As companies large and small look for ways to facilitate strategic growth, virtual events have emerged as a way to foster connections, build community and share information, bringing remote attendees together to discuss, engage, learn and re-energize.
Virtual events have also become the de facto replacement for live events, leaving many companies to grapple with the challenges of making a virtual gathering look and feel like a live, branded experience.
Consult the following tips to help you discover ways to make your next virtual event more engaging, memorable and fun. Sure, virtual events come with some constraints, but they also enable some exciting opportunities, too — fewer barriers to attendance, for example, which means larger audiences.
How to Make Your Next Virtual Event Stand Out
Make a plan.
Let’s say you have experience hosting recurring live events like annual meetings or conferences. It can be tempting to want to “flip the switch,” or simply transfer your live programming into a virtual realm.
First, take a step back to understand your virtual format and what content will perform best in a technology-focused environment. For example, let’s say your company is in the process of transforming a live annual conference into a virtual event. And that conference is known for its depth of programming: multiple keynote speakers and presentations coupled with several concurrent breakout sessions in several time slots. That breadth of learning opportunities, while valuable for a live event, doesn’t necessarily translate to the digital confines of a virtual event.
The solution? Make the technology work for you. Consider a virtual event as your brand’s highlight reel. What messages and insight do you want to showcase? How can you effectively do that in a virtual environment? And how do you keep your attendees engaged in an environment that can be more prone to distractions?
Go beyond the platform.
If you’re hosting an event with multi-faceted programming and want to encourage several methods of attendee interaction, a comprehensive digital platform is an ideal solution. Platforms put a variety of resources at your fingertips: live streaming, chat rooms, message boards, file repositories, polls, online stores and more.
Yet don’t forget the other resources you’ll need for a successful virtual event, namely audio/visual. You could argue that A/V quality is even more important in a virtual environment, especially if your audience or colleagues have expressed reluctance about the efficacy of virtual events. Speakers should be coached individually or in small groups to confirm optimal presentation and equipment settings. If your event or meeting includes multiple segments, you’ll likely want to enlist the help of an emcee or facilitator to establish a smooth and up-beat pace. And you’ll want people on hand to communicate on the back-end to stay ahead of possible glitches or other challenges, manage multiple streams and maintain an uninterrupted flow.
Design an experience.
When attendees walk into a live event, they often develop an impression of the brand that’s solidified throughout their time on-site. You can create a similar impression with a virtual event, especially if you think of it as an experience. It’s easy to dismiss a virtual event as just a video call or just a webinar. Sure, those may be elements of your event, but keep your eye on a more holistic, 50,000-foot view of what’s happening.
Consider these questions:
What mood or tone do you want to establish?
What do you want attendees to feel as they start and end the event?
How can you encourage attendees to create and build relationships, both with each other and with you?
Why should attendees prioritize this event over other opportunities?
How can you deliver maximum value in a virtual environment?
Here’s our tried and tested magic formula: combine experience design and strategy, then bring it to life in the virtual environment. By embracing the unique features of the virtual format, you can introduce a refined event framework, welcome more attendees and capitalize on other technology-enabled benefits. The result is a lasting impression that’s just as powerful as the one created by a live event.
Define attendee takeaways.
With the rapid rise in virtual events, you may also notice increasing virtual fatigue. Attendees may lose energy and focus more quickly in a virtual environment, which means a successful virtual event includes efficient time management as part of the attendee experience.
Consider these questions as you build your event logistics and programming:
What information and emotions do you want attendees to take away from the virtual event?
Do you want them to take any action in the days and weeks following the experience?
How can you help keep attendees connected and continue to foster any community building momentum that happens organically during the event?
Identifying these strategic elements can then help you work backward to ensure your event programming, technology and format support your goals.
If you feel like the year so far has been a giant ball of stress, you’re not alone! Yet as you plan your next virtual event, don’t forget to have fun. What sort of socializing and other activities would you include in a live event? And how can you modify those ideas for a virtual format?
Host a virtual wine tasting or happy hour, for example. Many wineries and distilleries are now offering drink packages (sometimes with food) that you can send attendees prior to the event. After a bit of education from the winery or distillery owner, give attendees a chance to kick back, sip and catch up with each other.
Other ideas include virtual live music performances, virtual tours of destinations near or far, a cooking demonstration or a creative project. Impromptu giveaways can keep attendees excited and engaged. Or consider opportunities to focus on health and wellness — a virtual yoga class or guided meditation session can provide welcome physical and mental relief.
Embrace these two attributes.
These two mindsets can make all the difference in gracefully navigating virtual event planning: be flexible and be creative. You try to be prepared for multiple scenarios during live events, right? You’ll want to adopt that same attitude for virtual gatherings. The reliance on technology to host a successful event can be nerve-wracking, so prepare to be flexible and change things on the fly, just as you would in a live scenario.
As you go into a virtual event, especially if it’s your first one, know that something may go awry. Do what you can to get the event back on track and don’t let it derail your momentum. We’re all forging a new path together, and showing yourself and your team leniency — especially in a time of high stress — can make a big difference.
In addition, don’t be afraid to experiment a little. It’s true: your live event likely can’t perfectly transition to a virtual environment. But how can you play on the strengths of a virtual gathering and technology? What elements can you add that were out-of-reach for your live event? With so much change in the air, now’s the time to step outside of the box and try something new. Just think: accumulating experience with both live and virtual events gives you valuable insight to guide your future event planning. Now that virtual events are more widely used, companies will increasingly have more options at their disposal. More than ever, the question boils down to the format and capabilities that will deliver the best attendee experience, which you can assess on a case-by-case basis.
We hope these tips have helped get the ideas flowing! If you want to chat through anything, or get more examples of how we’ve helped clients plan and launch successful virtual events, please reach out for a no-charge discovery session, good for both current and prospective clients. It’s a new frontier, but we’ll brave it together!