Conferences, happy hours, education seminars—in a COVID-19 world, virtual events have taken on a new appeal as a way for industry professionals to connect.
“The biggest advantage for virtual events is convenience: It’s easy to pop in and out of the conference as your schedule allows, it’s affordable (no need to book flights or travel) and the content can all be accessed on-demand,” says Christine Weiser, content and brand director at Tech Learning. “The biggest disadvantage of virtual events is the limited opportunity to network. Though there are new platforms that do a decent job of adding a networking component, nothing beats meeting new colleagues over lunch, coffee or cocktails.”
The American Society of Business Publication Editors spoke with Weiser, and Lauren Rathmell, conference producer at Recycling Today, to get the scoop on do’s and don’ts of hosting virtual events.
Remember that content is king. Work with your partners and create a planning team who knows the audience well to assemble a compelling agenda. – Christine Weiser (CW)
Involve the right people before making any commitments. Get the tech team, videographers and sales staff on the same page. If you’re trying to monetize these events, your sales team needs to be involved in what they’re selling. That way, they’ll know what’s doable if they have their client coming to them with questions. – Lauren Rathmell (LR)
Keep things simple. Offering too many concurrent sessions can make for a confusing attendee experience. Spreading your virtual event over too many days lessens the urgency to attend. – CW
Test out the platform. Familiarize yourself with what you’re using so you can help sources and speakers navigate whatever platform. Do the legwork and research before so you understand the technology you’re using. – LR
Offer some sort of interaction between the virtual speakers and your audience. Use a combination of prerecorded video with live Q&A sessions, as well as live sessions where attendees can interact in real time with the presenters. Use breakout rooms to offer smaller group discussions on your session topic. Use polls and live chat to engage the audience. – CW
Have a backup plan in case technology fails. Assign a staff monitor to all tracks and make sure that person has a copy of any slides and needed agenda items in case the presenter’s connection gets dropped. – CW
Don’t expect the technology to be seamless. Expect some sort of technical issues. Everyone wants to have seamless, perfect virtual events and environments, but there will be hiccups, so expect it and be prepared for it, but don’t get too hung up on it. – LR
Don’t wait too long to solidify a plan. This includes choosing the platform and format you’re going to present everything in. Research platforms ahead of time to find the best fit and learn how to use the platform ahead of time. – LR
Don’t assume because someone registers that they will attend. Continue to market the event to registered attendees up to and including the day of the event. The convenience of attending a virtual event means they are also easy to ignore. Keep the excitement up with frequent email reminders and send a “sorry we missed you” to registrants who did not attend to drive on-demand audience. – CW
Even when the coronavirus pandemic passes, virtual and hybrid events may continue to thrive.
“Yes, I miss seeing our friends in person, but I think virtual and hybrid events will continue even after it’s safe for the world to reopen — especially in education where schedules and budgets are stretched,” Weiser says. “Virtual events also allow conferences to reach a global audience, so this makes them a uniquely valuable opportunity to learn from each other.”