Just under 10,000 event professionals took part in Hybrid Events: Unlocked, Hopin’s online ode to hybrid's potential, but did the event tech unicorn miss its chance to impress?
When the hippest brand in event tech holds their big event, you expect big things. Hopin addressed the timely topic of hybrid events head-on through helpful content delivered by knowledgeable professionals. Hybrid Events: Unlocked was well promoted, despite a short lead time, with attractive marketing materials, a compelling message, and a clear promise: Make 2021 your most successful year.
The registration and login process was simple and seamless. Bravo! Or maybe it was too simple?
Attracting 9,742 attendees is impressive by any measure. However, there were clearly audience members more interested in promoting themselves than learning about hybrid events. Some resorted to outright spam in the chat with messages like, “Interested in Private Equity & Venture Capital? I am happy to connect with you on LinkedIn.”
It would be unfair to blame Hopin for spam in the chat feed. The extra attention it has received following its recent acquisitions and a $5.65 billion valuation likely attracted a less focused audience. It may have even created some animosity toward the brand — a sense of “Who do you think you are?” or “Let’s see what you’ve got!”
But back to the event.
First up, a DJ got us started. Not to everyone’s taste, but you can’t please everyone. Unfortunately, this is also where the technical issues started. A few moments of hesitation...a video feed that was not quite ready...no sound...let’s cut back to the DJ. As the DJ played a few more tracks and the extremely responsive Hopin team jumped in to manage the situation in the chat. And there it was, from here on, much of the focus of the event, for better or worse, was on the chat.
It was a bumpy start, not uncommon for virtual events (and after all, we know the feeling here at EventMB). The event got moving with a few product announcements, including a nod to the new Hopin app — presumably a result of the acquisition of Topi back in December. This was strangely heralded as a cutting-edge feature, conveniently ignoring the previous decade of evolution in event apps.
The main stage content was all pre-recorded and supposedly produced by Hopin’s agency partner, emc3. Noticeably the production value was high, suitable for any TV channel. The speaker delivery was powerful; however, I was not overly impressed with the stylistic choice of using high contrast lighting and dark visuals. This production style actually made it hard to see the presenter’s face and their expressions — which is important when delivering content on stage, even a virtual one.
Despite the high production value, the event was plagued with technical issues. Closed captions appearing before speaker audio and video was a peculiar issue. The Hopin team clarified in the chat that there was a 15-second delay on the stream, however, the live captioning service was apparently not delayed. Adding to the frustration of many attendees, captions could not be toggled on and off.
The audio was also not good, possibly due to imbalances between pre-recorded and live content, as well as different audio levels for the desktop experience and the app. The audience, which surely featured many experienced event professionals, were quick to point out the need for, “dry runs/ technology tests for EVERY speaker and every session” as well as “coaching to not sit in front of bright windows.”
There were also a few issues in the breakout sessions, with some false starts and a lack of speaker lower thirds. The Hopin team tried to address the latter by pinning a post in the chat. This is somewhat surprising as lower thirds are one of the strong and simple-to-use features of the StreamYard platform, which Hopin acquired in January.
Despite the technical issues, the content resonated with the crowd and the speakers received positive comments like “these tips/rules of hybrid are awesome!” from the audience.
As an event aimed at event professionals, there is gold in the discussions and the chat did not disappoint. From pointing out confusing terminology (“Is the lounge a retitled vendor section?”) to some questionable UX choices (”audience is split, some of us are here, in the event chat, but then there is also the stage chat... where should we be?”) and some event design choices as well (“what is the reason u use Slido for the Q&A and not Hopin's "built-in" Q&A?”).
Many comments in the chat about viewing sessions on demand revealed a current product limitation: Sessions are available for download but must be uploaded to a third party system for sharing. The Hopin team confirmed an update is on the company’s roadmap: “we have some exciting things on our roadmap so stay tuned! Currently, recordings are available for Organizers to download then host externally.” This lacuna will surely be addressed through the integration of Streamable, one of the latest acquisitions.
The chat functionality itself was also critiqued with multiple calls for threading (in order to organize replies) and an option to react to comments through emojis as the top requested features. With this many attendees, it is hard to imagine a seamless chat experience, but there is certainly room for improvement.
Overall Hopin’s inclusion efforts are to be commended. The captioning of both pre-recorded and live sessions, despite strangely being ahead of the video feed, was well received. A replay of the whole event the next day for the APAC region with a section of dedicated live content is also worth highlighting.
Hopin tackled the hybrid head-on and must be commended for providing an impressive turn-out with valuable content from their own team and a collection of credible experts.
Unfortunately, the technical issues made the experience feel disjointed and like somewhat of a missed opportunity. With things moving so fast at Hopin, some of these issues may not have been easily solved, but it is clear that different event design choices and more rehearsals would have resulted in a better overall user experience.