One of the first outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic was the wide cancellation of in-person events. Companies had to adjust quickly, and many turned to digital meetings to replace live ones. Facebook F8 went virtual, and Google Cloud Next became Google Cloud Next ’20: Digital Connect. As of mid-April, 87% of major event organisers were planning a virtual function in 2020.
Like live conferences, digital events can deliver your brand message and build customer relationships. Virtual alternatives cannot completely recreate the experience of meeting face-to-face, but they cast a wider net for attendees unbound by geography and travel costs.
While you’re likely familiar with types of online events like webinars, virtual conferences can be far more complex, with keynotes, panels and even breakout rooms to mimic the real thing. As your business determines the future of its planned events or even seeks out new opportunities to engage with customers and prospects, there are steps to take for a successful experience.
If you are interested in hosting a virtual conference, you will need to answer several questions regarding the platform, format, design and agenda. Here are elements that you should address:
To maximise engagement, consider using virtual event platforms with options for breakout sessions, exhibitor booths and networking spaces to simulate the in-person experience. Platforms like 6connex, Brella, vFairs and HeySummit feature lounge spaces, trade show halls and more.
While going digital increases your geographic reach, it creates the issue of time zones. Event planners need to decide whether to livestream, prerecord or combine both. For example, panel discussions can be rebroadcasted at a later time and followed by a live Q&A session or include a chat forum for continued debate.
The next step is deciding the tone of your event. For a joyful and lively feel, consider Women in CyberSecurity’s tactic of recreating a virtual hotel complete with palm trees, hallways to roam and lounge spaces for networking. Additionally, make content inclusive with large fonts, high color contrast, descriptions for visuals and captions when possible.
When setting your agenda, it’s good practice to begin with a short tutorial video showing participants how to use your platform. Following that, decide whether or not to plan simultaneous events for attendees to choose from and set their own agenda.
To ensure maximum attendance among your target audience, market your virtual event through:
If you are converting an event from in-person to digital or launching a new virtual conference, draft and distribute a press release and notify potential attendees via email. Cancelling a planned event with no alternative will likely leave registrants dissatisfied and may result in a grassroots alternative popping up to fill the void, like when the health industry replaced the 2020 HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition with the Virtual Health Conference 20.
Next, consider social strategies like hashtags, consistent posting and even livestreaming before the event to build excitement and drive registrations. During the event, encouraging your audience to live tweet and share highlights on Instagram can create memorable moments and prove event success with engagement metrics.
Use a series of e-blasts to target your audience and encourage registrations in the days and weeks leading up the virtual event. Platforms like Marketo and MailChimp can help you design, send and track results for your e-blasts.
Hosting virtual events eliminates geographical constraints but can’t constrain guests to their seats. Attending at home means distractions like phone calls, emails and family are plentiful. Event planners need to compensate with quality content and enhanced engagement tactics.
Since virtual conferences can’t attract people with a resort location, schedule powerful keynotes and engaging discussions tailored for all attendees.
A good rule of thumb is to have virtual engagement activities every 10 minutes to retain the audience’s attention. Activities like polling, Q&A, worksheets or even short quizzes can ensure attendees are actively listening to the presentation.
Continued engagement requires breaks for refreshments, stretches, checking in with family and resting the brain. In general, factor in breaks for people about every 90 minutes.
Your online function won’t result in leads and revenue without quick and strategic follow up. To transform the experience into tangible outcomes:
Post-event follow-up should be timely. Consider sending out surveys to collect data for improving future events.
Turn the event outcomes into shareable content like videos and infographics that attendees can reference as a refresher, or registrants who were unable to attend can access for post-event learning. Openly sharing information improves perception of your organization as a thought leader and encourages more people to attend future events.
One of the major benefits of going digital is that you can easily collect data. Compile the number of registrations, demographics, number of leads and buying interest, session rating and feedback and social media engagement to measure ROI and drive improvement for your next virtual endeavor.
A study from Bizzabo found 95% of respondents expect digital events to play a role in the future, even after in-person gatherings return. Virtual won’t completely replace in-person, but streaming options and supplemental virtual content will certainly play a role in reshaping how we network and learn moving forward. Don’t feel that a virtual event is the right fit for your organization or your goals? Take a look at top tips for successful event planning.
Go virtual with your next event. Contact us to learn how we can help you promote and execute your next conference, webinar, podcast or other virtual event.
Theresa Colston is an Account Coordinator at Mulberry Marketing Communications, an award-winning full-service B2B communications agency based in Chicago, London and Australia. She enjoys developing creative marketing ideas and building connections to drive results for clients.