How to Make the Most Out of Virtual Events
With COVID-19 and social distancing rules causing events, tradeshows and trainings to cancel, reschedule, or go virtual, everyone in the industry is being impacted — from event management to manufacturers, and everyone in between. In a pre-COVID world, virtual events were often dismissed or thought of not as engaging as their in-person counterparts. It can be hard to replicate the same conversations, energy, and organic presence that you can have face-to-face and in-person. But in many ways, virtual events can offer benefits that you don’t have in-person, such as operational cost-savings and the ability to more easily collect feedback and even measure results.
Here at Caster, we’ve been spending a lot more time lately helping clients participating in virtual events and even joining in ourselves. Whether you’re hosting a virtual training event or participating in a speaking session for one of the many virtual events being held this spring, there are lots of ways that you can make the most out of your time spent virtually — from planning and promoting the event, to tips for engagement, and what to do after the event to keep conversations and buzz going.
- Determine what your main goals are for participation in or hosting an event and build your content around those goals, audience, and desired outcome
Whether you’re planning an event, training sessions, or even just presenting in a virtual event, it’s important to spend time on the frontend brainstorming your goals, as well as your audience and outcomes you want to see.
For example, if you’re with a manufacturer and want to host a training session for the integrator community on how to use your products, you’ll want to spend time thinking about what you want them to get out of the session and how you’ll formulate your content. Will it be a workshop-style session where you provide hands-on demos and then ask the audience to weigh in with questions and feedback as you go along? Or will it be a more standard webinar format where you present and then ask for questions later? For many, gaining leads will be one of the desired outcomes of hosting an online event, but you should consider others that aren’t simply leads-based, such as building a network and a community, and thought-leadership for the larger industry.
It’s important that this kind of presentation doesn’t come off as a sales pitch, so think about how you’ll develop the content in a way that is helpful and gives them knowledge and information that they can use now and in the future.
- Get creative with format and offer unique perspectives
One of the interesting aspects of virtual events is how they can replicate in-person events completely, or not at all. Feel free to get creative as you’re planning an event, while still taking into consideration traditional event formats that attendees are comfortable with and can be easily transitioned to a virtual format. Instead of hosting a training session where a speaker talks to a camera via a dial-in, you could host a livestream on Twitter or Instagram, or even start a Twitter Chat where you share frequently asked Q&A, and ask your audience to participate as well. You can even coordinate happy hours and special events to bring people together to network even after the event is over. And consider bringing in presenters from your company that attendees may not have access to normally, such as executive leadership, to offer unique perspectives that can also drive interest and attendance.
There are lots of ways you can host an event – Zoom is great for simple training sessions or conversations, but if you’re planning on hosting an all-day event or multi-day event, consider investing in a platform made for virtual events, such as Bizzabo, Brella, Livestorm, Crowdcast, and many more.
- Test your technology
We’ve all seen webinars or video calls where the audio is off, the video is choppy, or the speaker is confused about how to use the platform. Spending time on the backend practicing and testing the technology you’ve selected to host a virtual event is incredibly important to ensuring its success. Attendees are more likely to simply exit out of a session in the middle of it if there are a lot of issues, where they may not usually leave a classroom during an in-person event.
If you’re hosting an event or training, you could schedule a practice call with speakers a few days before the event to make sure everyone knows how to use the platform, as well as asking presenters to jump on early the day-of the session to test audio/video again. And if you’re participating in a session, you could always ask the organizers if it’s possible to run through a test beforehand.
Of course, there are always unforeseen circumstances that can impact the audio/video and technology, but spending the time practicing beforehand can drastically impact the likelihood of having problems on event day.
- Promotion and awareness are key to success
A lot of events are having to quickly pivot and make the decision to go virtual, leaving them with not as much lead time or resources to promote the event. If you’re able to, give yourself plenty of time to plan for and raise awareness of the event. It’s not likely that you’ll have a high turnout if you announce an event for a Monday on the Friday before. Give yourself several weeks to promote your event or attendance at an event, if possible, so that you can spend plenty of time promoting it.
Promotion can take many forms and are particular to your event style, intended audience, and goals. A few ideas include sharing widely on social using relevant hashtags, email campaigns to lead lists or other targets, and direct outreach to partners or other contacts that can help in sharing the event to their own audiences. Posting on virtual events board listings or forums is another option. And be sure to build in a way to obtain feedback on the event through a post-event survey that is filled out in email or online.
- Offer takeaway content, discounts, and other incentives to drive attendee interest
As we all participate in more virtual events, they will start to blend together and lose some of their appeal. It’s important to offer incentives where you can to drive attendee interest. This could mean takeaway content like training guides, whitepapers, or PDF versions of presentations, or it could be discounts on products, services, or giveaways. You could also look into partnering with an education association/organization to offer professional learning credits. There are plenty of ways to stand out and get creative while still remaining within your budget.
It’s also important to consider what you can do after the event is held to keep attendees interested and engaged – it’s important to do more than just add their emails to a marketing list or connect with them on LinkedIn. If you have the time and resources, consider individual outreach to attendees to start conversations and see if they have additional questions or want to set up a separate call to discuss. Nurturing the leads you get during a virtual event is just as important as it is for an in-person event.
Which virtual events are you excited about this year? Are you hosting any of your own? Let me know on Twitter @alexgil_13.