Going virtual with your meeting has meant learning how to function in multiple platforms and questioning if this venture would work for your attendees. Would your presenters know how to operate on the platform? Will, your event sponsors, find value in the event, and what are you going to do about the exhibitors? Most importantly, how will people connect? So what is the best way to set yourself up for success when planning a virtual event? Here are some do’s and don’ts help you through the process.
Don’t treat virtual events like an in-person event. Your goals and objectives should be different because your delivery and meeting design will be different. I have read many articles on how to make virtual events successful since April of this year. They all have one item in common; you cannot merely take the in-person and flip it to a virtual. That in-person energy generated at live events can’t be replaced exactly, but, at a minimum, you can add enough exciting content to create something interesting. Don’t risk your attendee’s interest by letting them sit in their homes or offices just staring at the screen, possibly making a comment in a chatbox but feeling disconnected from the event.
Do your homework. Not all virtual platforms operate the same. Picking something based on price alone may not meet your attendees’ needs, and it may lead to higher costs in other areas. I’ve had several planners tell me virtual events don’t mean cheaper! You need to be able to explain that to your stakeholders. Think about how your attendees can navigate the system. How does the platform integrate video? Can the attendees communicate with each other? Unlike in-person events, attendees are not as likely to give a second shot to a bad virtual event.
Don’t throw away your shot because the pretty screen layout took you in. (yes, that is a Hamilton reference). Ask lots of questions. Don’t be risk-averse. The event industry is known for pushing the envelope with new and creative ways to gather. Take risks in your virtual events when you are in a position to prepare for them. If something goes wrong, what will your recovery be? Think through the possible scenarios and how you will overcome them. Yes, it may be difficult to get attendees to come back if things go wrong, but we have all learned to grant a bit more grace. It has always been okay to say, oops, we made a mistake, and here is how we are fixing it. Honesty is a value that attendees want.
Do be creative in your marketing. You are competing for people’s attention through a screen. You know your audience and what speaks to them or what they are looking for in an event. Can you give them resources before the event to help build their connection to the event and create value? As planners, we know attendees don’t read event details, so look for different ways to connect. Find a social media influencer for your industry to help build awareness in a new way. Use your marketing plan to create a tool to measure what is working and what isn’t. According to Einstein, doing the same thing and expecting different results, we know, is the definition of insanity.
Don’t forget about your content. Not all content transfers to a virtual event and not all speakers are good at conducting a virtual event. Go back to what you know, goals and objectives, and assess the content from the virtual event experience. Speakers have had to step up their game, too, so hold them accountable. They should be telling you how well they perform on the virtual stage. How they manage the chat and that they know how to mute the group. Content has been king, and I believe it will always be king.
Do follow through. You go through all the work of creating the event, now make sure you keep the attendees connected through content updates or offering a 1 to 1 virtual meeting with other attendees or exhibitors who shared their interest at the event. (this would be one of those items you should look for with your event platform) Anyway, you can extend the meeting’s value to build the attendee connection and make them excited to come to the next event.
My do’s and don’ts may seem simple, and I hope they do because that will make them more comfortable for you to assess and implement in your virtual events. The advice that I’ve received from other planners and have experienced myself is that virtual events take a lot more planning than in-person events. Replicating in-person events is not possible, so get that out of your head. Virtual events are creating an exciting shift in our industry, and many partners have stepped up to provide outstanding service and support; others have fallen to the side. I do know that we can get through this together and increase our value to our stakeholders in ways we never knew where possible.
So, who are your partners in virtual events?