Meetings and events have always played a crucial role in most business strategies. As the pandemic took hold and people were largely based at home, virtual meetings became commonplace. Now, as the world starts to emerge from the pandemic, thoughts of business travel inevitably start to return. But with different countries opening their borders at different times and with the ever-present threat of a second wave, cost control and the wellbeing of employees are at the top of the priority list. Attending an event doesn’t feel easy to justify anymore. In fact, digital conferences and virtual events are under consideration by 63% of people interviewed in recent market research [*] and they plan to incorporate “virtual” in their strategies even when employees return to the office.
That’s why going virtual will be a major part of the way forward, whether we consider it an incredible opportunity to engage our audience or an inconvenient necessity.
However, unless you’re an early adopter by nature, the very idea of a virtual event can quickly seem overwhelming. But once you see what they are capable of, you will quickly realize you don’t need to start from zero. In many ways, what you have learned from your in-person events will help you succeed in the digital space. Here are some suggestions as you embark on your first virtual journey:
Ask the right questions
Focus on what you want to achieve. This is nothing new for you: your objectives will impact your choices, whether it be the event format, technologies required, or even how you’ll measure the ROI to evaluate your success. It may seem obvious, but it’s not. Actually, many event professionals are rushing to the “how does it work?” question before having a clear reason for organizing the event.
Reconsider your audience
Sure, you know your target from your past experiences. But, if you’re moving from in-person to virtual events there should be some new information to capture if you want to be equally effective. How tech-savvy are your attendees? Are they extrovert enough to make the remote team building formula work? Are they active enough in social media for you to include Twitter in the program? If you’re not sure, researching or simply asking your audience will give you some indication. After all, you want to engage them and unless they feel comfortable and valued, they will disconnect in just a click.
Create an impactful format
As for your live events, you will put a lot of effort in designing the overall attendee experience. Similar to in-person events, it’s about creating top-notch content, and interactions with participants before and during the event, and in follow-up communications. Digital channels multiply the number of touchpoints with the audience. They also press you to deliver meaningful content in short shots, as your online audience is more prone to distraction. Think about a TV show, whose success depends on content, immediacy and speed. As a consequence, the suggestion is to keep the structure of the format simple, concise and, whenever possible, interactive.
Think of the technology as the means and not the aim
In the last few years, there has been an explosion of digital solutions and more recently, new alternatives pop up every day with the emergence of the pandemic outbreak. In this digital jungle, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, but don’t forget that the tool is not the ultimate end. With a live event, you look for the venue that best suits your objectives, you don’t shape the event around the venue! It works the same way with technology: consider it at the service of your business objectives and stay focused on the virtual experience you want to create. If you are confused by the vast pool of possibilities, a trusted partner will help you find the technology that works for you.
Start small and think simple
If you don’t consider yourself a digital black belt: start simple! Choose a calendar of well related small virtual events rather than a complex one-shot program. That way, you can examine how your attendees react, and progressively raise the bar and scale your program. Content experts may also help you design an overall impactful experience for your digital audiences.
When taking your first steps, collaborate closely with your suppliers on all the complexities while you stay focused on your brand priorities and your clients’ expectations.
[*] 2020 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Impact Survey, TOPO (Gartner)
Francesca Rigamonti, Head of Events, Italy at CWT Meetings & Events