As much as we are Zoomed out and miss seeing our colleagues at in-person events, there are advantages to virtual events that we need to take advantage of. I was listening to a webinar today and while describing an event pivot they made for their farming audience, one organizer said that “farmers from Guatemala joined us and that couldn’t have happened any other way.”
Here are more ways we can take better advantage of virtual events:
Go global. As I just described, there should be no barrier besides time difference why you can't have a bigger global audience. Some organizations have staggered sessions so there’s something for every time zone. Of course, content from virtual events can also be easily put on-demand. "At Microsoft, we publish event recordings to Stream and Yammer for people to watch when it works for them,” said Bob Bejan, a Microsoft corporate VP. “Leverage digital conferencing platforms... that enable live captioning and translation for speaker remarks so audience members can view subtitles in their local language."
Use the events to promote memberships or upsells. One group is recommending that you lower the barriers for non-members or non-subscribers to attend your events because of the extended relationships that can emerge at this time. “Get them to register and attend and then deliver unbelievable value to them by putting on a heck of a show: on demand content, live entertainment, concurrent sessions, and more," wrote JP Moery of The Moery Company. "Showcase your vendors and suppliers in a compelling way… Set up short sessions for non-members (where you can talk member value) and promote them prior to the event.”
Offer sponsors what they need. “How can you best help sponsors?” asks Charity Huff of January Spring. “What kind of voice are you giving them [during the event]? What will their access be to registrants so they can be in front of those folks? Can they introduce sessions, host one-on-one chats? After the event what can you do to help them?” She recommends highlighting their participation in the materials you send out and any groups you create.
Reach for tough-to-get speakers. “For event planners, booking speakers becomes more flexible as well,” writes David Meerman Scott, who once keynoted a SIPA Conference. “Speakers (like myself) find ourselves booked out for events all across the globe, making it hard to squeeze in last-minute requests or adjust our schedules. With virtual events, we can deliver our content from a home studio. While speakers need to tailor their keynotes to create a unique experience specifically for the online medium, the added time of travel does not need to be a part of pre-speech preparation anymore.”
Get better feedback—including during the event. We all struggle with the best ways to get feedback during and after our in-person events—I still think paper ballots right after a session worked best. We also physically count how many people are in a session room. “Attendees don’t want to be busy with their phones or checking their inbox—they want to be engaged by great speakers, entertainers and like-minded peers,” wrote Meerman Scott. “With the right event management software, you can send in-event engagement surveys and collect feedback immediately after an event. You can also very easily see how many people attended certain online sessions and which speakers seemed to get the most engagement from the audience beyond the old crowd volume test.” I would also suggest getting feedback after Day 1 of a multi-day event. Then perhaps you can adjust something on the fly.
Add value. An in-person event is pretty much confined to those days. There should be no limit to a virtual event. Eric Shanfelt, founding partner of Nearview Media, suggests a series of sessions to comprise an event. “We’ll just do a live webcast every Friday at 1 pm Eastern. We’ll record it and put it in the members only section, and then in a podcast. Sponsors will like it because they get multiple mentions in email, the webcast, on-demand and the podcast. People can then come in when they want and view what they want." BVR’s Virtual Divorce Conference added sessions a week before and a week and two after to their main three-day virtual event. Why not?