Networking, relationship and community building, strengthening your brand — these are just a few of the many strategic benefits that come from live events like trade shows and conferences.
So what do you do if, like so many businesses and organizations, current circumstances have encouraged pivots to virtual events? Converting a live event to a virtual format is so much more than setting up a Zoom meeting or selecting and customizing a web platform.
The trick is to approach your virtual event with a similar mindset that you would have with a live event. You have to get the most value out of the event as possible while also delivering a meaningful, memorable attendee experience.
Start your virtual event planning process by answering the following three questions. That way, you’ll have a better understanding of existing assets and what sort of virtual presence makes the most sense for you and your audience.
1. What assets do you have (or are you planning to have) that you can leverage in a virtual format?
There’s a good chance you’re already creating content and other marketing assets, both for general use and for specific events. Take a quick assessment of your content library. With that information, you can decide on a virtual strategy that makes the most sense.
Here’s an example. Let’s say webinars are valuable learning tools for your company and/or audience. Instead of sending people elsewhere for webinars, can you create your own virtual home base, then regularly host your own webinars? You’ll help build your brand while also making it easy for people to find information they need to stay up-to-date with their industry and peers.
If you have a library of content like articles, white papers and testimonials, consider starting a blog (if you don’t already have one) and adding digital resources like an e-newsletter.
The goal isn’t to exponentially increase your workload, which is why it’s important to assess what you’ve already created — and what’s in the pipeline. You may spot some gaps to fill while you leverage your content and other resources to support and enrich your virtual presence.
2. How do you maximize your brand exposure in the virtual space?
As if the virtual landscape wasn’t crowded enough, we’re all dealing with a pandemic that’s driving our next move when it comes to event planning and hosting.
It’s more important than ever to stand out as much as you can. Consider this important factor: interacting and engaging in a virtual space helps level the playing field between small organizations and associations and global brands.
“Right now, everyone’s trying to figure out how to do the same thing,” says Kevin Cobb, Director of Marketing, Wellington.
So how do you stand out? Lean on your brand’s personality and voice for ideas. What special elements can you add to your virtual experience that will keep attendees buzzing long after the event concludes? Does a virtual format give you capabilities to try a programming or experiential element that may have been previously not feasible during a live event?
A virtual swag shop can be a fun way for attendees to grab some mementos of the event, for example. In lieu of in-person networking and team-building, consider adding some sort of immersive experience — a virtual wine tasting and winery tour, or a live cooking demonstration — that gives attendees a chance to relax and enjoy each other’s company in a virtual hangout.
Another tip? Virtual events make it more cost-effective to literally increase your brand exposure by welcoming more attendees. One Wellington client transitioned an annual live conference to a virtual event and accommodated more than twice the number of attendees than the live counterpart. You could also look at hosting a series of niche virtual events targeted toward a specific audience, then bringing those groups together at a later date for a more comprehensive virtual gathering.
One final consideration: don’t feel like you need to come out of the gate with the biggest, baddest digital presence in history. Consider your brand, your goals, your audience. Where can you help others the most? How can you have the greatest impact? Create a solid digital foundation or hub, then steadily build on it as new ideas come to life.
3. How can you offer the best user experience in a virtual environment?
We mentioned some ways you could add memorable elements to your virtual event, but it’s equally important to take a holistic view of your intended experience. Consider the same questions that help drive strategic planning for a live event:
What do you want attendees to feel and experience during the event?
What do you want attendees to take away once the event concludes?
What challenges can your event help solve?
How do you keep attendees connected and engaged before, during and after the event?
Although your attendees are experiencing your virtual event through a screen, there’s no reason they can’t feel as excited, energized, informed and connected as they would during a live event. Those emotions are more important than ever, especially as so many of us may be feeling more isolated outside of the typical office environment and with a calendar lacking in events.
Thinking through the experience and how to deliver it can also help you make important logistical decisions, too. Keeping attendees conversing and connected is a common goal, so consider incorporating digital features like live chat, forums and in-platform messaging to help facilitate the discourse.
Don’t forget your production resources, too. Connect with speakers individually to ensure they have an optimal set-up and are comfortable with the technology. Be sure you have a team that can manage multiple streams and other programming elements. Sure, technology can surprise us with glitches, but the goal is to deliver a polished and seamless experience.
Lastly, forget about moving everything from a live event over to a digital format. Instead, use a virtual event to embrace your strengths.
“This is where you should rely on your best-of content,” Cobb says. “Virtual events will never truly take the place of what it means to be together in a room, so instead, pick your highlights.”
We hope these questions help guide your strategic planning and give you and your team a boost of confidence as you navigate your new digital frontier. All of us at Wellington are in the midst of helping clients successfully make the live-to-virtual transition. Reach out any time if we can do the same for you.