the pandemic.

So, many organizations have these venues for their events and need to find a way to go hybrid, since hybrid is the only option in some cases.

Going hybrid while remaining FLEXIBLE

The challenge used to be to find the best virtual conference solutions. Now, organizations are challenged to find the best hybrid strategies for their events.

Again, the road ahead is unpredictable. For that reason, it’s important to adopt a flexible approach when going hybrid.

If things get worse (knock on wood!), your event might not be able to have in-person components. So, it’s important to make sure you set yourself up to be able to pivot early on. 

All hybrid events have a virtual component. To be safe, we recommend that you find a virtual platform that will be able to handle a fully-virtual event. If things change and you’re unable to have an in-person component to your hybrid event, then you need to create a safety net to assure you can pivot to a virtual conference quickly and easily.

If you’re unfamiliar with what a fully-virtual conference looks like, just look up virtual conference examples on the web. You’ll find that there are pros and cons, but overall it’s a fine alternative to an in-person conference if you’re left with no choice.

Three hybrid conference scenarios to be ready for

Let’s cover three scenarios that are commonplace at hybrid conferences. Typically, you will see organizations utilizing at least one of these hybrid scenarios in either a conference session or a keynote presentation.

Scenario 1 is a session in which there is a speaker presenting slides in front of an in-person audience. The slides of the presentation are projected on a screen for the audience and the audio comes from a PA system at the venue. On the other hand, virtual conference-goers attending remotely are attending the session through a tool like Zoom and seeing the slideshow presentation on their screens and hearing the presenter speak.

Scenario 2 is the same setup as scenario 1, but what’s different is that there is a camera on the speaker that is being broadcasted through the conference platform for remote attendees. So, virtual conference attendees see the presentation slides, hear the presenter’s audio AND can see the presenter.

Scenario 3 happens when a remote speaker joins live and virtually presents their own slides to the in-person and virtual audiences at the same time. At the in-person venue, the live audience sees the virtual presenter and their slides projected on the screen. At the same time, remote attendees are seeing the same thing as the in-person attendees on their own personal computers.


Hopefully, we got your gears turning as you approach the time to start planning for your 2021 conference. To learn more about going hybrid and to see how a hybrid conference platform might serve you well, check out the OpenWater hybrid conference platform page for more information.