Planning4 Min Read

Hybrid Event Networking Ideas: Takeaways from Episode 3 of the EventHack Hybrid Games

Team 2 Ladies & a Llamarita

Team “2 Ladies & a Llamarita” won Week 3 of EventHack Hybrid Games with festive hybrid event networking ideas to inspire intermingling among live and virtual event attendees.

Make conversation the center of your hybrid event experience. That’s what the team “2 Ladies & a Llamarita” set out to accomplish with the mix of hybrid networking hacks the duo planned for the Drift Conversation Conference, which they virtually unveiled as participants in Socio’s EventHack Hybrid Games

Their inventive ideas for hosting a hybrid-crossover event won for Week 3 of Socio’s EventHack competition, themed “Networking in a Hybrid World,” placing the team in the running to compete in the final-four showdown in November.

Team “2 Ladies & a Llamarita,” inspired by their company’s figurative mascot — Ollie Llama — featured Katie Brunette, Director of Strategic Marketing at Lessonly, and Alex Yoder, a Lessonly Field Marketing Specialist. They focused on five hybrid event networking opportunities during the day-long conference they mapped out for martech partner Drift

“The goal is for our in-person and virtual attendees to connect together,” Brunette said. 

To facilitate networking before, during, and after the event, conference attendees were instructed to download the Drift mobile app, powered by Socio’s Event Platform.

To encourage one-on-one connections, Brunette and Yoder utilized gamification. At the start of the event, each attendee will receive a unique access code, which they can share with other attendees as they exchange profile information. Collecting codes through the app, both at the live event and virtually, earns participants “Bot Bucks” to spend in the Drift swag store. 

Coffeehouse Connection Kicks Off Hybrid Event Networking with Caffeine

A “Coffeehouse Connection” provides the first networking opportunity in the day’s event schedule curated by the “2 Ladies & a Llamarita” team. 

Each of the virtual attendees will receive a gift card in advance so they can grab a coffee from their favorite shop before joining their fellow attendees at the live event.

“We will provide them with $5 coffee gift cards before the conference, as well as discussion topics for them to chat and network throughout the event,” Yoder said. 

Meanwhile, in-person attendees can enjoy coffee rooms spread throughout the venue and interact with both the virtual and in-person groups — or even join remotely from their hotel rooms. The organizers will assign attendees to groups based on their preference of coffee or tea and other select criteria to create a sense of common ground within each discussion.

Ice Ice Breaker: App Integration Facilitates Fast Networking 

Much like a “speed-dating site for networking,” conference participants would use the Ice Breaker app integrated within the event management platform to get to know one another. Ice Breaker technology matches people one-on-one, providing each pair with a good mix of personal and professional questions to discuss, Brunette explained. 

For in-person attendees, iPads set up in various rooms give attendees a way to socially distance while connecting with virtual participants during two scheduled breaks the team playfully dubbed “Ice Ice Breakers.”

Conversational Marketing Hack Event Encourages Engagement 

To tie one of the networking opportunities to the Drift product, they planned a hybrid event brainstorm session prior to the conference called “Conversational Marketing Hacks.” It gives attendees a chance to meet beforehand and explore new ways to utilize Drift’s conversational marketing platform.

“They’ll be broken up into two teams, two in-person and two virtual, and they’ll be tasked with coming up with an inbound way to use Drift and present on that,” Yoder said. 

The team presentations would stream live during the event, and in-person teams can join in from conversation hack rooms throughout the venue.

Mix & Mingle Events Get Attendees Involved

Yoder and Brunette also planned a couple of “Mix & Mingle” sessions to encourage hybrid event networking and active participation.  

A mid-day cooking class gives all attendees a chance to make a dish. The first 100 virtual attendees to register will receive the recipe’s ingredients in advance, so they can join the fun from their own kitchen. An in-person instructor will lead the audience at the event venue, while live-streaming the session for at-home participants. 

Later that night, VIP customers and prospects can join a “Mix & Mingle” session to enjoy Llamarita cocktails and network in a more intimate setting, and even meet the keynote speakers, Brunette explained. Virtual attendees who sign up to receive a Llamarita kit in the mail can sip along while interacting with in-person attendees at the hybrid event. 

Bot Bash Ends Event on High Note

To close out the hybrid event, the group planned “Bot Bash,” a fun hybrid networking event that brings everybody together one last time.

“Attendees will have the chance to hop in different Zoom rooms, and each room will be a different activity,” Yoder said. “Think karaoke, magician, trivia, a live band. There will even be a kids’ room, so kids hop in that room while their parents attend the Bot Bash.” 

The networking event will broadcast live and play on screens throughout the venue. Virtual participants will receive “swag kits” with fun props and branded freebies to keep them involved in the various themed rooms during the Bot Bash. 

Judges Show Love for the Llamarita Ladies’ Hybrid Event Networking Ideas 

Judging criteria for the EventHack Hybrid Games focuses on innovation, real-world feasibility, and crossover hybrid strategy — goals the “2 Ladies & a Llamarita” team nailed, according to the votes they received from the judges panel and virtual audience, which account for 50 percent of the score.  

Immediately following the presentation, the EventHack judges got an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback for the team before ranking their performance and opening the voting to audience members. 

“I love the emphasis you are putting on networking and the various types,” said judge Corbin Ball, President of Corbin Ball & Co. “That’s one of the keys in getting people involved on a remote basis.” 

Judge Kelsey Campbell, Senior Corporate Events Manager at LogMeIn, agrees. 

“Great job, ladies,” Cambell said. “I love the creativity. I love the different types of networking you included. You considered bringing your kids in, you considered one-on-one, you considered bigger group conversations.” 

Judge Lisa DeGolyer, Deputy Executive Vice President at ADMEI, also applauded the presentation before asking the ladies from Lessonly about anticipated staffing requirements for hosting this type of hybrid event. 

Brunette and Yoder acknowledged it would likely take the entire staff’s help for the day, simply to guide various sessions, man the in-person venue rooms, and facilitate the technology side of streaming the event. 

The Llamarita ladies finished first out of the four presentations made during Week 3 of the Hybrid Games. The four highest-ranking teams will face off in the final episode on November 19 for a chance to become the first-ever EventHack Hybrid Games Champion.

Team QuanRoe: Combining Hybrid Events with Happy Hour

Team “QuanRoe” used virtual reality technology to create a bar atmosphere with customized avatars that encouraged networking among hybrid event attendees. 

A pair of Oculus goggles, a set of Bluetooth headphones, and a bar crawl. When Team “QuanRoe” designed a hybrid-crossover event as part of Socio’s EventHack Hybrid Games, themed “Networking in a Hybrid World,” they quickly identified these three items as the essential components.

The end result: Avatar Bar, where in-person and virtual attendees could meet, drink, compare avatars, and network. Such a venue seemed perfect for the National Association of Landscape Professionals annual member conference, and QuanRoe said it’s explored the idea of adapting the bar for other clients.

Typically, live attendees at NALP’s event see lush greenery, product and software demonstrations, and other in-person staples. Virtual attendees expect raise-your-hand buttons, chat sidebars, and Zoom conferences. Facilitating networking between these two groups can feel impossible, so team members Rachel Quan, Managing Partner of SBHH Events, and John Monroe, Primary Partner of SBHH Events, decided customizable avatars combined with several rounds of drinks would naturally bring live and virtual attendees closer, while also offering a plethora of sponsorship opportunities through gamification aspects.

Hosting Hybrid Event Networking at the Avatar Bar

The event started when in-person and virtual attendees created customized avatars within the Socio event management software. Users could design avatars to look identical or completely different from their actual selves. Sponsors offered virtual gear, swag, and customizable options for the avatar, such as shirts with company logos.

The Avatar Bar featured a variety of drink stations, including The Potato/Potawto Vodka Bar, the Jumping Juniper Gin Bar, and the Hip Hops Beer Bar. In-person attendees received Bluetooth headphones donated by a sponsor when they arrived, and LED screens around the room displayed their avatars, along with the avatars of virtual attendees.

Virtual attendees received sponsor-provided headphones along with Oculus goggles in the mail before the event. When they signed on to Socio for the conference, they’d see the virtual bar, the various drink stations, and all of the attending avatars.

Both sets of users grabbed real or virtual cocktails – drink sponsors get credit either way as attendees tried to collect all of the various beverages on tap – and used Bluetooth headphones to chat with hybrid attendees over drinks.

“It’s simply the best of both worlds,” Quan said.

Choosing Hybrid Event Technology to Bring Networking to Life

While Oculus goggles come at a high price, Quan and Monroe suggested they’re the best product to use for such an interactive hybrid event application. Virtual users can maneuver through the crowd and hone in on specific people, spaces, or conversations they’re interested in. Sponsors may also help cover the costs, they suggested, or the goggles could be available to rent for the event.

“You get a sponsor to pay for this, and it makes it pretty easy and affordable to send out,” Monroe said.

Oculus also provided relatively easy up-front instructions and tech support, including Zoom calls, if users experienced problems. Before deciding on any event technology, the team pointed out it’s important to consider your demographics and plan accordingly.

Promoting Hybrid Event Networking with Gamification

Quan and Monroe acknowledged the challenges of encouraging participants, especially in-person attendees, to engage with virtual attendees’ avatars. Gamification and icebreakers would entice participants to visit the different drink bars, so their avatars could collect and show off a variety of virtual drinks.

“It’s just something fun you can go through, and everybody will want to see a different drink in their avatar’s hand,” Monroe said.

Other engagement options included pre-assigning conversations ahead of time, for both in-person and virtual users, pairing participants for set periods of time, or utilizing traditional icebreaker questions.

Ideally, users’ avatars and the detailed virtual swag provided by sponsors would inspire conversations between attendees, the team said.

“The fun thing about the avatars is, if you’ve created it yourself, there’s some natural conversation about the gear you chose, why you’re wearing what you’re wearing,” Quan said. “Those types of things could be some fun [topics] that lead to some natural conversation, even if you’re not in there face to face.”

The EventHack judges were blown away by the creativity of the “QuanRoe” Avatar Bar idea. “It’s truly out-of-the-box thinking,” said Corbin Ball​.

Team But Wait! There’s More!!: Make Hybrid Event Networking Worthwhile with WebWow Technology

“But Wait, There’s More!” shouted the high-energy infomercial imposters presenting during Week 3 of the EventHack Hybrid Games, promoting an AI software solution to make deeper networking connections. 

Chris Gasbarro and Kevin White don’t believe traditional networking works anymore. How are generic details, such as your name, city, and job title supposed to connect you with collaborators at a hybrid event with 100,000 in-person and virtual attendees?

Great, you’ve found another event specialist from Boston, but so what?

To energize that stale networking problem, Gasbarro, President of Ember, and White, Owner and Chief Strategist of XPL, presented WebWow. They presented the conceptualized AI-driven tool to a panel of judges and virtual audience as part of Week 3 of Socio’s EventHack Hybrid Games competition. WebWow would use spiderbots to crawl attendee-submitted data, ultimately helping users spin a web of worthwhile connections based on specific business goals and purposes, as opposed to broad demographic details.

Historically, people attend hybrid networking events hopelessly looking to connect with someone truly worthwhile — not simply someone who’s just like them, Gasbarro and White said. WebWow technology would ensure those attending hybrid-crossover events received a networking experience worth both virtual and in-person attendees’ time by harvesting the richest, most-relevant details about members before the main event.

The team dreamed up WebWow for a hypothetical conference to serve clients at Salesforce, which typically attracts up to 100,000 live and virtual audience members for events. No attendee could conceivably review 99,999 LinkedIn profiles prior to a conference, so WebWow does the heavy lifting involved in quality networking.

“Reminds me almost of Tinder meets LinkedIn meets…something,” said EventHack judge Kelsey Campbell, Senior Corporate Events Manager at ​LogMeIn.

Spinning a Hybrid Event Network Web

WebWow would start working the moment virtual and in-person users registered through the event app and began preparing for the hybrid event. When attendees opened the event app, they’d meet a friendly spiderbot named Charlotte, a voice-activated AI avatar who asks details about their life story, including life passions, goals, and career arcs. This approach beats asking attendees to fill out several pages of static datapoints about themselves, the pair told the judges.

“People hate data entry, but they love telling their story,” White said.

After Charlotte gathered the information, WebWow would use AI technology to review users’ pre-meeting sessions, surveys, Q&As, and any other relevant pre-event activities that quietly compiled their personal data. WebWow would analyze the data to produce a list of the 50 best contacts for each person in attendance, no matter if at home or the live event. Users could refresh the contact list, depending on the type of goals they indicated mattered most or professionals they showed interest in meeting.

Anyone attending live events and looking to make connections in a hurry could tap into WebWow’s heat map technology to find matches near their current venue location.

“With control like that, it’s just like we went from an Atari joystick to a NORAD command center,” Gasbarro said.

Keeping Private Information Safe in Virtual Settings

When asked by the EventHack judges about privacy concerns, the team said organizations such as Salesforce set permissions or could implement a phased, opt-in approach to keep the hybrid event secure.

Ultimately, users would choose what information they share with WebWow. They could provide five details to Charlotte, instead of 50, though they may not receive as refined connection results as other participants.

“We’re only looking for the things you want to put forward,” White said.

Building Momentum for Hybrid Event Networking

WebWow’s pre-event research and networking opportunities were designed to create a momentum virtual and in-person attendees could capitalize on during the actual event, with deep-dive sessions, competitions, and other collaborations to strengthen those newfound connections, the team explained.

In-person and virtual users interacted through the event technology using whatever mode of communication they preferred, such as email, chat, info swap, video chat, or in person. Live attendees could also serve as surrogates for virtual attendees by allowing them to connect to their smartphone camera and show what’s happening from their perspective inside the venue. The latter feature would provide a key component for hybrid events, as the judges wanted to know how the WebWow team planned to keep remote participants engaged.

White said he’s encouraged by real-world examples of hybrid events happening now with e-sports and pro sports like NBA games, which provide virtual experiences for fans. He also believes fostering shared experiences between virtual and live participants would prove important to the event’s success, and that starts by connecting people with shared purpose using technology that can match up attendees accordingly.

“In-face networking, while it’s emotional and it gives us social connection or cohesion, sucks. It’s awful!” White said. “It’s like playing Battleship: E4. Did I hit it? No? Onto the next person.”

The high-energy WebWow presentation left the judges speechless and simply uttering, “Wow!” 

“The crowd is going nuts right now,” said EventHack Hybrid Games Co-Host Will Curran, Founder of Endless Events.

Hacking the Future of Hybrid Events 

Socio launched the EventHack Hybrid Games competition in mid-September as a way to collectively craft innovative hybrid event strategies for bringing together in-person and virtual audiences. 

Every week, four new teams from top companies across the event planning, digital marketing, and technology industries presented their best hybrid event hacks to a panel of expert judges and virtual viewers who tuned in to gather new ideas. 

Even though the series is now over, you can still check out every episode on demand!

And to learn more about how Socio’s event platform powers hybrid events, don’t hesitate to request a demo.

Nina Dermody
Nina Dermody
Content Writer. Avid reader. Lover of all cooking competition shows. Will stop for any and every dog she sees walking down the street. Connect with Nina on Twitter or on LinkedIn.