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Virtual Event Consulting

Your 2020 event strategy looks completely different from what you expected—and now you’re faced with hard decisions as you consider what to postpone, what to cancel, and what to move to a virtual format. We can help.

Woman in Chair for Video Interview

How did virtual events get so important?

The situation

Early in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world hard. It’s hit us all, in every part of our lives, and it’s forced businesses to change the way they work. It’s more than remote work and face masks. Social distancing measures (and common sense) have made large, in-person events almost instantly a non-starter, which means that marketers have had to adjust quickly. Some events got cancelled outright, but many of them just moved online.

The reaction

Marketers have tried hard to make the transition from in-person to virtual events seamless, and while everything hasn’t always been roses, things have actually gone pretty well. So well, in fact, that we’re pretty sure that virtual events aren’t going away any time soon. There are definitely benefits to being able to meet in person, but there are enough pros on the virtual side of the ledger that we expect to see fully virtual events on into the future, and perhaps even a melding of virtual aspects with future in-person events once they’re safe again.

What’s next

What we need to do now, when preparing for potentially increasing numbers of virtual events, is simply learn and adapt. Whether you’ve put on your own virtual event or not, there’s plenty of information out there about what works, what doesn’t, what you need to do and must avoid. It’s time to start taking what we’ve learned from the spring of 2020 and use it to build a better online event.

 

Why are virtual events here to stay?

Despite the fact that we’ve been somewhat railroaded into taking our events online, it’s actually turned out pretty well for those who have taken the plunge. There are, obviously, things that would happen at an in-person event that you’re not going to see in a virtual event. If you’re mostly in it for the free coffee and a comped trip to a new city, well, bad news for you. But there are loads of entries in the “pro” column for virtual events and conferences.

Location, location, location

Sometimes an event’s location is a draw. You might be able to talk someone into attending an event in Las Vegas that they’d never have attended if it was in a motel conference room by some obscure interstate. But if I live in Indianapolis and your event is in San Francisco, that might be a bridge too far. Travel’s expensive, and so’s lodging, and it’s all so time-consuming. If it’s not all covered by my employer, it’s probably not going to happen.

Virtual conferences and events blow all that out of the water. If it’s all online, I can attend a conference that’s based in California from my home office in Indiana, or a coffee shop in Chicago, or even on the other side of the world. Travel time is however long it takes to boot up your computer and open Zoom. The cost of travel and lodging stays in your pocket. You’ll probably still be paying for a “ticket,” but the convenience of being able to attend from anywhere is a huge, huge bonus.

Costs can be minimized (somewhat)

If you’re putting on your first virtual event, it might still be pretty expensive. You may have to shell out some of your budget for the proper equipment to record and broadcast your production, and for the technology to allow your audience to consume it. Some of these costs are fixed and some can vary, some are a one-time deal and others might crop up again and again if you put on multiple events. The main point is: running a virtual event is probably not going to be free. Sorry to burst your bubble.

But! A lot of the costs you usually have to figure in for an in-person event are not going to trouble you. Renting a space, paying for catering, signage for the event space—this is all more or less not going to be an issue. There’s also some opportunity costs you won’t have to deal with—for one, you don’t have to plan your schedule around when your favorite venue is available, or pick a venue based on the date and time you absolutely have to hold your event.

A virtual conference is not going to be free, but a lot of things you’re used to paying for are just not going to come up.

Timing is everything

Well, actually it’s sort of the opposite. Typically, with an in-person event, finding the right time for said event is critical. Most importantly, once you have the right time nailed down, you need to keep it that way. Your guests typically cannot abide you switching dates or even times—a lot goes into their ability to show up, and they need to know when they need to do it. Changing the date of your event at the last minute might mean plane ticket changes, cancelled hotel reservations, or scheduling conflicts might even prevent people from showing up at all.

Moving your event online isn’t going to completely remove that obstacle. But it’s going to help a lot. You’ll have a bit more leeway in terms of changes, and frankly if you need to, you’ll have some space to work with in terms of simply announcing the event—between two and four weeks is ideal, which would be cutting it way too close for an in-person event, especially when it comes to things like reserving a venue for the event. Think for a moment about calling to reserve a block of hotel rooms and conference space two weeks ahead of time, and think about how hard the person on the other end of the phone would be laughing.

You can also even shorten the event to decrease its footprint on people’s calendars, from attendees to presenters. Renting an event space for a one-hour presentation is, frankly, kind of dumb. It’s a lot of money for, probably, not that much return on the investment. But if it’s a virtual event, shorter events, whether an hour or half a day, are far easier to conduct.

 

How to build a virtual event

There’s a lot that goes into making a virtual event a true success. Honestly, probably more than we can cover here. But if you’re just starting out, here are some of the basics.

Planning and budgeting

As with anything, starting out with a clear and intelligent plan is critical. You need to define your goals for the event early on in the process and create a strategy to get you from point A to achieving those goals successfully. Once you have an idea of what you need to do, next you need to determine what your budget for the event is. Prioritize what is a need and what’s a want, determine the resources you’ll require to get it all done, and you’ll be on the right track in no time.

Building your speaker list

Depending on whether you’re starting your virtual event plan from scratch or taking a planned in-person event online, you might already have a speaker list in mind. If you do, good news—not everything from your in-person event plan has to be scrapped. Your speaker list really does not have to change simply because you’re online. In fact, if it does change, it might actually get longer—since it’s just easier to attend a virtual event than an in-person event, you might be able to snag a guest who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend or interested in making the attempt.

Marketing the event and attracting guests

What if you threw an event and nobody came? Well, that would probably mean that you hadn’t done a very good job of telling people that it was happening. Attracting events for a virtual event really isn’t that different from an in-person event, with one major exception. You’re still trying to find the right people to meet your event’s goals, whether that’s prospecting or building thought leadership or something else entirely. You’re still going to use your speakers and your theme to get people in the door (metaphorically speaking, of course).

So what’s different? Actually, much like with your speakers, it’s just that you can really widen the net. Distance and travel and lodging are no longer issues, and since your virtual event might be shorter than a regular event, you might even be able to work around even the busiest schedules. People could conceivably even dip in and out for speakers they’re more interested in while still being able to maintain their work schedule. It’s a win-win for you and your attendees.

Logistics for day-of operations

Don’t underestimate the help you’ll need on the day of your event. Sure, it’s not going to be the same as it would be for a normal event. You won’t need people to hand out nametags or help guide attendees from meeting space to meeting space. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to just crank up the machine and let it run.

At the very least, you’re likely to need a host for your event, someone who can help keep transitions between speakers smooth and sort of be the face of the show for your attendees. You might also want someone a little more behind the scenes to help manage questions from the audience and prep upcoming speakers for their turn at bat. Most important, though, is your technical staff. Whether they can work their magic before the day or they’re needed throughout, one of the most critical things your virtual event needs to be a smashing success is technical competence. You don’t need funky cinematography or gimmicky tricks. You just need the audio and video to be properly synched, you need the connection not to drop, you need everyone to be able to log into the right app at the appointed time—in short, things just have to work as expected.

Figure out long beforehand who’s doing what, when things are happening, and what you need to succeed. Get everything lined up, and you’re likely to have a successful event.

Follow-up for speakers and guests

After your event ends, it isn’t really over. There’s a lot you can do afterward to continue to maintain contact and build a relationship with all of your participants, from event attendees to speakers. Some things are simple—you can send attendees recordings of the presentations, you can send a thank-you message to the all-stars who agreed to speak. But since your virtual event took place online, you actually have even more options than you would otherwise.

You’ll have deeper data on what people were interested in, which means you can provide better content to them in the future. Your next virtual event can be more closely tailored to the things that got major traction in the past, or you might be able to adjust your messaging to help get more people interested in the parts that they missed before. You can also structure your future communications with them based on what you already know they care about. You can build workflows based on attendance of a session or a track within your event and show off other content you have at your disposal that can nurture them along the path to purchase.