Without a doubt, the meeting and event industry is one that's creative and resilient. It's why among the news of event cancellations or postponements, many events have announced they'll be going virtual during the COVID-19 outbreak.
While other options make sense for some, going virtual comes with many benefits such as keeping attendees safe, audience retention, increasing inclusivity, and recouping some losses (both financial and creative).
But successful virtual events take a little bit more time and energy than organizing a standard video conference or webinar via software you might use everyday in your organization. Check out these tips to ensure your virtual event experience has a true impact on your audience during the COVID-19 outbreak and beyond.
1. Communicate & Be Honest With Your Attendees
According to Event Marketer, the most important step in taking your event digital is "communication and a smart marketing message." Using Facebook's F8 event as an example, Event Marketer highlighted the company's clear, but powerful messaging that explained to attendees why the large in-person international event would switch to a mixed event (one with smaller local events, video and live streamed content), while putting health and safety at the forefront of their decision.
As the virtual version event comes together, use email marketing to keep attendees updated and to build anticipation about your format change, whether it's announcing one of your keynotes is willing to do a live stream or that you and your team will set up a virtual exhibit hall (more on that later).
2. Find the Right Virtual Event Solution for Your Unique Needs
Just like in-person events, not all virtual events are created equal, which means not every tech provider will be right for you. It's why last week Aventri announced partnerships with not one, but three virtual event providers that our clients can access depending on their needs. Some things to think about is the size of your event, how many sessions you want to host, what engagement features you want and the costs before signing on with a provider.
Recommended Resources: Don't cancel your event, go virtual with Aventri! Learn more in our press release.
3. Include a Mix of Live Streamed & Pre-Recorded Content
Even if they're stuck at home, people may not want to sit through an entire conference day. To give people options, include a mix of live streamed and pre-recorded content, all of which should be available on-demand afterward so attendees can access your sessions on their time. For example, you could have some of your session speakers pre-record their presentations, while your high-profile keynotes host a live stream each day. The latter helps drive excitement and engagement and keeps people coming back.
4. Think Outside the Webcam Setup
If you go the live stream route for some or all of your sessions, try your best to amp it up a bit such as using a high-quality camera and/or microphone. If you can, encourage your speakers to create a more engaging setting whether it's them being filmed sitting on a couch/chair or standing in front of a podium in a non-distracting area. Any difference in the standard laptop webcam set up will create a more professional and engaging experience.
5 . Take Your Exhibit Hall Virtual
If you had an exhibit hall at your in-person event, you can take that aspect of your event virtual as well! Take your exhibit hall map and make it engaging and interactive. If an attendee hovers over an exhibitor for example, have a pop up showcase that company's information, description, and link out to a separate page where the exhibitor can link to content such as fact sheets, case studies and any special offers they have for your attendees. Also consider asking your exhibitors to be available for individual virtual meetings or calls with your attendees in case they still want to keep their previously scheduled onsite meetings or spontaneously want to learn more about their company during your virtual event.
6. Keep Attendees Engaged
On top of including popular virtual event engagement features such as Q&As, polling, chat boxes, quizzes, note taking, etc., schedule your event in such as way that keeps attendees attentive, focused and, most importantly, feeling included. Encourage your speakers to regularly check in with your attendees and take breaks every 15-20 minutes or so to do a poll, take questions or complete an exercise. Endless Events also recommends having someone moderate any Q&As you have to ensure the questions actually get answered.
7. Utilize Your Mobile Event App
A mobile event app isn't just useful at an in-person event. Event organizers can have remote attendees participate in real time using a mobile event app that allows them to engage via polling and attendee messaging, which enables them to have the same interactive experience as those attending the event live. On top of email marketing, event organizers can also send push notifications via their app to remind attendees that a live stream is starting soon or that an exhibitor has a special offer.
Recommended Resources: Discover how Aventri’s Mobile App helps planners optimize their virtual event by providing easy ways for attendees to connect, sponsors to advertise, content to be shared and accessed, and event planners to gain better insight into their registrant behavior.
8. Create Virtual Networking Opportunities
According to Event Manager Blog, a successful virtual event also "incorporates elements that attendees look for at live events, such as networking opportunities." This can be done via your mobile event app with in-app chat and matchmaking functionalities or with dedicated WhatsApp or Slack groups on different topics or networking goals.
9. Show Love to Your VIPs and/or Attendees
Making the change to the virtual is easier said that done, and showing appreciation for the speakers, VIPs or even all of your attendees for sticking with you during such a dramatic format change can have a lasting effect. Whether it's some special company swag, a sweet treat, or a "work from home" care package (like these great examples shared on BizBash), taking the time or making the investment to say thank you can brighten someone's day during this difficult time while making a lasting impression.
Virtual events can be a powerful tool, whether they're used during a health crisis or not. If you take the time to pick the right provider and make your virtual event as professional and engaging as it can be, you will set your event a part while bringing some sort of normality for your audience during this challenging time.
Are you taking your event virtual during the coronavirus outbreak? What tips do you have to share with your fellow event planners? Share in the comments below.