November 12, 2020 by Ronn
"Virtual events break down geographic barriers to attendance. Stretch your event across time zones so participants can experience it live wherever they are. Leverage digital conferencing platforms... that enable live captioning and translation for speaker remarks so audience members can view subtitles in their local language."
—Bob Bejan, Microsoft corporate VP, in a Fast Company article titled "8 Ways to Rethink Virtual Events for the Age of Social Distancing"
There's no doubt that there are some drawbacks to virtual events. After all, we are social creatures. But there's also a lot to embrace. Bejan, who will be delivering a keynote fireside chat at our upcoming BIMS event featuring the SIPA Sales & Marketing Leadership Summit—see the incredible list of speakers here—has some definite ideas on how to make your virtual events shine.
Here are some of those and other ways publishers can take advantage of virtual events.
Think outside—or extend!—the box. There’s no reason anymore that your event has to be just 2-3 consecutive days. Do a special hour of content every Monday afternoon and call it your Magic Monday conference. BVR's Divorce Conference scheduled sessions weeks before and after. Instead of their annual conference, the United Fresh Produce Association created United Fresh LIVE! 365, a year-round online platform featuring a permanent expo, social gatherings, on-demand education, webinars, conference programming, and networking opportunities for the global produce industry. “We basically built a year-round convention center,” John Toner, VP of convention and industry collaboration, said.
Go global. As mentioned above, there should be no barrier besides time difference why you can't have a bigger global audience, if that works for your niche. Content from virtual events can also be put on-demand, so if the time difference is a hindrance, they could watch it anytime. "At Microsoft, we publish event recordings to Stream and Yammer for people to watch when it works for them," Bejan writes. For Pro Farmer’s first virtual Crop Tour in August, four online, 90-minute broadcasts brought in more than 18,000 total viewers coming from all 50 states and 12 countries. (Historically, the typical audience across the four days and seven Midwest locations has ranged between 2,000 and 3,000.) “You can’t get that kind of reach in person,” said Joe May, marketing and sales director, indicating that Pro Farmer will most likely keep some of that digital component in future Crop Tours.
Make it a conversation. You want your audience engaged with presenters throughout a virtual conference, Bejan writes. “For example, connecting via your social communities where your customers are already engaged can help build conversation leading up to the event and get people in the mindset to learn and ask questions. Enabling attendees to engage with each other and ask questions ahead of time can also help presenters prepare to address what’s top of mind for their audience.” He also points to the importance of a good moderator to encourage that conversation.
Parse the data, while the event is going on. "There's definitely more data that we were able to collect with the virtual event than with an in-person event," Enit Nichani, vice president of marketing for North America at IGEL, told TechTarget. The article said that a reporting feature in vFairs—their digital platform of choice—enabled their marketing team “to see how many times a user visited a particular booth, what sessions they attended and how long they stayed for those sessions.” You should use the data to even make changes during the event, if need be. Maybe some type of Q&A worked particularly well on the first day or a chatroom or exhibitor showroom didn’t. You’ll know.
Always think about what’s different. Eric Shanfelt, founding partner of Nearview Media, told us how important it is to provide opportunities for people to meet one-on-one. But then he also warned not to make these too short. One "speed dating" type session he attended gave just two minutes and that was barely enough time for introductions. Again, in person, 3-4 minutes could be okay to say a couple things and tell someone you’ll see them at happy hour. But virtual is different. He also advised integrating sponsors into sessions and Q&As, making sure they’re not just dumped into separate areas.
Again, watch Bejan live at our BIMS event featuring the SIPA Sales & Marketing Leadership Summit, Dec 2-4. Also see a Power Panel on the Future of Events.
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…