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Virtual Event Planning Tips During a Global Pandemic

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I don’t think any of us have seen such a rapid change in the world as we’re seeing right now with the current global pandemic upon us. Obviously, the Events industry is one of the first to be hit, and early casualties were Mobile World Congress and the Geneva Motor Show. In both cases, I’ve heard these were handled badly and unsympathetically by the hosts, and many big motor manufacturers had to quickly swap their major launches to different locations or go online. Consequently, these manufacturers have realized these venues are not as important in their future Marketing strategy as they once were.

What has been so alarming at this time is the dramatic speed in which these changes have happened.

On both sides of the Atlantic, our own Zuant system business had been energized massively by shows like the K-Show in Germany, Web Summit’s record turn out in Lisbon, at the tail end of last year, and then straight across to CES and NRF Retail events this January. The takeaways were huge growth and new opportunities for us and the industry as a whole.

And then it stopped. 24 hours before stepping on a plane to Himss TechMed show in Florida, the show was called off. And within the last three weeks, as we all know, all live events have been canceled. 

Silver Linings

I’ve heard a lot of people predict this will mean fewer people go to live events in the future. I could be biased because that’s our business, but I think there will be three positive effects on the events industry:

1. A lot of businesses will discover they don’t need their current amount of office space as more people can actually work from home very effectively with the tools now available. Maybe office space will become more sociable with hot-desking and better conference room facilities for running big internal and virtual events more easily.

2. With less face-to-face business contact, events and tradeshows will become even more important as one of the only ways to meet and get to know customers and prospects in-person to solidify these connections.

3. By trying virtual events in the meantime, a lot of the technology and ways of doing things will encourage companies to apply these new discoveries to enhance their physical events – Virtual success will encourage event planners to blend in these virtual tactics for delegates who physically can’t attend the actual live event.

After talking with clients and event organizers these last couple of weeks, the general consensus is tradeshows will be back with a vengeance come fall and into 2021, as you’ll have the regular calendar mixed in with all the postponements. WARNING: This could get frantic!

Read more: How MarTech Leaders Unlock CRM Success in 2020 and Beyond

Virtual Options to Weather the Storm

The other consideration is a huge risk with the suppliers to the events industry.

A lot of these suppliers rely on outdoor events, music festivals, movie productions and the like to get a return on all their expensive equipment, let alone all the temporary labor which ebbs and flows with the event calendar.

Unfortunately, a lot of these companies will not be able to survive, which again will cause even more pressure in this hectic period coming up, as purchasers will be loathed to commit deposits to companies that may vaporize.  These are tricky times indeed.

So let’s look at virtual events in the meantime. Certainly, we’re all inundated with emails telling us how to switch to ‘virtual’. Here size matters. There’s a vast difference between a true virtual event and a webinar. Effectively switching a 100-person live meeting to virtual and a 5,000+ person to virtual is humungous. 

If it’s small, then a well-planned webinar may do the trick. But large events are another animal altogether. To successfully engage large audiences, planners need to think about the reasons people attend face-to-face events and simulate the same experience virtually. And that isn’t easy.

FACT: Most large events span several days with multiple session tracks and dozens of presenters. 

The first question is what’s the objective? Is it to showcase the new technology, expose new customers to your brand, provide a networking forum for users, drive leads, entertain, or all of the above? 

The second question is, what format will be used? Here are three options: 

1. Live Streaming

When a speaker is presenting live and it is streamed for an audience to view and interact with, in real-time:

– Chat with one another 

– Take notes on points that are important to them

– Engage in live Q&A

– Participate in polls and surveys

2. Pre-recorded Content

This format works best with session tracks where organizers are sharing a lot of content. It can still be engaging for your audience. In fact, through public and private chat, participants can personalize their schedules and interact with other attendees and presenters in much the same way they would in a live session. 

3. Hybrid

Some of the sessions take place live and other sessions are pre-recorded. Perhaps build excitement with a live stream keynote before offering the audience pre-recorded, interactive sessions and tracks.

Amazon-Style Networking 

Whether physical or virtual, the key to any large event is successful attendee networking. A big priority is enabling event participants to connect with one another around common interests. This is so important to recreate the buzz of a live event. Visitor match-making works by recommending connections based on company, job function, topic, and other interests during and between sessions, creating a virtual networking experience for the visitor. 

Another networking tool is providing virtual guests with the ability to set up online appointments in the same way they would if they were attending a face-to-face event. At the end of the day, easy networking opportunities can really make or break an event. 

In the same way that networking is important, offering highly-relevant, personalized content is also critical to a large event’s success. To accomplish this, allow virtual attendees to create their own curriculum, similar to mobile event apps. Then, based on the sessions they attend, make additional session recommendations to keep them engaged.

Think Amazon for virtual events!

Read more: Marketing’s Role in Digital Transformation: Why Sales Owns the Last Mile

Virtual Event Sponsors 

Don’t forget your event sponsors. Here are a few suggestions to attract them to your virtual event:

1. The Virtual Tradeshow enable visitors to access sponsors and meet their reps, just as they would in a face-to-face exhibit hall.

2. Rotating Web Banners are a powerful way to give sponsors additional exposure to their target participants.

3. Mini-Videos are a good way to showcase sponsors before and after pre-recorded promotional content.

Remember Lead Follow-up

And last but not least, is the subject close to my heart: lead retrieval and follow-up. Make sure that, just like a normal tradeshow, you record your visitors’ interests and follow-up requirements, and have a lead follow-up mechanism in place. The good news is this could be an easier time to actually reach prospects directly after the event either by phone, text, email or social since they won’t be traveling to events. 

As we navigate this challenging time, remember the show will go on, whether live or online.

There is a light at the end of this tunnel. Be open to new ways of connecting and stay healthy and hopeful.   

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