Until a few months ago, virtual events may have seemed something out of a sci-fi movie and might have made it appear as if F2F interaction is the only type of event out there.
But four months into 2020, and things have taken such an unprecedented turn, that everything is moving online. From shopping for groceries to first dates to daily team catch-ups, and to live streaming performances, almost everything has made a smooth pivot to virtual – so why not events?
It has been brewing for a while now; it started with the digitization of entertainment and has now made possible for our necessities to also move online. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world hard in mid-March, most events were canceled, and the situation seemed doomed for the events industry – until people started picking up on the trend of the virtual events. Planners quickly realized that this isn’t some temporary state where in-person events can be pushed to the next quarter, but that the state of affairs actually called for a long-term solution.
SaaStr Summit took place virtually on April 22nd, after their event was canceled due to COVID-19. They acted immediately and saw great attendance even virtually!
Virtual events usually intimidate planners for not having the same impact and engagement as a face-to-face event – but that’s not necessarily true. Online events require as much care and attention with planning as any other type of event, and if done right, they can prove to be much more efficient than the face-to-face counterpart. Here’s a study on the impact of virtual events in the B2B Mar-Tech Space.
There’s No One Type of Virtual Event
You or your company can host a variety of online events to help keep your audience engaged:
Make use of social media and their ‘stories’ feature to share videos of tutorials, interviews, reviews, announcements, and more to engage your audience through likes and comments.
Most social media channels have a feature that enables users to live stream to their audience, driving engagement through real-time chat.
A webinar acts like an online live presentation, where a presenter talks about a pre-decided topic while going through slides and the audience is able to interact via chat and/or voice.
Use tools like Twitter, Discord, Reddit, or Slack to start an online discussion and engage your audience directly by asking questions or hosting an ‘Ask Me Anything’.
In the market, you can also find dedicated software programs and tools that help plan and execute an end-to-end event online that includes multiple ways to interact and engage your audience. Depending on your needs you can use multiple software to make your conference a success, or just one virtual event platform like EventMobi.
If done right, your virtual event can prove to be much more successful than an in-person event.
Here are some benefits of hosting an event online:
- It’s cost-effective
- It’s accessible
- It saves time
- It’s environmentally friendly
- It’s easier to analyze
However, it is not always smooth sailing while hosting your very own virtual event.
So, How Do You Successfully Host an Online Event?
Use these tips and tricks to avoid logistical challenges:
It is important to have a plan for your virtual event. The first steps should be to finalize the agenda, shortlist the speakers, and invite the guests. No matter what size the event or the audience is, your game plan should answer the central questions, like where do I want this event to happen, or will it be gated or free of cost, or what will be the best time for me to host this event, etc. Once you have that figured out, it is majorly about execution. Just like in a face-to-face event, things can always go wrong, but to have a plan in place will give you a straightforward direction of where to start, and what to start with.
Depending on your topic and your target audience, make sure you spend time on doing adequate research to help you plan your event better. Surveys are a great tool to reach your audience online and get their input on their preferences well before the event. Apart from inputs on what date and time the event is to be held on or the platform to be used, surveys can also help you gauge the interest level of your audience on the theme of your event and help you make any changes, if necessary.
The most important part of your virtual event is its promotion. Just like you would do for an in-person event, use digital platforms to market your event and reach the right audience. Social media and digital ads are a commonly used tool to promote an event in advance. Here’s a guide on using Social Media for Events. And here’s the complete list of Social Media Tools that you can pick from for your next online event. But apart from that, it is worth spending resources on setting up a microsite for your event that displays the important information, along with a registration platform where your attendees can RSVP. You can use from a wide range of form templates by Typeform or any other form builder, to help you capture all the registrant details. Moreover, centralizing all your communications and targeting it to only the registrants, as the event date comes closer, can help you condense the information for the relevant audience. How can you do this? By simply automating your form entries to your CRM. Like I mentioned using forms from Typeform, so you can connect Typeform to other CRMs like Salesforce, HubSpot, Pipedrive, etc.
Virtual events are no stranger to glitches and hiccups. Patchy internet connection, audio, and video problems, slow streaming, and crowdsourcing confusion are just some issues that are commonly faced. To make sure things run smoothly on D-day, conduct a test run with your staff to check if everything is going as planned. After the dry run, fix the bugs, take note of the weak links, and draft commons FAQs (that you can post on social media or on your microsite) that your audience could ask. Remember that not everybody in your audience will be tech-savvy, so it is useful to have a dedicated resource on board to help those who need it.
To make sure that your audience is engaged, you would have to plan engagement opportunities for your audience. Even before the event starts, the first way to engage would be to make sure all your audience is populated on a Google Sheet type for the database. From here you can connect Google Sheet to your Google Calendar to send out invite links! So that they get notified timely and don’t miss out on the event. Virtual events don’t have to be a boring audio-visual presentation that is only meant for one-way communication – use digital tools to bring the liveliness of an in-person event. In your agenda, commit time for breaks, time-outs, networking opportunities, polls, quizzes, and even games to keep the audience engrossed.
Your audience should not only engage with the content and/or the host but also with each other. It is important to leave room for opportunities for your attendees to connect over chat or audio-visual, as networking is one of the major motivations for people to attend events. You can do this before, during, or even after the event.
Before the event ends, collect feedback from the attendees. You can roll out a survey or just send out a simple email but requesting active feedback will give your attendees a voice and will help you establish two-way communication with them. With the audience feedback and the other reports (depending on the platform or tool you are using for the event), you should measure the return on investment and the impact of your event. Analyze what worked and what didn’t and how you can make your virtual event better in the future.
Right Set of Tools: Having the right set of tools to perform each tip mentioned above is also important. We all know about Skype, Eventbrite, Zoom, Hangouts. But you need to gear up with all aspects of the event. You can check out the best event planning tools.
To Wrap Up
Adding virtual events to your MarTech stack might have been a luxury a few weeks ago but has become a necessity in these times. With social distancing becoming the new normal, it has become imperative to be agile towards adapting to the fast-changing world of the events industry. In a time when we can meet in person, bring the flexibility and ease of online events into the mix and continue to connect, interact, and network with your audience.
man planning in calendar -DepositPhotos