Virtual Events Take Center Stage: Pivoting Live Events to Virtual Experiences

As the live events industry awaits COVID-19 regulations, guidelines and phased rollouts, innovations and digital opportunities arise, virtual events take center stage, and the importance of events agencies and planners sustains.

Why go virtual? Virtual events have proven to be an effective and efficient way to convey content and engage attendees. Experts share that future events will incorporate a digital aspect as a hybrid-type model as the events industry seeks to widen its audience and maintain contingency plans. Events will see more virtual aspects embedded into their programs moving forward. Going virtual also brings market share and new opportunities.

“Some companies that were previously on hold to wait out COVID-19 have either pivoted to virtual or are seriously considering it since the recovery is so uncertain. Business still needs to go on. Leadership conferences, educational and training are still vital for companies,” says Amanda Ma, chief experience officer of Pasadena, Calif.-based Innovate Marketing Group.

All of the different elements of a virtual event need to be coordinated into one impactful and engaging experience. The event agency’s role includes helping guide businesses to pivot to the new normal, advising and adjusting contract changes, applying event strategies to help meet goals, handling vendor coordination and recommendations, overseeing program management, managing multiple tracks, coordinating marketing and communication, incorporating sponsors and stakeholders, and managing the guest experience.

Some of the many benefits of pivoting to virtual include:

  • Cost savings and lower cost per guest attending
  • Access to a wider audience and reach, and not being limited by location
  • Replay capabilities and reusable on-demand content
  • Lower carbon footprint and less impact on the environment
  • Better attendee engagement
  • Opportunity to get creative and engage viewers in new ways
  • Metrics, instant data tracking and capture, and gaining new insights
  • Eliminating the need for a venue, catering, rentals, stage, decor, photographer, videographer, transportation, etc.
  • Taking action: Calls to action link in right away–connect, survey, polling, Q&A, and donate

Some challenges in comparison to a live event include emotion and energy, stimulations such as touch, taste and smell, memory and recall, networking, and viewer attention span.

Top best practices in going virtual include setting your goals on information, education, message, attendee and sponsor engagement, networking, etc.

  • Format: Determine your virtual event format: webinar, webcast, pre-recorded sessions, simu-live, live streaming, networking, exhibitors.
  • Registration: Reconsider the registration process, including number of users who will be accessing the website, personal data, payment-processing safety, and customized questions per data you would like to collect.
  • Audience engagement: Use tools such as live polling, question and answer sessions, networking opportunities, gamification, live leader boards, rewards, and social media feeds. Maintain your event experience by making your guests feel involved and connected to your program. We are in the planning stages of a 3,000-person walk/run event, and one of the ideas is on the day of the event to have a virtual DJ play during the walk, and the organization will lower the volume if messages need to be communicated. The music will be based on what the organizers want. This way, while people are walking, they can stay connected as part of the program.
  • Pre-event communication and marketing: Communication and marketing are key–unlike an in-person event, where attendees must get dressed up, drive to the event, and spend more time to prepare for the event. A virtual event is simply a login to a platform. Therefore, it is very important to send out reminders and built up the anticipation of the event. In a recent virtual event, we advised the client to ask for the attendee’s cell phone number. So, in addition to email reminders, the week of event and day of, a text notification was sent out to all attendees. We received great feedback for putting that in place. It reminded folks the virtual event is coming up and to tune in. Digital marketing, promotion, advertisement and video content is still very important for a virtual event, before broadcasting on your event day.
  • Surprise and delight before the event: Send a swag bag prior to the event with items relevant to the event. For an upcoming conference, we are sending a box with a blue-light-blocking glasses, a candle, a custom door handle, a notebook, a T-shirt, and a coffee tumbler. We have a special note to go along with this kit to kick off the conference mind-set. On the day of the conference, we are asking everyone to wear the shirt provided. One less worry about what to wear on “top.”
  • Content is king: Offer educational, relevant, timely and meaningful content that people will want to hear. It is vital to create content that captivates guests, sparks their creativity, and results in productivity.
  • Do not try to replicate your live event: Instead, look for new opportunities, but stay true to purpose of your event. Keep the principle of why your guests were coming together and make it part of the equation.
  • Test, test and test again: Technical difficulties might occur, and they often distract from your event. Have a run-through with your speakers and moderator in advance, and test the virtual release on your platforms.