Is your small or mid-sized business hosting a virtual event? According to Alex Bickers, a seasoned event professional, these are the four critical elements for a successful online event.
Though virtual events have been around to some extent, they have become an essential aspect of the workplace in 2020. As in-person events were cancelled or postponed at the beginning of the year, businesses had to pivot to connect with their communities online.
From seminars to conferences to fundraising galas and concerts – almost every offline event has gone digital in our current landscape. For businesses who had to pull out of their annual tradeshows or conferences this year, transitioning their event from offline to online is an excellent way to achieve those business goals, whether that means raising awareness, generating leads or revenue, or forging relationships with prospects and clients.
Virtual events can be powerful and scalable, as they allow people to gather in a virtual space and connect without the constraints of travel. However, with our ever-shortening attention spans and “Zoom fatigue,” hosting a virtual event also comes with its unique set of challenges.
In this blog post, Alex Bickers, an award-winning event consultant and the President of Reveal Events Group, offers expert advice and insight into how businesses can host successful virtual events and connect in new and exciting ways.
Know your event objective
One of the first things you should do before planning your virtual event is knowing the event's goal. Just like any other event, the purpose of the virtual gathering needs to be identified. Brainstorm and think about the following questions:
Why are we doing this? What do we want to accomplish?
How do you want attendees to feel?
Is this a small gathering limited to a certain number of people?
Is this a large-scale event dedicated to sharing information more widely?
“Then we get to what I refer to as the ‘need to haves’ and the ‘nice to haves,’” shares Alex. “Consider what the essential requirements you need to accomplish are, or the absolute project deliverables, such as tracking continuing education credits, for example, versus the elements that are not vital, but you would like to happen.”
Reduce Zoom fatigue by investing in the right platform
A common hurdle in planning a successful virtual event is figuring out how to reduce Zoom fatigue. As an article by BBC Worklife reported, communicating via video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Skype, or Teams, make us work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, tone, and body language. This becomes exhausting, leading to what we know as ‘Zoom fatigue.’
Then there is also the fact that aspects of life that used to be separate – work, family, and social life – now happen in the same space as many people rely on Zoom or Teams to not only do their jobs but also stay connected with their family and friends. "Everyone is feeling that level of exhaustion. The key is to create engagement that goes beyond feeling like you’re just in another Zoom meeting,” shares Alex. “One way to do that is by using a virtual event management platform."
Investing in a virtual event platform such as Socio or Pheedloop allows you to go beyond a webinar-type experience, where attendees simply click a link and passively watch a presentation.
“A virtual event platform can be fully branded to your company. You can have a landing page that recognizes your sponsors. It allows you to interact with speakers in advance of the conference in networking groups. So, in a way, it gives you these pieces of human interaction back that we lost when we stopped doing in-person events and allows for more engagement,” says Alex.
Focus on virtual attendee engagement
The number one factor that contributes to the success of a digital event is attendee engagement. Businesses need to create an environment that engages their attendees to their specific purpose.
“You need to think about creating a virtual experience with some excitement,” says Alex. He points out that for now, most people’s lives are full of screens – they attend work meetings, connect with friends over Facetime or Google Hangouts, and then watch Netflix at night. “We are screened out because we are at home. So think about what you can add to your event to engage your participants, so they don’t feel like there’s one more online meeting to attend. Think about what initiatives you can take to make it fun for somebody to experience this event at home."
Alex notes that there are many tricks and tools to create virtual attendee engagement, especially if you are using an event management platform. These include features like live online Q & A sessions, virtual exhibit halls, one-on-one demo chats, breakout groups, and more. Most platforms allow you to upload presentations and interactive documents, which can be gated. You could also go a step further and arrange to deliver tangible items for your attendees. For example, at a virtual gala or fundraiser, where dinner is often included in the ticket price, you could arrange to deliver a pre-packaged meal to the attendees along with a branded bottle of wine.
“As an event professional in this virtual environment, we are constantly thinking about what are the actual hands-on elements that somebody receives at an in-person event, and how can we recreate that,” shares Alex.
Creating a contingency plan and other considerations
Rehearsals and run-throughs are just as crucial for virtual events as they are for in-person. Connect with the speakers and presenters in advance and ensure they know what to do. Alex also suggests investigating your selected platform well before the event and familiarizing yourself with the features so that you know how to use it.
“Don’t forget to create a recovery plan,” Alex advises. “A common issue with virtual events is that you are moderating or managing an event, and then the internet fails you, or the power goes out unexpectedly.”
Another consideration to keep in mind when hosting a virtual event is that your attendees will have different technical skill levels. Some might be extremely comfortable navigating through your online environment, but others may not and will require extra support. Consider how you will provide technical support to your attendees and have a technical admin as part of your event team.
Finally, make sure you have a team supporting your virtual event. There is always a support team to rely on for in-person events, whether that is the conference room or tradeshow staff. When hosting a virtual event, almost all that work falls on the organizer. Alex says, “Whether it’s your internal team of employees or whether you choose to hire a virtual event management professional to handle it all for you, you need to have a support network in place for success.”