After years of lurking in the wings, virtual events have been thrust centre stage, courtesy of Covid‑19. Because of their novelty, no-one can yet claim to be an authority. But based on 12 years of providing software solutions to the event industry, here’s my list of do’s and don’ts:
- Make your event an event!
A few webinars arranged over an extended period do not constitute an event. Events run for defined period of time and give participants a concentrated experience in which they and their industry colleagues are fully focussed on topics of common interest and convergent goals. Virtual events may run for a few hours or for many days, but they need a clearly defined structure – a beginning, a middle and an end.
- Include a mixture of online activities
Events where ‘experts’ deliver presentations all day long are, at best, an acquired taste. Nowadays, event attendees look forward to a mixture of activities. Use webinars for the keynotes and main content presentations. But also include plenty of time for 1-2-1 networking and small working groups. If applicable to your event, consider having roundtables or workshops sponsored by suppliers.
- Make your webinars engaging
Plan your webinars carefully and make them engaging. There are a lot of good products out there to help you. Look for ones that permit presentations with a moderator, ongoing chat among listeners, the posting of questions to speakers, and polls. Consider a variety of other formats, such as moderated panel sessions, interviews with industry thought leaders, or even a light-hearted quiz.
- Don’t be afraid to make your event exclusive
Quality is more important than quantity. Attendees want to feel they are amongst their peers. Virtual events give you a great opportunity to vet your audience. Use registration software that lets you preload invitees or else allows people to register provisionally, pending your approval.
- Carefully profile your registrants
Use your registration process to collect valuable profiling data. Some of this can assist in marketing, but its primary purpose should be to enable participants to quickly identify suitable meeting partners. If your event brings together buyers and sellers or multiple attendee types, then consider profiling them differently.
- Make the networking format fit the event
Good networking opportunities are a powerful magnet. The chance to have a 15-minute meeting with a major buyer or key executive will be gold-dust to some attendees. But not all events are the same. Peer-to-peer networking events are different from buyer-supplier forums. Sometimes, you may want to let the attendees arrange meetings among themselves. At other times, where certain participants are in high demand, you may want to collect everyone’s preferences but curate the meetings yourself.
- Ensure activities run on time
Timeliness is important at events. But even more so with attendees, some in different time zones, all trying to keep up with the programme. With 1-2-1 meetings and invigorating roundtables, participants, left unconstrained, will merrily over-run allotted times. Your meeting and roundtable software should visibly count-down the time remaining and then terminate your online sessions.
- Include sufficient breaks between activities
Include enough downtime in your programme for refreshments (self-catered!), bathroom breaks, and a chance to make vital business calls. If people are in different times zones, they should see times adjusted to their location. Participants should be able to block out their schedule when unavailable for meetings and other programme activities.
- Communicate clearly and provide simple personalised event itineraries
Regardless of the underlying delivery platforms used for webinars, roundtables and 1-2-1 meetings, users should just see a single itinerary with simple links, e.g. “Join Webinar”, “Join Roundtable” or “Online Meeting”. Use email or SMS to remind participants of upcoming activities.
- Make recorded content available after the event
If you are recording webinars and other sessions, make the content available, but only after the event. This could be made accessible to registrants who signed up for the event as well as selected business partners, prospects and VIPs with whom you wish to further your relationship.
Good luck and feel free to contact me at Delegate Select with any questions or comments.
© Graham Simon – May 2020
First published in Event Industry News on May 1, 2020