Virtual Events were already tipped to be the next big thing in events marketing at the start of the year before the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown conditions have sped up what was already for some a transition in progress.
Many of you will likely have already hosted some form of virtual event, or if not are actively considering one. As marketers the importance of face-to-face contact with our partners and customers has always been of vital importance and in person events have long been a major tool for achieving lead generation and providing touch points with our audience. The loss of these opportunities has been difficult for all of us, but the truth is virtual events can be more effective and valuable than in-person events. Yes, you read the right, and here are ten tips to get the most out of yours.
- One note of caution from the outset – it is more work to hold a virtual event. Adequate pre-planning and rehearsals are essential. Ensure the technical aspects are all fine-tuned, and that you have adequate back up plans should any issues arise.
- When it comes to Virtual Events, less is often more. It is better to not think about a straightforward transition of an in person event into the virtual space, rather work with the tools you have at your disposal and lean into the uniqueness of this situation. Condense and deliver fewer individual sessions within your event and place a greater focus on interaction. Have a straightforward agenda and aim to keep all sessions to around the 45 minute mark.
- Expand your pool of speakers. With geography no longer a barrier to who you have speaking, consider bringing in national and even international speakers. This added diversity in thought leadership is another potential unique quality of virtual events. The same can apply to your attendees and help expand the reach of your brand.
- Choose your time carefully. This goes without saying for any event, regardless of platform, but demands on people’s time are different during lockdown. Their browser may be open but they may be simultaneously working; watching children; tending to a barking dog etc. Integrate breaks for participants to leave their computer as well as for networking virtual chats or one-on-one meetings.
- Have a sponsor for your event? Track the impressions that sponsors made on the audience. This is not always possible for in-person events – how can you accurately estimate the number of people who saw a sponsor’s banner? That data is available to you in the virtual formats. The virtual format also gives sponsors the opportunity to hold more one-to-one meetings with customers. Its possible if not probable for a sponsor to receive a far better ROI for a virtual event compared to an in-person one.
- Personalize! Make sure attendees do not just feel they are staring at a screen. Make the mood convivial and inclusive. Encourage interaction for attendees both with speakers and each other. Virtually every online platform has interactive features. Ask attendees to submit questions in the chat feature (ensure you have one of your team moderating this). Most platforms also allow you to track attendee engagement – i.e. if they have the screen active. This can help you tailor your content and adapt it to meet your participants’ needs.
- Actively promote the event as you would with an in-person event, building 3-4 weeks into your timeline to do this. Make sure the value proposition is clear in your marketing and offer unique incentives. Encourage your speakers to promote to their individual audiences. To help drive attendance continue to engage registered participants in the weeks leading up to the event. During the event itself encourage participation and word of mouth marketing by creating an event hashtag for attendees to discuss topics raised on social media.
- How do you recreate the experience of networking and making connections? This is eminently possible with a virtual event but it does require more intention as this interaction would often happen informally at in person events. Hold small breakout group sessions; push challenges out to participants and generally encourage collaboration.
- Virtual events offer a good opportunity to reduce overheads and increase ROI, but there are some supplementary ‘frills’ that can still give your event a premium feel, particularly if you are charging for attendee registration. Consider ordering catering to be sent remotely to attendees to keep them engaged and feel appreciated. Same goes with goodie bags.
- Think long term. We all hope to be able to engage with each other safely in the physical space soon, but virtual events should not be viewed simply as a stop-gap during lockdown conditions. As mentioned previously, event marketing was already heading in that direction and we should all be looking to continuously improve and develop the virtual event experience, and make it work for all of us whatever the scenario.
Here at Baltimore Sun Media we have already hosted webinars and have several virtual events lined up – be sure to reach out to find out more.