In-person, virtual, hybrid? How do you choose?

That question is an ongoing conversation between associations and their chapters that is often complicated by differing state restrictions and the comfort levels of members regarding in-person events, leaving associations with no clear answers. To go fully in-person could alienate those that still feel uncomfortable while staying fully virtual risks further diminishing those vital personal connections that only face-to-face encounters can provide. And a hybrid event presents a whole new level of challenges.

So what’s an association to do?

In our March 23 webinar, we explored the possibilities for 2021 (and maybe beyond!) looking at important factors to consider when deciding on how to conduct future events. Should chapters plan on in-person events and meetings this year? Can chapters provide a safe experience and will members be ready? Is a hybrid model a viable option?

To answer these questions, we tapped into event experts Aaron Wolowiec, CAE, CMP CEO of Event Garde along with Peter Houstle of Mariner Management for their take making the right event decisions.

Listen here to the full webinar and see below for a quick recap.

Should chapters plan on in-person events and meetings this year? With some states fully opening up, the instinct is to go back to in-person events by this summer. Hold on though and consider these factors:

  1. When will your chapters’ members get access to the vaccine?
  2. How do they feel about returning to in-person events?
  3. What is the venue’s safety protocol?


The best resource in answering these is, of course, your members. Ask how they feel about attending in-person events as well as their employers’ stance on event attendance (permission to attend and/or travel, financial support, quarantine requirements). Check what your trade/profession is already doing. Are they already out and about? Think about the culture within the profession.

One consideration that came up: Some associations are finding that virtual meetings are becoming more popular as a way to decrease the carbon footprint. Are your members concerned about the carbon footprint of an in-person meeting?

Tip: Don’t play the “wait & see” game; don’t wait to make a final decision 30 days out. Making the decisions early allows for proper planning and decreases the stress on chapters and members. Converting to virtual at the last minute generally results in a lower turnout.

What’s next? The first step to deciding between in-person, virtual or hybrid model is to clearly identify your event goals: primarily education, networking, outreach. Your goals will be different for each model, i.e., virtual is fine for disseminating information but in-person may be more conducive to networking and outreach. If you are thinking of trying a hybrid event, where do those goals overlap or diverge? Let your goals help you prioritize what you do and don’t do.  Also consider what the tech expectations are (low-tech vs high-tech), whether streaming is a viable solution, and what type of attendee experience you want to provide.

Tip: Forget copy & paste! You can’t just take a traditional in-person event as is and put it on zoom.  Plus, what works for one chapter may not work for another.

What about hybrid as an option? Producing a hybrid event comes with its challenges: reliable technology and a heavy volunteer lift (it takes a lot of work!). With a little creative thinking, a hybrid event can have some great returns. Take these examples of 3 organizations that made it work:

Chapter Board Maintains Connection with Hybrid Meetings: American Inns of Court RI Chapter held a hybrid board meeting where some members met in person while the rest attended via Zoom. Equipment included a pop-up screen and video projector connected to a laptop, an inexpensive video camera on a tripod and an external microphone/speaker unit. Remote participants received dinner through Grub Hub so they could “dine” with in-person participants. The meeting was low tech with high rewards.

SAME Hybrid Industry Day in Panama City, FL: SAME held the event in a hotel with a professional AV tech company to handle the technology. Covid-19 safety protocols were followed for the in-person portion including limited attendance, boxed lunches, smaller rounds, centralized speakers, and more. The event was live-streamed to remote attendees. The cost for the AV tech was built into the event price and the event was a success.

Submarine Institute of Australia (SIA) Launched a Smooth and Engaging Hybrid Event with Whova: SIA staged their hybrid event like a TV show. The entire conference, including appearances by remote speakers, took place on one stage where they were professionally shot by a production crew, streamed through Vimeo Live, and embedded with Whova, where they could easily and conveniently access all of Whova’s other engagement and networking features. As with SAME, the investment paid off.

Alternatives to hybrid meetings. Given the challenges of full hybrid synchronous meetings, consider a “hybrid” hybrid.  

  • Rapid Succession Learning – hold the traditional virtual event on day 1 and add smaller, deeper dive, in-person workshops on subsequent days
  • Integrate Audiences – bridge the two events by engaging the virtual audience on one day followed by an in-person meeting where the work and output of the virtual meeting is used during the in-person event that takes the learning to the next level.


As we move forward, every chapter will face similar challenges in making hard decisions on event planning. As CRPs, we must help our chapters by sharing information, resources, and chapter success stories. Let’s help our chapters rethink event planning and introduce them to new technologies that can provide a better and more engaging experience for attendees whether in-person or virtual.

Be sure to listen to the webinar to get the full discussion including final thoughts and resources. And register for our next webinar Chapter Benchmarking to Unlock Change scheduled for May 26, where we’ll reflect on your goals, how benchmarking can help you have conversations about change with your chapters, and how the right data drives good change management.

Additional resources:


*This webinar is part of our ongoing series with Billhighway.