Now that you have canceled your upcoming event or conference, how do you move to a digital event that provides the same kinds of benefits to participants? How do you meet your goals, inspire innovation and creativity, and provide networking opportunities?
We’ve seen announcements from companies like Salesforce, Apple, and Adobe as they’ve worked to move major events online. While a virtual event is a different experience, with the right kind of preparation and platform, you can take on this challenge and create an engaging experience that accomplishes your objectives.
Which to Host: Webinar, Video Conference or Virtual Event?
A webinar is a workshop delivered online. Often the presenter talks the audience through a series of slides or some other visual content and participants can ask questions over chat.
While this format was once popular, webinars are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Consumer expectations have changed dramatically, and interactivity is necessary to hold an audience captive. The average American reads only 15 minutes a day, yet watches 2 hours of video. Don’t count on high engagement if your plan is to read slides.
A video conference is two plus groups or people communicating over live video.
A well-produced video conference instead of a virtual event might be the move if your top priority is privacy and security. Financial firms, for example, often opt for this and go to extra lengths to up the production value in order to keep the format engaging.
Virtual events are multi-session online events with many attendees. They often include live video streams of speakers and interactive participation by the audience.
If you have decided on a virtual event, remember this: whatever in-person event you might have initially planned cannot be simply recreated as-is in a digital environment. Michael Piddock, Founder of Glisser advises, “Rather than trying to transport your in-person event to a digital format, start thinking about how you can redesign your event for a virtual space.”
Let’s start from the beginning, with your goals.
HOW TO PLAN A SUCCESSFUL VIRTUAL EVENT
3 Steps to Get Started
- Examine your initial goals and objectives.
Revisit your goal or goals. What did you plan to accomplish and is that goal still feasible and relevant, or do you need to revise your objectives?
- Redesign your objectives for the virtual environment.
Decide how you will accomplish your objectives in virtual space. You might need forums for 1-on-1 conversations, discussion groups, interactive panels, and keynote presentations for a large audience.
- Consider your audience.
Is your event B2B, B2C, external, internal? For B2B for example, provide a PDF of the materials you will be presenting ahead of time, so the audience can prep or follow along even if they lose their connection. A B2C usually requires more bells and whistles to entertain a larger audience.
3 Key Elements Focus On
Human moments are important because they allow people to connect. Maybe your child walks into the room while you are presenting to a group of people. Don’t stress—those unscripted moments can create empathy and connection. Things don’t have to be perfect—as long as the stream looks good, everyone can hear you, and you include interactive features, you will be successful.
(1) Live – Consider which elements of your event will be live and which will be prepared beforehand. “If it is not live, it’s not an event. You might as well put a video on YouTube,” says Piddock. Yet, while some live elements are necessary, anything that can be prepared beforehand without sacrificing engagement, should be. Sound Investment AV’s owner Peter Vanek urges event planners to increase production value and pre-record some elements in order to achieve the polish that will make your event stand out. The casual from-the-living format we’ve experienced over the past few weeks is now becoming cliche. Some additional tips and tricks from Vanek: Let your audience know which elements are pre-recorded and keep your clothing consistent throughout the pre-recorded and live video clips.
(2) Engagement –The human element is paramount. Make interaction, participation and engagement with your audience a priority. You need participants to contribute, which not only inspires creative thinking but leads to follow-on networking. If you do incorporate pre-recorded parts, make sure the Q&A element is live so the audience can engage with the speaker. Also consider including a Twitter feed that the presenter can interact with in real-time. Remember that there will be enough to manage during the live event, so you’ll be grateful for everything you planned for ahead of time.
(3) Video & Audio – The video experience is a fundamental part of every successful digital event. Melissa Matlins, VP of B2B Marketing at Vimeo, says, “Great audio and video are table stakes, particularly in this moment in time. But be aware that these are going to be more difficult to achieve now that producers are home and without studio access.” Vanek adds to make sure lighting and backdrop are well-considered, and speakers avoid shadows under their eyes, reflective eyeglasses and distracting clothing. Make sure guests’ mics are set to be muted when appropriate. Lastly, moderators are a necessary safeguard to keep the event running smoothly.
Virtual Event Types
(1) Experiential Marketing Campaign
Consider what you can bring into the home of your audience member for them so they can have a physical experience. One company sent a bottle of wine to each guest for a remote wine tasting. Another sent flowers. “Marketers are so creative and can come up with new experiences to bring to their guests. Right now it’s just about working around the constraints of COVID-19 to determine what still might be possible,” says Matlins.
(2) Customer Training Event
Customer-to-customer education can be powerful. While competing among so many web-based, one-to-many experiences, you might opt for a more community-based approach. Does your training need to be done by you or could it be held between peers? Think about how during Q&As on live streams customers often answer each others’ questions before the speaker can reply. This might inspire you to think about how your business can unlock and share knowledge within the group you hope to train.
(3) Employee Event
To mitigate our current state of isolation, increase the frequency of employee events. Vimeo’s meet-everyone’s-pets event was a hit. Next, they are doing a best virtual background contest. In these stressful times, it is very important that you communicate often.
(4) Educational Event
Online educational content has been around for a long time, but the widespread need for it right now changes one key element: community. While online learning was relegated to self-selected groups who were interested in remote learning, some members of today’s larger audience might be more resistant to sit down alone and learn. Do live teaching that incorporates interactivity.
(5) Field Marketing Event
Make your content very specific. Focus on creating the right information for a small but focused audience. If you have people with a lot in common coming together, you can achieve intimacy and meaningful interaction.
From video conference products that are effective for single sessions and smaller events to products that handle large groups and authentically replicate elements of a physical environment, there are tech solutions for every event.
Zoom is a remote conferencing services company that combines video conferencing, online meetings, chat, and mobile collaboration. The platform provides options like video webinars, and business IM. Zoom’s personal, small-scale video chat platform has become particularly popular since the rise of the corona-virus.
Vimeo focuses on a one-to-many livestreaming experience and has some of the best video and audio capability out there. “Live streaming is hard enough, so we focus on the video and audio really working well. You can also take your stream or event and put it wherever you like, embedding it on your website, Facebook Live, LinkedIn Live or YouTube. We are neutral on where you would like to push it,” says Matlins.
Run the World is an event platform that enables people to hold frequent online meetings. The company can handle event logistics, promotion, web marketing, and ticket sales. According to Run the World Chief of Staff, Skye Belote, “Really, the key differentiators between us and other platforms are that you are able to build out your own profile and use a video chat feature similar to Instagram Live, as well as bring conversations to DM. An eclectic mix of industries use our platform—from sports, to media, to Fortune 500 companies, as well as influencers, like podcasters, musicians, and comedians.“
Hopin is an all-in-one live online events platform. Their mission is to bring the world together without harming it. Their belief is that the same great benefits of physical events — that great connection you randomly bumped into in the lunch line or that book recommendation from a breakout session speaker — can be had virtually without harming the environment.
Glisser is an audience engagement platform designed for in-person, hybrid and remote events. The product works for 20-person training sessions to 10,000-person town hall meetings and conferences. Glisser can provide multiple concurrent streams so the experience feels more like an in-person event. The company’s differentiator is its content-sharing and easy-to-use features. “We consider exactly what’s needed for a specific event and then streamline the product. We don’t try to over complicate the process,” says Piddock.
Don’t forget to consider what happens after your virtual event. There are certainly people who couldn’t join your online event who still have a desire for the content or the community. Break your content into accessible chunks for viewers who want to access specific information and continue to market it on social media.
Even before coronavirus, over the past few years there has been a digital element to almost all large-scale events. Going forward, there will only be more online events in place of those in-person. In light of the challenges, use this opportunity to hone your experience delivering digital-first experiences. It will be an investment you’ll be glad you made.