Don’t abandon your big event.
Though the current COVID-19 situation is making it impossible to gather in large groups, that doesn’t make professional events any less important for your business. For individuals, they offer an essential opportunity to connect with others in the industry. For businesses, they provide a sales boost through lead generation and strengthening connections with existing accounts. Professional events are even important to the growth of your industry as a whole as they provide a place where new ideas can emerge, evolve and spread.
The Rise of Digital Events
Thankfully, online event platforms were already on the rise. The movement of many business, communication and social transactions into the digital space means there are plenty of avenues for you to transition your in-person conference to an online version that are just as effective.
When you start thinking about moving your event online, however, the logistics can seem overwhelming. How is digital event planning different? What new challenges will I need to consider? What are the advantages to going digital? What tools do I need to make it all work?
This article will help you answer all these questions — providing tips, tricks and tools for hosting a successful online event.
Advantages of Going Virtual for Events
Transitioning your real-world event to an online version doesn’t have to involve lowering your expectations. In fact, there are several advantages that digital events offer over their in-person counterparts (even beyond the ability to attend in your sweats).
- Wider reach – Any in-person venue will limit the capacity for attendance, whereas the attendance potential of online spaces is virtually limitless.
- Easier access – Travel time and cost can be a burden to many professionals, so hosting the event online will make their lives easier and provide access to more people.
- Less expense – There is the potential to see significant savings on venue, travel, refreshment, collateral, security and entertainment costs.
- Long-term availability – There is no reason to tear down and make way for the next event. The online space can be yours to keep, offering a place to archive and add content.
- Ongoing community – By hosting interactive spaces, you can create an online community that lives on for long after the initial event.
7 basics for hosting digital events
Choose the right format for presenting content
From panels to keynotes to demos, sharing content is the core of most professional events. You have many software options when it comes to choosing the right presentation style for your audience. Platforms like Facebook Live and YouTube Live give attendees a real-time way to ask questions, give feedback and feel involved. Webinars offer a proven model for broadcasting information that is potentially in-depth and/or complex. Meeting platforms like Zoom have emerged as a great way to make virtual sessions feel intimate.
Beyond choosing your presentation software, decide if you want the core event content to be live, pre-recorded or a combination of both. There are benefits to both choices.
- Live streaming: This may seem like the obvious choice since it most closely replicates the real-time interaction and energy of a keynote speaker or panel. It can be a very effective way to replace in-person presentations and sessions.
- Pre-recorded: Pre-recorded sessions may lack the energy of a live stream, but they make up for it with better production value, quality control and shareability. Any live presentation has the potential to be plagued by technical difficulties or even presenter nervousness. Pre-produced content gives more opportunity for practice and editing. It also allows attendees more freedom to personalize their experience around their interests and schedules.
Partner with experts
Hosting a large virtual event requires the seamless integration of many moving parts. You’ll need to coordinate content and schedules with presenters, moderators, vendors and sponsors. You’ll need specialized technology like virtual meeting rooms, chat functionality and integrated live streaming. And you’ll need registration and payment processing capabilities.
If you try to take it all on yourself, things can get overwhelming fast. Find trusted partners to help you handle the logistical and technical aspects of setting up a virtual event so you can focus on what you know best — sharing industry knowledge and connecting experts in your field. There are platforms and agencies that specialize in trade shows, sales meetings, conventions and more. Explore what is available and select the option that best suits your event goals.
Create opportunities for vendors and sponsors
Those who are making a significant investment of time and money in the event may worry that they are losing value with a digital version. Help them get the same return on their investment as the live event by offering creative ways to get their brand in front of attendees and participants.
Just like an in-person event, you can create areas and materials to show off your partners’ products and brands. The hub website could feature their logo, virtual booths can house their content, a video could include a “sponsored by” bumper, or a speaker could include a mention in their presentation. Digital events also have the added benefit of being able to link directly to the sponsor or vendor’s own website.
Facilitate personal connections
Networking and personal connections are a big part of in-person events. So even for a digital event, you should provide ways for attendees to interact with one another just like they would when face-to-face. Here are some ways to do that:
- Live stream chat – This is a great way to simulate a live presentation where attendees get to interact with the experts.
- Community managers – Assemble a team who is familiar with the topics and tools to provide assistance, encourage participation and monitor contributions.
- Communication hub – Provide a place like a Slack board or message board for attendees to connect anytime and discuss event topics.
- Informal video chats – Use Zoom or another meeting platform to host happy hours where guests can interact in a more casual atmosphere.
Get the word out
There is a good chance your usual sponsors, vendors, speakers and attendees assume that your event is cancelled, so get the word out ASAP. Start by reaching out to past participants to let them know that you are going forward in virtual form, then think about targeting new audiences that may have been locked out of an in-person event due to time, cost, distance or venue capacity.
When marketing your shift to a digital event, make sure you are clear about what opportunities are available to attendees and participants. Your audience might be skeptical about the ability of a digital event to match the value of an in-person event, so it is critical to let them know the steps you are taking to make it worthwhile to attend. Whether it’s networking opportunities for attendees or advertising opportunities for sponsors, be sure to spell out the benefits and the creative ways you’re offering them.
Teach attendees and participants how it works
It's important to remember that many people are unfamiliar with navigating virtual events, so do everything you can to make the transition easy on everyone. Aside from access to a reliable internet connection and keeping registration credentials handy, participants may need to download special software or learn to use an unfamiliar interface.
Important opportunities to network could be missed if guests don’t know when to connect. Carefully crafted content could be overlooked if attendees don’t know how and when to access it. Making sure everyone is comfortable with the platform and familiar with the event schedule is an important step in ensuring attendees take advantage of every opportunity and get the most value.
A great way to do this is with a tutorial video that plays upon initial login and is always accessible. Remember that this is content that could also be sponsored!
Don’t forget the fun
From morning yoga to official after parties, in-person professional events aren’t all business. Your virtual event doesn’t have to be, either. Incorporate games and entertainment to add interest and help make memories.
Musical performances, either pre-recorded or live streamed, can translate very well to virtual events. Online exercise classes are a great added value and a way for people to bond over a shared outside-of-work interest. A scavenger hunt is a fun, easy way to encourage guests to interact with more content.
One unique option that is beneficial for guests, vendors, sponsors and hosts alike is a reward system connected to an online redemption site. Attendees can earn points for interacting with event content; this can be anything from watching a webinar, to asking a panel question, to visiting a vendor “booth.” They can then spend their points on a dedicated redemption site for event-related swag! Vendors and sponsors can add products to the site or add their brand to existing items. It’s a fun way to add value and take full advantage of the digital space.
Virtual Event Quick Tips
Now that you have the basics, here are a few tips and tricks to help make your event more memorable.
Try something new
Unprecedented times are the time to set new precedents. There is no established blueprint yet to dictate (or limit) the elements of your event. If there is some new tech you’ve been wanting to try or if lack of venue costs have freed up some room in your event budget, it’s a good time to go for it. Here are some things you could incorporate:
- Virtual and augmented reality
- Video games
- Content creation contests
Don’t forgo the swag
An event just wouldn’t be the same without the free stuff. Whether you decide to offer digital freebies or you simply mail out your swag bag, don’t forget that this is part of the fun.
Exclusives are still important
Though your digital event is more about inclusivity and access, there is still opportunity to tap into the allure of exclusive items. Hosts, vendors and sponsors can attract attention by offering limited-time, event-exclusive merchandise to buy online.
At GO2, we’re working with clients to transition many of their premier professional events into digital spaces. Contact us so we can put our knowledge and expertise to work for you!