Countless events have altered their event experience from in-person to virtual with the increasing number of COVID infections, lockdowns, and country rules. The not-so-new trend of hosting events online is finally in action and will stay at the top in the coming future. And, the most important aspect for every organizer to stand out from the rest is to not follow the playbook.
While the attendees and even the organizers will not let go of the preconceived notion of how online events must be conducted, it is important that we keep an open mind and be ready to trial and test.
Ben Chodor, president of Intrado Digital Media, the company that owns INXPO says, “Planners need to let go of the idea that they can execute their virtual event with the same agenda and formats as they did in-person.”
Tiffany Jachja, technical evangelist of Harness says,
Before, most conferences had a well-defined way to create an interactive and engaging experience for attendees. You could roam the exhibition booths, attend networking events, or chat in the hallway. The physical space and other people facilitated many of these micro and organic interactions. Today we have to ask ourselves what happens when you’re not physically present to share a message.
With so much to cater to and bring something exciting to the table, it is important that organizers follow some basic rules and tweak the events system to provide an experience that is unbeatable. In this article, we list 6 best practices that will shape the future of virtual events, even when in-person conferences return.
1. Human Experience In The Virtual World
People tend to lose interest in events that are robotic and lame. In-person events have been very engaging for all the attendees because of many factors—the obvious ones are being able to interact with fellow participants, communicate with the speakers, discover opportunities, and many more. But with the inception of the virtual events, there are many limitations to accessing these benefits, and attendees now expect a more human touch at the events.
MIT Sloan CIO Symposium moved to the virtual MIT Sloan CIO Digital Learning Series for 2020. The executive chair of the event, Allen Tate, was not sure if the audience would pivot along with them. Rather than conducting one day of in-person events, the series was broken down into five episodes which would be available to the viewers over a span of several months. This method kept the viewers engaged and intrigued them to come back to the series on the date of its release. Tate says, “For a virtual format, I prefer smaller panels to give each speaker more time to engage with each other and go into more depth with their answers.”
With smaller panels of speakers, the audience observes a delightful conversation, thus enjoying a significant experience, and increased attention.
2. Keep An Eye On Your Technology
No matter how great your content is, if the platform goes down during the event, all your efforts go down. This technical fault not only results in attendee dropouts but will also affect the flow of your speakers and disturb the equilibrium. And the falling of your event will neither be accounted for by the content or the speakers, but the attendees will only remember the technical shortfall.
To avoid an unwanted situation, it is best that you try multiple virtual event platforms, solutions, or partners. When you leverage multiple technology solutions, you can implement multiple ways to engage with your attendees and provide them with an exceptional experience.
When you work with one solution or partner for sign-ups, ticket sales, etc., for the event registration process, you risk the entire process. If the solution goes down, you may just end up wasting your attendees’ time. It is best that you approach multiple partners for different areas of event functionalities to have better control over the flow and create interesting elements.
Jess Bahr, senior director of Growth, and Cait Law, senior manager of field and event marketing at NS1, say,
When we initially started sourcing vendors to host our virtual events, we looked for one platform that would handle everything–from the sign up and ticket sales to hosting the videos to replays and everything in between. What we found is that there are a lot of great platforms out there that handle specific components and integrate with others. Just like there is no single vendor that handles every component of an in-person conference, there is no perfect one-stop-shop tech for running a virtual event.
3. Focus On Production Quality
Time is valuable, and no attendee will trade their time for a sub-standard virtual event experience. While it is important that you provide the flexibility to all your attendees to interact with each other, they will also look forward to engaging with the speakers or the organizers. But it is again important that you listen to the attendees and answer their queries correctly and promptly. If you are not interested in learning about their concerns or doubts, you may lose their trust and create a gap.
It is of utmost importance that you create interesting event topics, involve top-notch speakers, engage the audience, run plenty of polls, take feedback, and provide an exceptional experience.
The executive chair of the event for MIT Sloan CIO Digital Learning Series for 2020, Allen Tate says, “Everyone is trying to go virtual so there is an abundance of content. People remain busy during the pandemic, so make the most of everyone’s time.”
4. Improvise Ways To Connect Your Attendees
Many virtual event attendees believe that in-person events are the best because they get to meet people, shake hands, talk over a cup of coffee, and interact with anybody they want and like. But the virtual events do not provide them the flexibility to interact with fellow participants and open up.
It is important that organizers provide such feasibilities to the attendees to increase engagement. Organizers can use breakout rooms, 1:1 meetings, interactive speaker sessions, and create fun-focused activities to drive engagement.
Ben Chodor says, “Right now, event organizers have an opportunity to drive connections for people who have been working from home and craving inspiration, motivation, and the chance to talk to industry peers.”
5. Engage With Your Audience Before, During, And After The Event
Successful event best practices include engaging with your audience at every stage of their interaction with your event. Reach out to your audience and maintain open communication. Answer their queries, take feedback, and conduct surveys to learn about their experience at your event.
Make it easy for the attendees to join, participate, and interact in the event. Send them follow-up emails and reminders, craft a proper flow of the audience journey. Be with your audience during the event and help them find answers to their queries.
Post-event, don’t leave your audience unattended. If the audience was happy with the virtual event you conducted, you can approach the audience for an upcoming event. This way you can upsell your events to the same audience and help create a brand image.
6. Evolve With Your Metrics
The way organizers define success may differ; how they have defined their success metrics in the past differs from the metrics that are used today. When an entire event moves from in-person to virtual, it is the organizer’s responsibility to evolve the metrics that help to check the results.
As Tiffany Jachja says,
Sometimes we define success by the number of attendees or registrants. Those can vary greatly for every conference. A new virtual industry event may not have the same reach as a conference with three or four years of hosting physical events. Focusing on the specific outcomes of the event is more rewarding than forcing the numbers. Outcomes to consider include increased brand awareness, new business meetings booked, and expansion of your community.
Virtual events are still new to most of the organizations and the attendees. While the audience is struggling to adjust to the new norm, organizations are working hard to grab eyeballs and intrigue the listeners. While the above-listed ways are still new to industry leaders, it is time that we try and test the ways to check for their authenticity.
- How to run virtual events: 6 best practices