Current events have led to cancellations of one sort or another in just about all of our daily lives. Amongst those cancellations are conferences around the globe. In the technology industry, SXSW made headlines with its cancellation on a Friday afternoon early in March. Since then, every conference, both large and small, has either been cancelled or postponed. Alternatively, some events have decided to switch their event to 100 percent virtual with varying degrees of success. Hats off to the NFL and ESPN who have both received great reviews and record viewership for their virtual draft.
Life and work have to go on and in the conference world, the tide of interest in virtual events is underway. The main question is how can you transition or plan your event virtually? The following seven topics may be able to help with any planning for a virtual event; these were derived from a webinar The Consumer Engagement hosted. The event had over 70 practitioners and a distinguished panel of industry leaders. The webinar was a dress rehearsal leading up to managing the 100% virtual Million Dollar Women Summit April 23 and 24.
Engagement is a challenge with anything. For virtual events, it is the number one worry. In a nutshell for virtual events, you cannot just have a series of “talking heads.” People will not just sit at their desk and watch live streamed content for hours and hours. Organizers of virtual events need to create a blend of pre-recorded content with multiple audience interaction points. These could be polls, voting, Q&As, sweepstakes, competitions and live feedback. It also entails leveraging multiple devices, since we are all second screening anyway. Make the device that is so often the source of distraction a key point of the experience so that it becomes an asset. By bringing multiple devices into the event you provide an experience that has more of a 3-D feel.
Decisions to continue the events are often driven by the major sponsor. Event owners have to find a way to create value through the event for the sponsors writing the check. KPI’s should be agreed beforehand and delivered to expectations. According to Julia Pimsleur, the driving force behind her decision to continue her event, — Million Dollar Women Summit — by making it virtual, was finding digital solutions that would still give her sponsors the exposure they are looking for with their dollars. Without the sponsors continued support she would not have been able to continue with the summit.
Now we have people tuning in from all over the world from their home. Brett Robertson of SH Worldwide, pointed out that getting those home addresses raises issues with privacy as well as logistical hurdles, from sending welcome gifts and SWAG to coordinating network activities. Many event organizers have the business address of their attendees, but not their home address. Since some people may not want to give that away, the activities that do include higher levels of PII usually come after initial sign-up to the conference as an opt-in activity to receive additional material.
Even though the quarantine is momentary (how long we do not know), the planning process for an event has changed. And as an event organizer you have to have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. But now that the paradigm has flipped and even post COVID-19 the virtual conference will have a much larger appeal along with more hybrid events, so planners should be starting with Plan C and looking at how they layer an in-person component for a higher premium.
Nobody has really ever done this before, so the polish is not 100 percent expected. The polish and best practices will come as we give it a go and test all of the new ways to connect and run virtual events. This being said, it is strongly recommended to create your event with a blend of professionally produced (or at least as pro as possible with shelter in place restrictions) streaming content, audience interaction, networking and live streaming. You could go as far as treating the event more like a TV production than an event that weaves in audience interaction.
If you have not noticed there is a literal explosion of virtual events. Everything from friends and family happy hours to two-day conferences. You have to connect with the audience before the event so you produce something that is intriguing, topical and pulls the audience in. Without travelling (and if the event is free) the commitment to click the link is REALLY low. Anecdotally the show up rate in the past two weeks for virtual business events is really low and the attrition rate (people dropping off) is high. To combat this the event organizer has to do a really good job in creating a meaningful connection with the audience in advance of going live. The beauty is if you bring the audience into the event pre-show you not only get their buy-in, but also can script your event production from the audience. Pre-event engagement is key.
Many people right or wrongly think that anything on the web must be free. So can we charge for virtual summits? This question has not been completely answered, that said the prevailing point is if the content is of high enough value, why not. To summarize several of the points above, assigning a fee (although most likely reduced from the in-person charge) helps with creating higher engagement, which is the number one challenge.
Finally, the proof is in the pudding as they say. We took all of these principles into account for the Million Dollar Women Virtual Summit last week. A follow up article for the results will be published shortly.