Moving Forward with Hybrid – The Guidewire Experience

Hybrid events started as a necessity but have quickly become a strategy on their own, maximizing reach and return. But how are organizations building these events in successful ways? | Originally aired on June 24, 2021

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Key takeaways.


Keep your goals in the forefront of your planning.

Don’t host a hybrid event because it’s trendy. Know what your goals are and make sure whatever you plan, hybrid or not, helps meet those goals.




The balance between in-person and virtual varies.

Hybrid events come in different flavors. Some lean more to one side than the other. The right format for you will depend on your goals.


Hybrid event audiences have unique needs.

Communicating and catering to both in-person and virtual audiences simultaneously requires a mix of integrated technology and playbooks.


About 75% of our North American customers said they were interested in coming back live. So, we're really optimizing for the live experience while hoping to give those customers that cannot attend [in person] a virtual component.


Episode Transcript

Stephanie Siemens: Hi, everybody. Welcome to today's coffee break session. Moving forward with Hybrid, The Guidewire Experience. My name is Stephanie Siemens and I'm a senior growth marketing associate at Iron Horse.

Stephanie Siemens: I'm really excited to have Darlene Smith with me today. Darlene is the senior director of marketing events at Guidewire. Darlene, thanks so much for joining me.

Darlene Smith: Yes. Thank you Stephanie, for having me.

Stephanie Siemens: Of course, so excited to talk all things hybrid today.

Stephanie Siemens: Before we jump into our content, couple of housekeeping notes to get out of the way. We've launched a poll. So if you would navigate to the right side of your screen, there's a Polls tab. Just go ahead, let us know when you're planning on going back to in-person events. Next, if you have any questions, want to chat us, go ahead and do that while we're having our talk. We will either get to the questions at the end of our discussion or follow up via email, post webinar.

Stephanie Siemens: Also, keeping with our coffee break theme, all attendees will be receiving a $5 Starbucks gift card, so look out for that in your inbox coming soon.

Stephanie Siemens: All right. So before we dive into our content, Darlene, I think it would be really helpful if I would hand it over to you. Tell us a little bit about Guidewire and the types of events you normally plan.

Darlene Smith: So yes, Guidewire... We provide software with the leading provider of software for the property and casualty insurance industry. We have analytics, core, and digital products. We have 400 customers worldwide, and our customer and base includes such marquee insurance names as Nationwide, State Farm, MetLife, Farmers, and the list goes on and on. So we have a really loyal, great customer base. Guidewire this year... This is our 20-year anniversary, so we've been in business 20 years.

Stephanie Siemens: Awesome, great. Thanks Darlene. Before we hop into talking about hybrid, I really want to start and frame the discussion around what hybrid events actually look like and how you balance the virtual and in-person audiences. So real quick, I want to run through how Iron Horse thinks about hybrid events in the sense of three broad models.

Stephanie Siemens: The first model we'll talk about is in-person plus model. Spoiler alert, this is the model we're going to focus on today. This event optimizes for the in-person aspect and has an included virtual component. Think of this as 80% in-person, 20% virtual. On the flip side, you have the opposite. You have the virtual plus model of hybrid events, which is a majority virtual event with some in-person component. We actually have a client that's actively planning this type of event to launch in the summer.

Stephanie Siemens: They're having a robust two-day virtual event. And then on the first day, they're closing it out with some in-person receptions. They're regionally based, it'll be a small group of people based on proximity, meeting up to mix and mingle and get their in-person fix. The third broad category is quote/unquote, "pure hybrid". That's 50% virtual, 50% in-person. Really focusing on the interaction between virtual and in-person audiences. I don't think we'll see this model for a while. I think people will probably focus on the top two models I just mentioned. But to test this theory, I'm going to shoot through one more poll to the group. So go ahead and go back to your Polls tab.

Stephanie Siemens: We're just wondering, if you were to plan a hybrid event right now, which model would you choose? That in-person plus, focus on the in-person, optimize for the in-person experience, the virtual plus, or this pure hybrid.

Stephanie Siemens: With that Darlene, really excited to talk about your November hybrid user conference, your first hybrid conference. So could you tell us a little bit about November, which mix you chose and how you got to that decision?

Darlene Smith: Yes, so thanks Stephanie. So, yes. Guidewire, we have chosen to go with model number one. We're going to have our live conference this November. November 1st through the 4th at the ARIA in Las Vegas. As I talked about, we have this loyal customer base that year after year has attended our conference.

Darlene Smith: Before we made the decision, we did do some research. We did some polling and about 75% of our North America customers said they were interested in coming back live. So we have decided to go with the model number one, where we're really optimizing for the live experience while hoping to give those customers who cannot attend a virtual component. What we plan to do is, we think that mix will be about 75% live, 25% virtual. The virtual attendance will be mainly made up of AMEA and APAC customers who cannot attend. And then, our North America customers that just this year don't feel comfortable attending or did not have the budget.

Darlene Smith: What we plan to do... I don't know if we're a true hybrid, but what we're going to do is we're going to stream live the keynotes and then post those on-demand. And then, we plan to take our top 18 breakouts, our most strategic breakouts, that will be important to our customers. We're going to record those, then put them into post-production with our great video team. And a week or two later, post those on-demand for our customers. And then also to optimize, to get out to as much audience as possible, those sessions that we can, we'll also post on YouTube as well. So we're navigating our way through this new world, but that's what we chose to do.

Stephanie Siemens: Yes. Thanks Darlene. I think it's really interesting how you said that for some customers, the budgets aren't there yet for in-person events. Maybe their company is not allowing business travel yet. So something to really keep in mind, if you're thinking of hosting a hybrid event is, is your customer base interested going back in-person? I know a lot of people are really anxious to get back, but I think it's a great idea to pull the audience, survey them, and make sure that they're interested and comfortable coming back to the in-person event world.

Darlene Smith: Absolutely. Our customers did seem to be... They seem to be excited, so we're excited to move forward.

Stephanie Siemens: Yes, that's awesome. Super exciting. Darlene, let's talk about the in-person side of your hybrid event. Namely about the COVID restrictions or lack thereof, how do you think this in-person event is going to be different from a pre-pandemic in-person event?

Darlene Smith: Well, yes. We're just trying to navigate this whole post-pandemic world. First of all, for our registration, we implemented what we called, "risk free registration". We saw some of other conferences doing that. So we've let our customers know up to a certain date... If something happens, they don't feel comfortable, we're not going to hold them to cancellation fees. Of course, we're going to be monitoring the situation as it goes along. So we're going to be paying attention to all the COVID rules, CDC guidelines. Also what the ARIA and Las Vegas... What rules they have in place.

Darlene Smith: In Las Vegas, right now, they're saying, "Hey, they're open for business". We expect the hotel is going to do temperature checks, so they will check temperatures when people check-in. And then, we are still working out... Most likely we're for sure going to have sanitation stations, we're going to have most likely masks. And then, we are trying to figure out how much social distancing we need to do, the buffets and the food and beverage. So we're working all of that out now and seeing how normal November is going to be or not be and we'll take our cues from that.

Stephanie Siemens: Because it an ever-evolving situation, for sure. It's interesting that you bring up the food and beverage because I know at events and conferences, usually it's buffet style. Do you know if it's going to continue to be buffet style or will it be individual?

Darlene Smith: The hotel is saying they can still do buffet. I know when they were doing buffets early on, it had to be... A server had to choose your items for you and give them to you. Again, those are some discussions by November. Is it back to true buffet? We're going to follow the rules as we go along.

Stephanie Siemens: Yes, awesome. That sounds good. And then, can you talk about your attendance goals? How many attendees you're expecting, what percentage you're expecting from a historic user conference that you've had pre-pandemic?

Darlene Smith: Normally... In 2019, we had 2,400 attendees total and about 13, 17 customers and prospects. So we took that number and we're factoring like a 75%. Our goal is really to hit 75%. If we hit the hundred percent of... We'll be thrilled, but we have to factor in that well, not everyone's going to feel comfortable attending. That is the goal we are working towards right now.

Stephanie Siemens: Awesome. How are you communicating all of these guidelines and the ever-evolving situation with your attendees?

Darlene Smith: Yes. We've started promotion on the main conference. That started on June 9th and we went out and said we have risk free registration and the initial rules. We also did say in our initial communication that if you're unable to attend, we will have a virtual component and that we will be communicating that soon. As we go along, our pre-early bird is going to end on July 30th. So we just have this rolling cadence of communications.

Darlene Smith: Honestly, as we get closer to the event, once we know, "Okay, are we going to do a mass mandate?" Or "What are we going to do?" It'll be in those final communications. Right now, we're keeping it light and high-level and just saying we're following CDC guidelines.

Stephanie Siemens: Yes, that makes sense. I like how you are implementing that risk free registration, because I think a lot of people will... They probably will still do this, but wait until the last minute to register just as they're waiting out the situation, to see what it looks like as we get closer to November. But that risk free lets them get the early bird rate, but still know and have the comfort that if something happens, they can get their money back.

Darlene Smith: Absolutely. We want everyone to feel comfortable and it's balancing... The most important thing is the health and safety of the attendees.

Stephanie Siemens: Yes, definitely. Darlene, we just had a really great question come through. Asking about AMEA and APAC, how you're dealing with the different time zones for the virtual attendees.

Darlene Smith: That's why we are really going to post a lot of our content on-demand. We are going to stream live the keynotes, but we don't expect obviously a lot of the AMEA and APAC people to be in the middle of the night. We expect the livestream to pick up a lot of just North America attendees that can't come. And then, that's why we are going to post it on-demand and just let our attendees or our customers know it's there so that they can view it at their leisure in their time.

Stephanie Siemens: That's a good idea. All right, so let's switch gears a little bit to this virtual component, virtual side of things. How are you treating the speakers and the sponsors for the virtual component?

Darlene Smith: The keynotes, we all know they're being streamed live and recorded. And then the top 18 breakouts, those speakers will know that they're going to be part of the virtual program. And then, our sponsors this year... Honestly, we're not that interested in the virtual component. We have a few sponsors who've asked about it because they can't attend live, so we're still working that out. Well, maybe we'll have some small sponsorships if you want to be part of the virtual, have a logo, et cetera. But the sponsor component is not a big part of the virtual for us, at least for sponsorships.

Stephanie Siemens: Sponsorships have been hard for virtual events, for sure. I think sponsors are looking forward to getting back in-person and really chatting with people in the hallways and making those connections in-person, so that makes sense.

Darlene Smith: Exactly. That's the one element of the virtual that you can never replicate that through in-face meeting experience. And then obviously for the live, we're really going to push our one-on-one meeting experiences, because that's what's important to us is to help... Our sales people are thrilled to get back and see people.

Stephanie Siemens: And then Darlene, as far as speakers go, can you walk us through your thinking? We talked before this session and you let me know that all speakers have to attend in-person. Will you just talk through how you came to that decision, of not having any virtual speakers?

Darlene Smith: Yes. Honestly, it was primarily a budgeting consideration because streaming in people, it becomes a lot. I also wanted people to attend live. It's like if you want to speak at this particular conference, then we do want you to commit that you're attending live. So that's really how we made the decision. It was both that we want to optimize for the live. And then, it honestly gets expensive to do a lot of streaming people in, as you know.

Stephanie Siemens: Yes, definitely. And then, I want to talk quickly about this. I think there's been a myth in the industry that if you have a virtual component to your in-person event, you will be stealing attendees in the sense that if there's a virtual component, maybe someone will decide to attend virtually instead of in-person and it will affect your in-person attendance. We've looked at some of the research and that doesn't seem to be the case at all. But can you talk a little bit about how you're thinking about that? Has that been a concern at all or something that you've talked about with your team?

Darlene Smith: Yes. Honestly, it was somewhat of a concern. We've made the decision not to charge for the virtual and we've done a lot of research. People on my team have done a lot of research. Most conferences, at least the tech conferences aren't charging, there are some that are. But I agree with you, I think the people that want the live experience and are able to come are going to come. And then, the way we're doing it, we're not doing that true hybrid where you're getting every session and all of that. You're getting the best of connections, but you're not getting all of it, so I think it will be fine.

Stephanie Siemens: I think that it actually does opposite. I think that it entices people to attend in-person because they... You're exactly right. They get that taste of the conference and they see theoretically how much fun people are having in-person. So maybe next year they'll plan to attend in-person.

Darlene Smith: Exactly. Because they're going to miss the great parties and all the great networking and really getting to meet with the partners and they're not going to get every breakout. So we hope that that's the case. I think people next year... Unless things take a backward step, next year we'll have great attendance in 2022.

Stephanie Siemens: I think about it, Darlene, in the sense of a sports game. For example like an NFL game, everyone watches it on TV, but people also come and watch it in-person. Those experiences are completely different, they're both great. So in its own sense, it is like a hybrid event. They're both great experiences, but watching it at home in your PJs on TV, doesn't make you want to go in-person any less because you're around your other fans, you get to interact with people. It's so much more exciting. It's just different, but it also entices you to attend in-person.

Darlene Smith: Yes, exactly. I think that's a great analogy because there's pros and cons for each. But the live experience is the live experience, you're going to have so much fun than you... Yes.

Stephanie Siemens: Yes. I think because the virtual space is getting a little bit loud. I know I personally get a lot of invitations to virtual events throughout the week. When they're free, I usually sign up for them, but that doesn't mean necessarily that I will attend them. What do you think about... I know you're not charging for this upcoming hybrid event, but what do you think about the idea of charging a nominal fee for a virtual ticket? Just so people have a little more skin in the game and feel obligated to attend.

Darlene Smith: Going forward, if we do this year after year, I would start to charge a nominal fee because I do feel like people do need to have a little bit of skin in the game. Otherwise, as you know, you'll get at least a 50% reduction... People not showing up and more than that. So we decided not to this year just because it's not anyone's fault that they can't attend from AMEA or APAC. But going forward... Because as you know, the budget, it's a lot to... You're putting together this great experience and it costs quite a bit of money, so we want people to have some skin in the game. So I agree with you.

Stephanie Siemens: Yes, definitely. I think it's very smart that you looked at your industry and saw what other tech companies are doing and took lead from them. I think that's really smart. In knowing what everyone's doing in the area. But as you said, as we move forward, that will likely change. So I think that's a good idea.

Stephanie Siemens: We've also seen a couple examples of conferences that have offered a free virtual ticket, a premium virtual ticket that's paid, and then an in-person ticket that's also paid. Those models tend to get a little bit complex, I think. I think it's a little bit confusing for the attendee to know exactly what you're getting, just because there are so many different ticket types. Do you have that same feeling?

Darlene Smith: I do. We looked at that as well. My team, we've done a lot of research and we've thought about all of it and there's some good elements to that, that do make sense. But I do agree with you, I think it gets confusing. So I think if we start charging in the future, we'll just keep it simple. You're attending live and this is the fee. And then, there's a nominal fee for the virtual component. So it's ever-evolving, but I agree with you. I think it gets a little complicated for the audience.

Stephanie Siemens: Yes, I think so too. Darlene, I can't believe we're already at 20 minutes. I want to get to one more question we have. Someone asked, is there ability for the virtual and the in-person attendees to have any interaction? Are you thinking through that for this event?

Darlene Smith: Again, we did think it through. Initially, we were thinking of having people online, chatting, and everything. But right now, our strategies are evolving daily. But I don't think there will be a lot of interaction and not this year anyway.

Stephanie Siemens: Yes. I think that's something that is evolving as well. As we get used to hybrid events, have a couple under our belt, maybe that will come, but it is something that's hard to do. Definitely.

Darlene Smith: We're always serving our audience after everything we do. Again, we'll get the feedback from the virtual audience and if they're like, we want more interaction in our spring virtual-only, we'll definitely do that and we'll try to incorporate that in future hybrid events.

Stephanie Siemens: That sounds good. Well, Darlene, that is the end of our time. Thank you so much again for joining us and talking about hybrid. I think that we could probably talk about this for hours. We only have 20 minutes. So thank you so much.

Darlene Smith: All right. Thank you very much.

Stephanie Siemens: All right. Thanks everyone for joining. Bye.