By: Emily Wolfe
Event Manager, Riskalyze
There’s no doubt that this year has been riddled with curveballs, and the live events landscape is no exception. The way we plan, host, and attend events has drastically changed in 2020 and certainly will impact events for the next few years to come. I don’t know about you, but the next concert I see in person will feel akin to walking on the moon.
And although so many of us were faced with tough decisions to cancel, postpone, or completely change the direction of our usual events, we’ve all learned a great deal about how truly important it is for our network to still feel connected. As our lives slowly adapt to the “new normal,” so must our approach to hosting exceptional event experiences.
Sounds easy, right?
The sobering reality is that we are now competing against new players for audience attention. Your attendees may be teaching math classes to their kids, answering emails, stepping out to walk the dog, or tackling that load of laundry that’s been in the corner for a week (No? Just me?).
Our new work-from-home lives are besieged with distractions. And the most formidable opponent of them all? Virtual event fatigue.
So how do we make the most of our resources to create fantastic events that will actually keep attendees engaged?
Audiences are hungry for more than just your average last-minute Zoom call (sorry Zoom, we still love you). And after several months of our own research, planning, and trial and error, we’ve been able to craft these 10 tips to help you maximize your time and resources while reaching your audience in a meaningful way to produce great outcomes for your organization.
1. Virtual events will not replace real-life experiences.
Your virtual event, awesome as you may make it, will never completely replace the experience of physically being in the same room with your attendees. It’s unfair to expect it to.
We wish we could take what has worked for our in-person events and simply plop this online, but it just doesn’t work. To avoid disappointing your participants and yourselves, it’s best to take a fresh look at the “why” behind your event and avoid replicating a purely digital version. Create an opportunity for your virtual event to shine and be something unique from your previously hosted in-person experiences.
2. Identify your business objectives. Stay the course.
What are your business objectives for your event? Is it to create new revenue streams, engage with your customer base, or maybe expand into untapped markets? Whatever your purpose is for your event, this should be built in tandem to the needs of your audience. You want them to see value in your event, gain new knowledge, and invest time (and money) into your business.
3. Prioritize your audience’s needs.
Sure, you want to hit your goals and have a killer event, but you can only do so if you have attendees that want to participate. Why should someone attend, and what will they gain? You want your event to be a highlight of their week, month, or even year, not something they regret attending.
Here are key elements to think about to prioritize your audience’s needs:
- Incorporate coffee, bathroom, and lunch breaks. Despite being online, these are absolutely still needed.
- Limit sessions to 45 minutes, with most 30 minutes or less. Attendees aren’t paying attention to an hour long keynote online - keep it short, sweet, and to the point!
- Consider breaking your event up over multiple days. If your content is covering more than 5 hours, we highly recommend splitting this into additional days.
- Have live chat, even if your sessions are pre-recorded. Attendees want to engage with you and each other and that’s great news! You want participatory viewers, so make sure to turn on chat boxes and have a team at the ready to answer questions on camera or in the chat box.
- Set aside dedicated time within the schedule for attendees to visit your digital Sponsor booths if you have them. Your sponsors will thank you, and your attendees will have extra time to explore without missing all your great content.
4. Build the right team.
So many of us are very new to virtual events in general. Because of this, we may or may not have all of the talent or bandwidth internally to take on the tasks necessary to execute an online event. In fact, some virtual events can be a full live broadcast and may require a robust team to execute this successfully. Engage a production partner if you don’t have the support in-house.
Here are a few roles you might need to fill internally or outsource:
- Dedicated Event Manager
- Content Creators
- Video Producer(s)
- Sponsor Relationship Manager
- Speaker Relationship Manager
5. Involve your sponsors and partners.
Your sponsors will need to know the value that your event offers to them. We recommend involving your top partners or sponsors from the beginning, as their input can play a huge role in how your event content and style are shaped.
Here are suggestions for maximizing your sponsor experience:
- Make visibility and data access your biggest value adds
- Provide real-time access to session views and booth visitors
- Identify keynote, panel, and breakout session speaking opportunities
- Create a virtual exhibit hall environment for your sponsors to upload whitepapers, videos, and other marketing materials. Include the ability for them to live chat or connect with your attendees
- Provide data that matters, like by-the-minute session viewership, # of visits to the booth, length of stay in booth, and number of downloads for marketing materials
- Remember that your Sponsors are probably new to this too! Create thoughtful, detailed deliverable timelines, instructions, and how-to content for them to prepare
6. Pick an event platform/environment that suits your needs.
This task can be a doozy and one size does not fit all! Virtual event platform providers are in a mad dash to create new solutions, as the need has increased due to the pandemic. There are now hundreds of online event platforms vying for your business. To avoid hours of searching down the wrong path, prioritize what you’re looking for before you start any conversations.
Do you need a sponsor exhibit hall or is this unnecessary? Are you looking to host multiple break out rooms or singular sessions back-to-back? Will you need incredibly detailed viewership data or simply a list of attendees? These questions and others all help you narrow down which options to pursue and where to put your dollars.
Reach out to your network for recommendations, schedule multiple demos with potential partners, and even ask to attend other events they are hosting to experience the platform for yourself!
7. Select exceptional speakers and content.
The biggest draw to your event will be your speakers and unique session content. Now is the time to think through what would be most meaningful to your audience. A helpful thing to remember is that notable speakers will bring registrations while meaningful education and training opportunities will keep attendees engaged throughout the event.
Decide whether you’re planning to have structured keynotes, off-the-cuff panel discussions, tailored breakout sessions, or all of the above! We highly recommend having a mix of different session styles to keep your audience tuned in.
Utilize your talented internal teams to create a roster of speakers, extend invites to your network to participate, or work closely with your sponsors to select content that will wow. Consider time zone differences as you structure your content and determine whether or not you will repeat sessions.
8. Engage your audience with creative networking opportunities.
There are virtual event platforms that offer networking “matchmaking” algorithms which can help your attendees find one another based on common interests and goals. You can also create experiences to delight your audience and allow them to unwind. Offering early morning yoga classes or a live band during a cocktail hour can add value to your event and set it apart from the competition.
9. Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse.
Oh, and did we mention rehearsing? None of us want to see a session go awry because of tech issues with a laptop or because a speaker couldn’t log into the platform you selected. Schedule a dry-run of keynotes and breakouts ahead of time, especially if you’re planning to host sessions live.
Here are suggestions for setting yourself, and your speakers, up for success:
- Schedule a dry-run of keynotes and breakouts ahead of time, especially if you’re planning to host sessions live.
- Create and share a list of recommendations for speakers and if you’re able to, mail them lights or microphones/headphones to use during their sessions.
- Ask all speakers to tune in early to their sessions so you can do another quick test of their connectivity, audio, and visuals.
- If there is time set aside for Q&A, make sure the speaker has time to vet and answer them or ensure another member from their team is able to support.
10. Get meaningful feedback from your team, audience, and sponsors.
So your event was a success! You’ve thanked your team and sponsors and, as we say around here, “popped the good champagne.” But your job isn’t over just yet! Make sure you’re capturing feedback from everyone involved, be it through email, digital surveys, or phone calls. You’ll want to use the honest feedback to create an even better event the next time. Everyone will appreciate the opportunity to voice their opinions and you’ll receive vital and specific details to build stronger relationships with your network and audience. Don’t forget to share this feedback with those around you as well.
This year certainly may not be what any of us expected, but that doesn’t mean you can’t craft thoughtful, captivating events that grow your brand and audience - all online!