The world as we know has changed dramatically over the past few months. Work environments have shifted to homes, business travel has bottomed out, and organisations have found themselves wondering how to avoid cancelling events. More and more, when faced with the event crisis management choices of cancel, postpone or virtualise, event organisers are opting to shift their in-person events to the virtual arena.
For the meetings and events industry, the switch to this new format brings its own pros and cons. Virtual events are no doubt a powerful, low-cost medium to connect with prospects, engage customers and contribute to community building. Whether it’s a webinar, conference or an online course, event organisers can leverage great content to reach out to people around the world, regardless of their location. However, due to the very nature of these online formats, there are some real challenges associated with hosting your events online.
- Chances of low attendee engagement, as there are more distractions at home
- Absence of deep, immersive attendee experiences, because there are no real-world sensory elements involved
- Inability to provide a personal touch for post-event follow up
- Reduced level of networking opportunities for attendees
The key to making your virtual events successful lies in identifying the elements you can optimise to create rich, engaging experiences. What worked for your in-person events may not translate well in virtual formats e.g. large scale, awe-inspiring keynote programmes won’t necessarily have the same impact if attempted on a computer screen.
Keeping this in mind, here are 7 things you should do to create successful virtual events:
#7 Do a thorough check on your audio-visual setup
At a virtual event, the only way for attendees and speakers to interact is through audio and video. If there is an issue with either one of these things, you could risk attendees becoming frustrated and switching off. So, you need to make sure your AV equipment is in top working condition on the day of your event. While a simple setup will work for a webinar, more high-end equipment could be required for a virtual conference that has different speakers and multiple sessions.
Determine your production needs – whether you have backup headphones, top-quality mics, multiple screens, highspeed internet etc. On the event day, do a dry run and check in advance the AV quality, screen sharing, private messaging in chats, audience Q&A, and quick logins to ensure it all comes together perfectly when the event is underway.
#6 Develop interactive content to engage your audience
At any event, be it in-person or virtual, it’s very easy to get attention fatigue. This happens mainly when the content is a one-way deluge of information, facts and stats that a person could get bored with pretty quickly. To keep your attendees engaged, you need to develop interactive, shareable content that grabs their attention and is easy to consume.
One way to overcome this is by designing interesting polls, quizzes or interactions that empathise with your audience or provides them advantageous insights for their business or maybe even connect with them on a personal level. Check out ‘The Invisible Workload of Event Planners’ as a great example of such content.
You can also gamify your event through a mobile event app, offer sponsored prizes for contests, or come up with snackable content pieces like short videos to craft a compelling narrative aligned with your audience’s interests.
#5 Create customised presentations optimised for virtual events
If you’ve decided to shift your in-person event entirely online, then you need to first take a pause and understand how you can leverage your content for virtual events. The chances are you’ve already produced a lot of content that you can easily switch up and use for your virtual events. The key here is to remember to optimise the content each channel of delivery. That’s because the way speakers connect with the audience through gestures and visual cues won’t work in the virtual environment. You will need to modify your slide decks to include animations, polls, and videos that can convey emotion and drive home the point, which otherwise might not be possible via a digital medium.
#4 Offer incentives
In the current scenario, most restaurants and bars are closed, but delivery services are still available. If you have a lunch-n-learn scheduled to go online or a virtual conference with multiple sessions, you could maybe send your attendees a gift card for lunch delivery. Offering such incentives demonstrates your generosity in tough circumstances and goes a long way in building and strengthening your relationship with prospects and customers through the year.
#3 Have a dedicated Q&A session
In virtual events, it’s not possible to just walk up to the speaker at the end of a session and ask questions. It’s recommended to have a short, dedicated Q&A session at the end of every presentation so attendees can ask any additional questions or gain more information on particular topics.
#2 Provide exclusive takeaways
While virtual events will certainly be an important part of the events industry in the future, it’s tough to see them replacing in-person events altogether. That’s because the perceived value of an event increases significantly during physical meetups, especially when hosted in unique, picturesque venues. Replicating the same experience for remote attendees is not possible for obvious reasons, but you can still create a favourable impression by offering virtual event swag. This can include exclusive downloads of eBooks, digital coupons, vouchers, or access to early trials of your latest software. Make sure you highlight all your exclusive content offerings in emails and social ads to create maximum hype for your event.
#1 Choose a virtual event solution that works for you
Finally, you need to select the virtual event solution that will work the best for your event. Do a pre-event survey with your attendees to decide what videoconferencing services they prefer e.g. Zoom, Webex, On24 etc. Some might be more suited for informal gatherings while others could work better with large, corporate events and offer mobile support. With virtual events, selecting the best technology provider should be your top priority as it goes a long way to providing the right experiences for your virtual attendees. You must select a platform that offers the desired integrations, cybersecurity, event app, chatbots and more that will enable you to meet your event objectives.
You are probably dealing with a wealth of new technology so working with partners with the right level of experience can save you a great deal of time and stress. The process of collect event registrations, checking attendees in, collecting feedback and generating post-event reports should be done with ease and without any manual headaches.
This handy checklist will set you on track to create a successful, engaging online event. If you’re looking for more detailed insights on various aspects of a virtual event, download ‘The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Events’.