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Our current global situation is far from ideal thanks to the pandemic. Physical events have been temporarily sidelined, but with quarantines and closures we all feel more of a drive than ever to meet, be social, learn, and connect with one another.
Events have gone 100% virtual out of sheer necessity, and we're all ready for the day when it is safe to meet in person again. But even when that day does come, don't count on virtual events fading. The fact is, they've been on the rise for some time now, and they're a big part of what the future is going to look like thanks to the evolution of live events.
Fully virtual events — as well as hybrid events, which offer both an in-person event as well as a digital component — are a perfect solution to combine the best of live event experience with the digital engagement people crave. Beyond effective marketing, going virtual is an excellent way to further monetize an event, efficiently reach a global audience, and give event content new life even after the physical event is over.
So it’s time to embrace virtual events, because they're not going anywhere. However, executing a successful virtual or hybrid event is much more than turning on a camera or downloading a live streaming mobile app. By following these actionable dos and don’ts, you’ll be on your way to providing your audience an extraordinary experience.
Virtual events typically range from strictly online experiences, which could be anything from a live-streamed broadcast, to a fully online conference, to more hybrid events, which merge the energy of an onsite audience with the engagement of remote participants.
One thing to note is that not all virtual event provider or platform are built the same. It’s important to find a partner who can deliver your brand’s goals and vision. Do you require distribution technology that can store and broadcast content to audiences both locally and globally? Would you benefit from an e-commerce space for your content? Do you need video conferencing functionality or does your content need to integrate with social media? As with any cutting-edge solution, the more questions you ask the clearer your production's vision will become.
It's also important to note that preparing for a virtual event doesn't utilize the same RFP process that an in-person event would use. Different, digital-specific questions need to be asked to make sure you've got a provider and platform that will fit your needs. Make sure you are prepared with an RFP template like this one.
Using the right tool is important, but you should not forget that technology is simply the medium used to create a larger narrative. Bill Gates famously said, “content is king,” and that is still relevant in a competitive landscape with more skeptical crowds. But sitting in an adjacent throne, context is now queen. People are busier than ever and being confined to live, work, and play at home means there are new distractions and responsibilities in play. Give people a story that resonates and make it interesting enough to hook them into committing to an online event.
And past content and context, the format matters just as much, too. Virtual events won't be successful if they're just a direct translation of a physical event's content. Especially in today's world, it isn't realistic to expect attendees to be at their computer for eight hours a day, four days straight. Keeping content for a virtual event short is key, with plenty of opportunities in between sessions or keynotes for things like networking, VIP meetings, and fun activities like yoga, music and movement for families (ideal with kids who are doing virtual school at home with working parents!), virtual happy hours, special interest meetings, and more.
Just because an event is virtual doesn't mean the content has to be nothing but videos and presentations. Get creative — and if you need help strategizing, find a virtual event partner who can help you with content strategy and virtual audience engagement.
The days of passive audiences are over — audiences are more likely to engage with brands and organizations when it’s a two-way conversation. Therefore, it’s crucial to allow for audience involvement in the form of online Q&A, polls, or even quizzes. Make sure your virtual event platform includes networking capabilities, such as 1:1 chat, discussion forums, breakout rooms, and more.
At a hybrid event, consider tapping into a second screen solution to boost engagement on site and online. Try interviewing an attendee and letting them be the star during a streamed session, or get a large group involved in a dynamic chat room. What matters is letting presenters and audiences have the most intimate relationship possible.
Repurposing content is the smart way to keep an event going long after it’s over, whether that’s in person or online. Ask yourself how can you continue to leverage the content in different digital channels. Some examples include producing bite-size videos for YouTube, recap blog posts, sharable slides, and audio content for iTunes or other podcast outlets. Your virtual event platform may even have features that help you manage your on-demand event library.
Of course, providing sessions or speaker content behind paywalls can greatly help manage costs, and audiences seldom have a problem paying for what is relevant and valuable. What’s important is that your virtual event is part of a year-round marketing strategy — 365, 24/7. That's where we know the future of events is heading, with in-person and live events working alongside content and digital marketing in an integrated experience approach that lets attendees interact when and how they prefer.
Audiences come first, but sponsors are the backbone of events — including virtual events. Sponsors can easily be woven into webinars, videos, livestreams, websites and microsites, parts of the virtual event platform, digital marketing, social media, and more.
Package levels can be developed that come with different commitments and price points, as well as different levels of engagement and ROI. A blend of large sponsorship packages and customized items will help you reach a wide selection of potential sponsors.
Digital is second to none when it comes to capturing specific lead information and audience data. Most of all, it will help your brand’s ROI and optimize KPIs. Some virtual event platforms and providers even offer built-in dashboards or support that can break down your audience and event performance, and make the story easier to tell.
And don't forget to keep this in mind, too: just like with a virtual event strategy, the measurements of success for a virtual event are not the same as those of an in-person event, so the results might look different than you're used to. Ask your partner to help you understand what to expect, and set those same expectations with your leadership so they'll be able to truly appreciate the value of your virtual event.
Our best practices for transitioning your live event online
Best practices to create excitement for your next event — online
Our primer on choosing the right software