Many events, conferences, trade shows, training programs or industry meetings have gone virtual during the pandemic. While virtual events are hardly new, they are unfamiliar territory for organizations used to holding in-person functions.
Some worry about the ability to deliver the same value to attendees. However, when planned correctly, it is apparent this is an unfounded fear. As far back as 2010, a study found virtual events “extend the value of physical shows” and are “a complement or a logical extension to an existing show or physical event.”
In those early days, holding a virtual event felt a bit like Noah building an ark: it was bright and sunny with no rain in sight.
Frankly, the virtual events back then were clunky, unpredictable and many doubted if they would serve a purpose. Today, there is an opportunity for businesses and professionals to embrace the switch to virtual events. While it is being done out of necessity, innovation is taking place. Organizations are quickly learning how to better engage, educate, sell and conduct business through virtual formats. The expansion into virtual events may help organizations reach audiences that were not
Here are six tips to help virtual events succeed:
1. Develop A Playbook: Most professionals rush to try and discover what tool they should use to run their virtual event. Step back and instead think about what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to train or engage employees? Are you trying to retain customers through education or thought leadership? Are you a nonprofit trying to do a fundraiser? Depending on what you hope to achieve and depending on the assets you can leverage to accomplish those goals, the plan needs to be developed before selecting the online tool.
2. Consider Options: There are many types of virtual events. Is a webcasting format the right choice? Or is it a large event with break-out rooms and buyer/seller matchmaking capabilities? Often, organizations try to replicate the live event they have run before. Stop right there. Live events may not translate well in the virtual format. Also, if goals outlined in the playbook involve sponsor support or attendee fees, consider the right platform and constituent involvement. (Is the audience actively participating or are they listening to a speaker or panel?) There are many ways to deliver an event online and engage the intended audience. It is important to consider the spectrum of options.
3. Select the Right Tool: There are hundreds of virtual event tools and more being launched. Once the playbook is developed and options considered, the tool can be an easy and inexpensive decision. It is important to consider the audience in relation to the sophistication of the tool being used.
4. Consider Whether External Support is Needed: A virtual event can be a time consuming and distracting project. Every hour of a virtual event requires at least 20 hours of preparation. It’s important to think about business priorities, the focus of in-house staff and the technical and project management skills required for a virtual event. There are many organizations that focus specifically on running virtual events. Compare the cost for hiring an expert to the cost of using internal resources.
5. Plan and Practice: Rehearse every second of the “run of show.” Along every step of the planning, think about what could potentially go off track and prepare for each scenario with a contingency plan. Practice with presenters and conduct several dry runs of the virtual event.
6. Build Community Post-Event: The virtual event shouldn’t end when the last attendee signs off. This is just the beginning of nurturing a valuable engaged community for the organization. Review the post-event metrics and learn what topics or activities attracted the most attendee engagement, and build on that momentum with a blog post, social media activity, a white paper download or even the next virtual event.
Organizations thrive through customer, vendor and industry interaction. The pandemic does not mean this critical activity has to wait. Virtual events represent a unique opportunity to reach not only the organization’s audience in a different way but a much larger, global audience. Now is the time to pivot and unite people with shared interests and goals through virtual events. Even when live events become more prevalent, they will likely be a hybrid model with live and virtual access, providing NH organizations with greater access and reach than ever before.