3 Ways to Improve Virtual and Hybrid Conferences
By Mark Roberts
It’s safe to assume everyone working remotely — or nearly everyone — participated in a virtual event in 2020. And let’s be candid: Some were better than others.
How the COVID-19 pandemic will wreak havoc on business plans in 2021 remains to be seen. However, companies cannot afford to wait and hope for clarity before planning their programming in the new year.
Hybrid and virtual events will become part of the “next normal” for business. Here are three ways to improve content and engagement for your events.
Treat virtual events the same as you would in-person ones.
Designing and executing a virtual event isn’t just about settling for second-best because in-person gatherings are prohibited at the moment. It’s about using the new format to your advantage to build a stronger connection with attendees.
Pulling this off requires many of the same steps as planning and executing an in-person gathering, but a slightly revised way of thinking.
As a first step, define your event goals, including what you want to accomplish and what you hope attendees take away. Then, create a program around those goals.
Look at an event as attendees would. Consider the agenda, the sessions and the schedule’s flow to make sure the event is engaging, and take an honest assessment of what works and what doesn’t. As part of the process, consider what attendees likely want out of an event. What is the draw for them to attend, and do you deliver against it?
And remember, some attendees may be less comfortable in a virtual setting, so be sure to make it more comfortable for them by providing an agenda and answers to likely questions – like how participants can interact with one another during sessions – in advance.
This process should also include laying the groundwork for success before the event. Then, set aside time to practice and run through the show. Everyone, including the speakers and the team members managing the technology, should take adequate time to prepare so that the event goes as expected. Consider taking it a step further and recording sessions in advance, giving them an additional punch with some production to hold the audience’s attention throughout.
Surprise your attendees.
Because everything has moved online these days, one potential pitfall is that people may look at it as just another online meeting. So organizers need to take steps to make their event stand out from the crowd.
Doing so will make attendees want to continue interacting with your company and your brand. The key is to make it not too predictable.
As an easy surprise, consider delivering lunch to attendees so everyone can dine together from wherever they are. Consider sending them their choice of a bottle of sparkling wine or non-alcoholic sparkling cider so they can join in a virtual toast and a bag of branded tchotchkes so they “leave” feeling like they received some added value.
The small touches make events memorable and leave attendees feeling valued. After months of lockdown, the audience wants a unique event; give it to them, and they will reward you for it.
Know that the event is just the beginning.
A virtual event can be more immersive for attendees. The real benefit is the idea of making an event live longer through archived recordings and post-event content.
Intelligent organizations use advanced analytics to gauge success and understand how attendees and participants engage with their brand. Consider conducting in-event polls or surveys to measure engagement levels and reaction to a particular topic.
Any event, whether in-person or virtual, should build on and strengthen relationships. As part of the process, design post-event steps and determine how to launch them to build on the event’s momentum. For example, use the event as a jumping-off point for an ongoing email campaign.
They know they can also create content from the event, archive it on a microsite and use it to re-engage with attendees following the event and also use it to connect with new audiences who could not attend.
It’s hard to predict what the future holds, but it might be safe to assume virtual and hybrid events will be part of the PR and marketing toolbox for some time. They are powerful ways to connect with audiences, and if this remains a legacy of the pandemic for marketers, it will be a positive one we can use to transform business in the months and years ahead.