How to get the best out of your virtual event
Adrian Parrott, Technical Director, takes a look at what makes a virtual event successful.
The first and most important factor is to remember that your virtual event will never be the same as an in-person event. Yes, the objectives of the event will be broadly the same but the structure of the event is very different. A common mistake is to try and replicate the in-person event in the virtual world. Below are some factors to consider when planning a virtual event:
- Platform – 1 way or 2 way
- Live or recorded
- Timings & duration
- Event registration
- Exhibitors & sponsors
Are you looking to primarily broadcast information to the attendees?
Broadcast style events almost take the shape of a television style livestream with large audiences watching presenters/panels mixed into a video feed available to view through a website. Audience interaction for such events could include website based message/chat function or interactive voting. These sort of events have a very professional feel to them and create huge opportunities for branding and advertising. Examples can include Award ceremonies, product demonstration, information dissemination and panel discussions.
Are you looking to allow full two way interaction between audience and presenters and within audience?
If you wish to facilitate audience interaction (audio and video) an alternative platform is required. Questions that need to be addressed when designing your event are you wanting to have “open sessions” when the audience are all able to contribute or are you looking to facilitate smaller group breakouts to discuss particular topics?
Are you looking for a combination of the two?
It is not a case of one or the other in terms of delivery style, virtual events can have both styles combined into a single event. The livestream has the “broadcast” style for main sessions and then goes to “full audience interaction” as a series of smaller breakout sessions. The key to success here is to ensure that movement between these (virtually) is simple and seamless for the attendee.
Once you have worked out the objectives the choice of platform becomes more straightforward. Budget does come into play at this point. It is possible to run such events on a standard video calling platform (Zoom, Teams etc) and this is a very minimal cost. However, the professionalism and the opportunity for branding and advertising is very limited. This also leads onto the question about whether attendees are paying to join the event. If they are paying to attend there is the possibility that they are expecting more than just a basic video call.
The other extreme in terms of budget are virtual conference platforms. These can allow for exhibition stands, breakout rooms and networking facilitation. Whilst some of these are good (some of them are not so good) most of them require a considerable investment. If the scope is a one-off or a series of events with a low number of attendees these probably are priced prohibitively.
The broadcast style event (with breakouts) is more cost effective and also allows much more flexibility in design and branding. Delegant has run such events with the event hosted on the companies own website. This has multiple benefits from allowing existing users to login through to allowing the complete integration with the other information available online.
Live or Recorded (or a mixture)
If you want to minimise the risk of poor internet connection from a remote presenter, or have a presenter who can’t make the time slot, recording the session in advance can be very beneficial. With the right support this can be played into an event at the correct time. This can also be very beneficial if you event has to stick to a specific schedule. Pre-recording allows you to ensure the correct duration. Other benefits of pre-records include being able to add subtitles and translations to the session. Delegant has run events like this where a session has been pre-recorded and introduced live by the person presenting and afterwards they have taken live Q&A.
Timings & Duration
There is a limit to the concentration of an attendee when taking part in virtual events. There are also additional distractions, e.g. emails. Taking a fairly normal one day in-person event (e.g. 6 hours of sessions) and trying to do that virtually in the same format is challenging for the attendee. Whilst you wouldn’t necessarily split an in-person event over 2 days (time of the office, costs of an overnight stay etc) there are many reasons to do it for a virtual event. Therefore consider realistically what timings would avoid screen fatigue and give the attendee the best possible outcome from the event and work to that. Two half days rather than one full day is a lot easier for attendees.
Sessions should be engaging and not just in terms of content. Use of different media techniques and interactivity can help the attendee’s concentration and overcome staring at just a talking head, examples can include switching between presenter views, use of audience interaction techniques including polls and word clouds. It is also important to create an agenda/programme that incorporates different kinds of sessions to mix up the visual experience for the attendee.
A simple registration system is essential. Make this process too difficult and it does not set the right tone or user experience for the event before it has even begun. Get this wrong and attendees might not come. If it is an event with a fee attached there is an expectation to be able to pay online and receive a receipt automatically once the process is complete. Attendees do not expect to have to download booking forms and send payment separately. The entire process should be seamless.
For some, attending an annual event is the highlight of the year giving them the opportunity to catch up with colleagues in their industry. Events are the place to bring people together, share ideas, insights and experiences. Face to face networking is harder to replicate in a virtual environment, but it isn’t impossible.
Networking can take place in the “run-up” to the event in a variety of different ways. Pre-event “receptions” where individuals can sign up to attend an informal video call with other attendees. A chat facility on the event website in the days prior to the event can promote discussion and allow attendees to post questions or contact people they’d like to talk to. The same could be done after the event with follow up “meet the presenter” sessions or “discuss the session” calls.
Exhibitors & Sponsors
Sponsors can be incorporated very easily into broadcast and platform style virtual events. These include branding on the website, sessions introduced with a short played-in video advert, through to a physical mailing pack being sent out to attendees. This could be anything from a brochure to an event pack (e.g. branded mug and coffee, t-shirt, lanyards, pens and notepads).
Exhibitions are a slightly different challenge. Some platforms allow for virtual exhibitor stands, these have varying degrees of success. Some other events have had virtual rooms where attendees can go and talk to exhibitors. If you are at an event and are an exhibitor that people want to stop and talk to you at then virtual events can be attractive as the attendee can seek you out. However, if you are an exhibitor and attend events where you have to “stop” people who are passing by then virtual events will be a much harder proposition. In this case it maybe better to explore turning exhibitors into sponsors.
Delegant Limited can work with you to deliver each type of virtual event. Delegant is an event and association management company based in Oxfordshire. We work with multinational companies through to UK based membership organisations.
Contact us to discuss your requirements: firstname.lastname@example.org