6 Tips to Make Virtual Events a Success in the New Year and Beyond
Regardless of the industry or business size, every company was forced to make some sort of pivot in 2020 to address the challenges that COVID-19 presented. This was especially true for marketers with corporate event strategies. While 2020 started with the sudden cancellation of several industry events and the hope for some sort of normalcy by mid-year, even those who pushed their events back six months quickly recognized that in-person events weren’t going to happen.
This was the exact scenario that my team was faced with. As our marketing team was in full-swing planning for our annual user conference, the pandemic hit just two months before the big event and halted plans for the show to go on. Many marketers found themselves in this same position. They were left to wonder what they would do in place of the event they relied on to connect with customers, partners and prospects. For many, virtual events became the solution, taking the place of in-person events. As a result, marketing teams were thrown into overdrive, brainstorming ways to mimic their annual conferences through computer screens.
As the Head of Demand Gen, I was tasked with helping our company pivot and launch our first all-virtual event. As we planned, I began to outline some goals. I hoped to achieve a seamless hosting experience with zero technological hiccups, compliments from attendees that it felt like a real event despite the circumstances, and a rich pipeline of leads as a result of engaging conversations that rivaled that of an in-person event. While accomplishing all of this seemed somewhat improbable, I knew it didn’t have to be.
I watched talented marketers around the globe host successful all-virtual events and prove it is possible.
As we plan and prepare for this year, there is still much uncertainty around events. Without a doubt, virtual events will likely be a part of organizations’ marketing strategies in 2021 and beyond. As companies continue to prepare and plan, the following are a few best practices they can follow to ensure their virtual events are a success.
Identify opportunities to connect 1:1 with attendees.
Traditionally, tradeshow and conference booths offered the perfect time for attendees to connect with product experts and ask questions. This doesn’t have to change with virtual events. For instance, companies can recreate these same interactions by allowing attendees to sign up for 1:1 online chats with product experts.
Allow for customers to talk with other customers.
One of the most valuable insights for customers or prospects who attend events is the voice of current customers. In lieu of customers chatting amongst each other over dinner or drinks at the end of a session, give them a place where they can freely discuss their experiences. Consider setting up roundtables based on product, industry, challenge or results where customers can sign up to talk with those in a similar situation.
Create bite-sized content that resonates.
Virtual events have to compete with mindshare, multi-tasking and conflicting meetings that normally wouldn’t be a distraction during an in-person event. This means content must be short and impactful to drive audience attendance and engagement. To ensure content resonates, find great speakers to help your event stand out, narrow down your sessions to only the most popular topics, and even consider cutting each session in half. As people are short on time, bite-sized content and condensed sessions will lead to more engagement.
Don’t forget the little, meaningful details.
When trying to recreate the feel of a memorable and interactive experience, it really is about the little details. Consider adding a different city skyline view for each “room” or turning each environment into a unique experience, just like an in-person event. For example, greet attendees looking outside of windows with the Golden Gate Bridge in the ‘expo’ background or couches and a coffee station in the ‘networking lounge.’ What seems to be small details will help differentiate your event from a cookie-cutter digital venue.
Remember: networking still matters.
Networking sessions were always a major benefit of attending a live event, whether taking place over breakfast each morning, at happy hour in the evening, or on the expo floor between sessions. Now, companies must continue to find ways to allow attendees to mingle and interact with one another in the absence of these situations. Consider setting up virtual networking lounges staffed by your product experts, online meetups with customers, help desk support, and booths for professional services teams and sponsoring partners.
Offer access to an entire resource center.
Collateral at tradeshows and conferences was historically limited to what marketers could fit on their booth table or magazine stand. But at a virtual event, companies can provide attendees with all of the information they might need to learn more through ungated assets. Look into hosting the assets in a central repository to track traffic and access insights on which materials resonate better than others.
If you’re planning a virtual event in 2021, take a deep breath and follow the above steps to tackle it step by step. While we are unsure of when events will be able to safely return to their previous state, we can make the best of virtual shows that will likely continue to fill our calendars into the foreseeable future.