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Virtual and Hybrid Events: What’s the Difference?

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Virtual and Hybrid Events

The event industry is always evolving and this past year has been no exception; 2020 presented unique challenges for event planners worldwide as COVID-19 shook up the event landscape. With travel restrictions, social distancing, and health concerns, event planners had a lot to overcome.

Fortunately, event planners adapted to these new challenges by employing innovative solutions, including virtual and hybrid events. Both types of events have enabled the show to go on, even in the face of unprecedented obstacles. So what’s the difference between virtual events and hybrid events? In this article, we’ll teach you everything you need to know. 


Virtual and hybrid events both harness the power of technology to bring vast audiences together in spirit, even if they can’t all be together in person. 

However, these two types of events have some notable differences:

  • Virtual events: Virtual events take place entirely online. They can use a combination of livestreaming and pre-recorded content to engage their online audiences. Some common examples of virtual events include online meetings, webinars, webcasts, and web conferences. Depending on the virtual event platform you use to host your event, you can give your virtual attendees the chance to network with one another, submit Q&As to presenters, and provide real-time feedback. 
  • Hybrid events: If in-person events and virtual events are on a spectrum, hybrid events are located somewhere in the middle. They feature an in-person audience that congregates at a physical venue, as well as a virtual audience that tunes in online. With a hybrid event, your goal should be to give a very similar live and virtual experience to all of your attendees to promote positive audience engagement. When you use the right virtual event platform, both audiences can even experience the event simultaneously and interact with each other throughout the event. 

Now that we have covered these major differences, let us take a closer look at the benefits of these two types of events.

What Are the Benefits of a Virtual Event?

Virtual events offer a host of benefits. Compared to in-person events, they:

  • Have a vast online reach: Unlike, at an in-person event, your virtual guest list knows no bounds. Target markets that may not have been geographically feasible, now are. As long as you have the bandwidth to support your virtual attendees, you can invite thousands of people from across the world.
  • Allow for detailed data collection: After you have invested your time and energy into organizing an event, you want to know if it was successful. Was your audience engaged? What parts of the event did they enjoy most? What could be improved upon next time? 

With in-person events, you may only ever find out the answers to these questions by asking attendees to complete a survey. In contrast, virtual events allow you to capture valuable engagement data automatically, including watch times, clicks, and poll responses. 

    • Offer greater accessibility: By hosting a virtual event, you expand your reach to attendees who may not be able to travel. All they have to do is hop online from the comfort of their own home. 
    • More value for exhibitors and sponsors: Many people will have you believe that virtual events are not a good fit for sponsors or exhibitors. With no booths or in-person interaction, it may seem like getting to prospective customers is impossible. However, online events can still provide valuable exposure for sponsors and exhibitors. They can seamlessly promote their products and services using the event’s social communities and reach an even wider audience. 
    • Significantly reduced expenses: As you probably know, planning an in-person event is very expensive. You have to find a physical venue, hire vendors and other on-site teams, book accommodations, deal with travel expenses and prepare food for the guests. With a virtual event, however, you don’t have to do any of these things. This means the cost of planning and running the event is significantly reduced. So, a virtual event would be handy if you are on a budget but still want to connect with your audience. 
    • Saves a lot of time: Physical and hybrid events can take up to a year to plan. There’s so much you will need to do to make the event memorable for everyone. A virtual event is a bit different when it comes to time. You can plan it within days and still manage to pull off a successful session. You won’t need much time to travel and bring everything on-site. All you have to do is decide which streaming platform you will use, collect the necessary equipment, have a strong internet and a reliable power source, and you will be good to go. 
    • Reduced environmental impact: Physical events can have a substantial adverse effect on the environment. Large conferences have been shown to contribute negatively to climate change. This impact results from venue construction, transportation of event equipment and guests, use of gas-emitting machinery, and production of disposable waste and garbage at the event. Most of these can be significantly reduced by holding an online event. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Virtual Events?

While virtual events have many benefits, they also attract a few drawbacks. These include: 

  • Reduced personal interaction: Although virtual events bring more convenience and efficiency, they also encourage limited personal interaction. This may seem impersonal and result in a less memorable event. 
  • Distraction: People who attend personal events are mostly at home. As a result, they are surrounded by many distractions that make it difficult to focus on the event. Speakers will find it hard to hold people’s attention, therefore, reducing the attraction of online events. 
  • Technical problems: Many things can go wrong during an online event. These range from slow internet connections to power outages that may significantly derail the progress of an online event. 

What Are the Benefits of a Hybrid Event?

Hybrid events offer the best of both worlds. They come with:

  • Engagement of a physical event:  Even with the best virtual event technology, it is hard to replace the in-person experience. For those attendees who prefer to attend in-person, hybrid events allow them to do so while expanding your reach to a virtual audience.
  • Reach and accessibility: Hybrid events enable you to expand your reach exponentially. Rather than being limited by your venue’s capacity, you can add thousands of online attendees and participants to your virtual guest list. These guests can enjoy all of the conveniences that come with a virtual event. 

Hybrid events involve a much smaller number of in-person attendees and may open you up to new alternative venues that wouldn’t have been possible with a larger crowd.

  • Flexibility required for COVID-19: Hybrid events are uniquely suited for the current COVID-19 conditions. As you navigate the coming months, hybrid events give you and your attendees more flexibility and protection from COVID-19-related obstacles. For example, if an unexpected lockdown is implemented in your area, your attendees can swap out their in-person ticket for a virtual one, rather than missing out on the event entirely. 
  • Better sponsorship opportunities: Combining virtual and physical events can bring a lot of value for sponsors. They get to tap into two audiences and put their products or services in front of them. Just like the attendees, sponsors can either participate virtually or physically. Even if they can’t attend physically, they can still participate by setting up virtual boots and target the online audience. This presents enticing flexibility that most would be willing to embrace. Event managers who are looking to incorporate international sponsorship can easily take advantage of hybrid events. 
  • Increased event ROI: With a hybrid event, you get to reach a wider audience on a significantly lower budget compared to a fully physical event. By including an online audience and cutting down physical attendance, you can enjoy a lower marginal cost and focus the extra money on profit-generating activities. By monetizing both the physical and virtual audience at once, you can dramatically boost your ROI without sacrificing the event experience. 
  • Better community building: Having a community around your events is a top priority for every company. However, the most important thing should be to sustain that community even after the event has ended. You can easily transition a hybrid event into an online community that you can tap into for your future events. So, while event engagement is important, you want to ensure the attendees continue engaging with your brand post-event. This engagement can help streamline your marketing pipeline and build solid brand loyalty. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Hybrid Events? 

Hybrid events also have their share of issues. These include the possibility of a divided audience and the fact that many people are unfamiliar with these events. 

  • Divided audience: Uniting in-person and virtual attendees may be difficult due to their different experiences during the event. 
  • Unfamiliarity: Hybrid events are new. It is possible that many event managers might not understand how to cohesively marry virtual and physical events.
  • Difficult to plan: Planning and delivering a hybrid event can be twice as difficult as planning a fully virtual or physical event. You’ll need to arrange two sets of plans—one for the physical venue and one for the virtual platform. Discover some of the most successful hybrid event examples thus far and how they connected both their in-person and virtual audiences.


After reviewing these benefits, you may be wondering: “Which type should I choose for my company’s next event?” Before you decide, it helps to review the following questions:

  • When is the event occurring?
  • Who are your attendees?
  • What kind of event is it? 

Let’s explore these questions in a little more detail:

When Is the Event Occurring?

Even though the future is uncertain, COVID-19 restrictions will most likely ease up as time goes on. Many health experts expect a vaccine to be widely available by the summer of 2021. With that in mind, you may want to stick to virtual events until the pandemic has settled down.

Virtual events are also a great option if your event is taking place soon. Without a venue to arrange or attendee travel time to factor in, you can organize your event within a tighter timeline.

In contrast, hybrid events are preferable if you have plenty of time to plan your next event. By offering your attendees an in-person experience, you’ll enhance the engagement and excitement surrounding your event. Furthermore, COVID-19 will (hopefully) be less of a concern in the far future.

After dealing with so many restrictions, many people will be eager to physically attend venues again. Even if some attendees can’t come in person, a hybrid event will enable you to cater to both groups simultaneously.

Who Are Your Attendees?

Another crucial factor to consider is your guest list. As you think about your target audience, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many people do you want to invite? 
  • Where are they coming from?
  • Are they located close by or will travel play a role in their attendance?
  • How many people can you host safely with COVID-19 restrictions?
  • Will your guests be comfortable attending an in-person event in the current conditions?

By understanding your attendees and their needs, you can choose the event style that’s best suited for them. Generally, virtual events are more convenient for audiences who are scattered across the country, while hybrid events are better for local audiences who will attend in person. 

What Kind of Event is it?

The last thing to consider is what type of event you are planning. Every event is different, and a trade show has different needs than a conference. Think about how in-person elements could translate to an online format, and what will make each of those elements a success to both an in-person or remote audience.

If physical elements play a crucial role in your event, a hybrid event might be the best option. If not, a virtual event may be sufficient. 


Both virtual and hybrid events boast impressive benefits. By understanding which type of event is right for your goals and situation, you can ensure that your next event is a success. You can also check out our recent webinar that shares the important venue questions you need to be asking. 

Navigating the virtual event space can be tricky. Fortunately, Vario can help. With 20+ years of event production expertise, our team understands all of the intricate logistics of virtual and hybrid event planning, from the design and strategy to the audiovisuals itself. We’ve even created our own robust virtual event platform to ensure this new medium is streamlined, efficient, and as interactive as possible. 

To get expert event support, reach out to a Vario team member today.


  1. Statista. Leading ways event professionals adjusted to virtual events due to coronavirus in the United States as of April 2020.
  3. CNBC. When Dr. Fauci and other experts say you can expect to get vaccinated for Covid-19.

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