In response to the pandemic, companies are cancelling or modifying their in-person events.
It goes without saying that in today’s world, an event planner that knows how to plan a virtual event has never been more important.
What’s Trending: Virtual Events
This surge in interest and adoption of virtual events is like what happened during the 2008 financial crisis.
In the fall of 2008 and continuing into 2009, companies cancelled events entirely or moved them from face-to-face gatherings to virtual events. In the technology sector, Cisco moved its annual global sales meeting from a Las Vegas resort to virtual only.
Notified president Ben Chodor noted that virtual events are an effective solution during uncertain times. According to Chodor, “Live virtual events provide a secure environment in which you can successfully bring your audience together, without risking health and safety. During a crisis, the well-being of employees, clients, or prospects are, of course, the main priority. Giving your audiences the ability to attend an event via desktop or mobile device removes any on-site risks that may be present.”
In this Event Manager blog, the author notes, “Clearly, there is still a long way to go in the adoption of virtual events in the industry, but they have a lot of potential. Now is the time to start considering them more seriously, and some industry leaders have got the ball rolling.”
As Cisco determined in 2008-2009, despite cancelling the physical meeting, sales objectives and planning needed to take place. Business could not come to a complete standstill. Similarly, companies facing coronavirus threats still need to plan for this year’s sales, connect with customers or hold company-wide meetings.
According to Tahira Endean, Head of Events at SITE (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence), “At this critical time where many organizations have put a stop to non-essential travel, they still have essential messages to share and a well-curated and delivered virtual event can bridge this gap.”
In other words, virtual event planning is a skill set you need to know. Now.
Your Entryway to Virtual Event Planning
If you’re not doing virtual event planning today, you’re likely in one of two scenarios:
You’re a digital marketer (e.g., branding, demand generation, social media marketing), who’s been given the task of planning and executing virtual events.
You’re an event planner (e.g., in-person events and meetings) who’s adding virtual event planning responsibilities to your job description.
Given the response to the pandemic, you might have been “thrown into the fire” and asked to plan a virtual event right away, with no formal training or education. This is a scenario I saw with marketers and event planners in 2008-2009: planners were suddenly tasked with planning their first virtual event.
For those who have time to plan, do online research about virtual event planning and consider going for an industry certification. For virtual events, one of the best-known industry certifications is the Digital Event Strategist (DES) Certification from PCMA.
According to PCMA, “The Digital Event Strategist certification is designed to help you effectively plan, produce and measure the results of your live stream and digital engagement events. Earning this certification shows you are the authority on livestreaming and digital events.”
PCMA notes that there are 400+ DES graduates from 19 countries. This is a small number compared to the 12,000+ meeting professionals who hold the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) certification.
This means that a DES certification helps you stand out from the crowd, putting you among a relatively exclusive group of meeting pros.
According to Tahira, “I was so happy to have done my DES certification, which I did after having done several virtual and hybrid meetings. The reality is we live in a world where digital connections are the norm and ignoring this for our meetings—especially when education is involved, is a lost opportunity.”
Virtual Event Planning Tips
While there are aspects of face-to-face events that can’t be reproduced online, virtual events have attributes that are exclusive to the online experience.
According to Kristi Casey Sanders, Senior Director of Community Engagement for Meeting Professionals International (MPI), “In virtual events, leverage the fact that your audience is at a computer and can contribute information of their own. Having contests where the first person to come back with the answer is fun.”
Unlike face-to-face events, Kristi notes that virtual events are a great medium for introverts. “Chat and related interactivity in a virtual event can be a really beautiful connective space where people can express themselves more freely than an in-person experience,” says Kristi.
In addition to serving introverts, virtual meetings can foster more open and direct communication. In a virtual “town hall meeting,” for instance, employees may feel more comfortable sharing concerns about their manager or concerns about the workplace.
Let’s consider some tips for virtual event planners.
Think Beyond the Livestream
Yes, the livestream is a primary element of the event experience. In a virtual event, the livestream covers the audio or video presentations (e.g., keynotes, main sessions, breakout sessions, etc.). In a hybrid event, where an in-person event is extended online, the livestream includes video broadcasts from the stage.
Don’t get me wrong: spend the time, money and effort to deliver a high-quality livestream. But also think deeper about how you can meet the needs of your online audience. According to Elizabeth Glau, Director of Strategy, EGCX Group, “Understanding what types of content appeal to the various segments of your participants in a virtual environment is essential. If you simply stream content from a stage, the online audience will not feel included. Best practices in community management and online engagement can be used to make sure your attendees get connected.”
If you understand what your online audience wants and create an experience to meet those needs, you’ll stand out from other event planners. According to Kristi from MPI, “Not many digital event producers understand the education and engagement piece so if you can master that strategy, you’ve developed a useful skill that will set you apart from people who only know how to broadcast content.”
Also consider the needs of the speakers and presenters of your virtual event. Speaker training is different compared to face-to-face events. Kristi notes that speakers won’t have an in-room audience to feed off and can’t read body language through a laptop’s webcam. Virtual event planners will also want to familiarize presenters with the Q&A feeds, chat feeds and other interactive features that are available in the platform.
Craft a Unique and Compelling Virtual Experience
It’s a common mistake: experienced event pros planning their first virtual event seek to replicate face-to-face experiences online. The problem? Not everything in a face-to-face event translates well to an online experience. In addition, by focusing solely on replicating a face-to-face event experience, you miss out on exclusive opportunities that an online experience provides.
According to Tahira, “Don’t assume that a great digital event is the same as a successful live event. It requires a lens that is clearly focused on an audience you cannot see and who may or may not stay engaged depending on the production and true value of the content being delivered.”
While virtual event planners will have less ability to gauge body language and facial expressions, proxies can be used to measure engagement: number of questions during a webinar, number of users in a networking lounge, number of chat messages exchanged, etc.
In addition, ensure that your engagement strategy makes use of the features provided by the virtual event platform. According to MPI’s Kristi, “You don’t know what attendees are really paying attention to because they’re not with you, so you need to have a really engaging strategy to combat the attention deficit that will be in play.”
Learn more about Notified’s end-to-end event platform.
This is a guest post by Dennis Shiao, marketing consultant and columnist for Content Marketing Institute.