If you’d asked us six months ago if we’d be filling our days logging into endless Zoom meetings, wiping down our groceries, or watching demos of dozens of virtual meeting platforms, we would have said you were crazy!
But here we are…pivoting to virtual events, re-envisioning what live events will look like, creating strategic plans for the future, and participating in online happy hours to stay connected with colleagues, friends, and family. This is brand new to so many of our colleagues and the questions are endless—even knowing what questions to ask to get started is an unknown for some people.
We’ve learned a lot navigating this new environment, and here we share our top-five tips for going virtual. Although geared for beginners in the virtual space, these are good reminders for everyone. Some of the tips may sound similar to in-person meeting ideas, and that’s intentional. Just because an event goes virtual doesn’t mean all your experience and processes for in-person events go out the window.
Tip 1: Set Goals and Know Your Audience.
What are the goals of the virtual event? Are they the same or different from your live event’s goals? And what does your audience expect from your event? Understand these goals and expectations before diving into the rest of your planning.
Tip 2: Content Is King.
• With all the distractions of working at home, from barking dogs to homeschooling kids, excellent content is the one thing that will compel your audience to participate in your virtual event or webinar.
• One hour of in-person programming does not have to equal one hour of online programming. Remember the “Danny DeVito Rule”: Keep your content short and engaging. Consider breaking up your programming into sessions spread out over a longer period of time to allow the audience to absorb and apply the lessons.
• Set up speakers and facilitators for success. Provide guides on how to use your platform, how to make their session interactive and engaging, who to contact for support, and how to properly light and mic themselves. Most importantly, host practice sessions and technical rehearsals in advance!
Tip 3: There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Platform.
Have you ever heard someone ask, “What’s a good meeting destination?” The answer depends on your goals, the audience’s expectations, format, and budget. The same is true when it comes to virtual event and webinar platforms. Do the work! You will need to sit on demos and talk to sales reps to learn about the platforms that are out there and find the right match for your organization and events.
Those sales reps will be able to provide pricing info, but only when they know your needs. Go back to tips 1 and 2: Understand how the tool will deliver the content and help you meet your goals and the audience’s expectations. Make sure that any add-ons are part of your pricing.
Finally, once you start narrowing down your platform choices, conduct a virtual site visit: Ask to participate in a live event happening on the platform to see and feel the real experience.
Tip 4: Virtual Events Can Drive Revenue.
You can still charge for registration, but you have to create (and demonstrate) value to the attendee. Think about the following:
• Attendees don’t have to pay for travel and hotel costs when attending a virtual event.
• Because you can record content and make it available on-demand after the live event, attendees can participate in all sessions. At an in-person meeting, they might have had to choose between two or three tracks.
• Sponsorship opportunities exist on all platforms (no matter how basic). Be creative!
• Rethink your budget. Are you saving money by going virtual since you don’t have costs like food and beverage, hotel, and travel?
Tip 5: Focus on the Audience Experience.
• Who is your audience? Whether it includes members, employees, potential customers, exhibitors, or speakers, create a journey map that explains the experience you want each to have.
• Relate the audience experience features of an in-person event to your virtual events. For example, directional signage (Can your audience find the feed easily?); a help desk (How and where can the audience ask questions? Do you have enough staff to support and answer questions virtually?); session breaks (Are you allowing bio breaks between sessions? Are you providing any “coffee break” networking options during those times?)
Virtual events are (finally) here to stay. But hopefully, we can soon add in-person events back in the mix, creating hybrid meetings with a new suite of features for your members, clients, and other stakeholders. You can do this! Keep calm and plan on, everyone!
Darryl Diamond, CMP, is chief experience officer at Big White Dog Events in Washington, D.C., and Shayna Moskowitz is meeting and event director at Part 2 Events, headquartered in New York, N.Y. She is located in Silver Spring, Md.