Embrace the Virtual Event

What to consider in shifting from IRL to digital

We're living in an unprecedented time; every day there's another public gathering restriction or canceled event. But instead of focusing on the doom and gloom, we've doubled down on finding the silver lining. Events like the Adobe Summit, Collision and Girlboss Rally are just a few examples of a new trend—shifting from an IRL activation to a digital experience. 

In the same way we're relying on video conferencing to keep us connected, the events industry can also embrace the digital world. Virtual conferences aren't new, but they're gaining popularity during this uncertain time. But is a digital strategy right for every brand? Not necessarily. Here are a few considerations to make before going digital. 

Will this add value? 

Just as working remotely teaches us how many meetings could've been emails, not every event needs to become a digital experience. To understand if a digital platform is worthwhile, evaluate the goals for doing an event in the first place. For brands that rely on events for lead generation, it is critical to keep lines of communication open with prospective customers. Postponing an event for several months, allowing business development to wane, would severely impact business. In this instance, a digital event can add a ton of value. Companies can keep their scheduled sales pipeline, and even open it up to a larger global audience—reaching more people than a physical event ever could have. 

Alternatively, for events that prioritize relationship building, you can't replace face-to-face networking with chat rooms and video conferences. It's not always easy to postpone or cancel an event, but in some cases, it might be necessary. 

How do I prepare to go digital? 

If you've attended a video meeting recently—let's face it, who hasn't in this new remote environment?—you may have noticed that some of the traditional taboos of working from home have gone out the window. It's not uncommon to see children and pets running around in the background or for there to be an occasional loud noise or WiFi issue to troubleshoot. And while some of this rings true for a virtual event—after all, attendees are sitting in their homes—there is still a way to bring the same level of professionalism you would see at an in-person conference.

The best way to ensure you're offering something bespoke and worthwhile online is to first find the right platform. There are vendors offering everything from webinar-like services, to group video chats, to robust digital conference features that encourage interaction like polling, Q&As, breakout rooms, virtual exhibit halls and more. Just make sure you're aligning the services you purchase with your original goals so you're not paying for unnecessary bells and whistles. 

Once you've chosen a platform, it's time to plan—preparation is similar to that of a traditional event, but requires some nuance. Experience designers, interior decorators, food delivery services and more may replace traditional vendors, but they still require the same level of strategic planning.   

Speaker prep is also critical in a virtual event. You don't want to kick off a conference with a speaker who can't access their slides or figure out how to un-mute the microphone. Think about the user experience from start to finish. When someone logs on, what do they see? How do speakers know it's their turn to present? This can be as simple as building a run-of-show with a schedule and process. It can also include more complex planning—sending speakers microphones and webcams to ensure high quality A/V, or setting them up with remote interior designers to ensure the visual space is conducive to the virtual environment.

Then think through the attendee experience. What are the calls to action in the virtual room? Are there clickthrough links for more information? How are you connecting with attendees after the presentation? Don't forget to follow up with additional takeaways to keep them engaged after they log off. 

Don't forget the wow factor!

Look at digital as an opportunity to bring new ideas to life and create a more engaging communication platform. Give attendees an experience they couldn't have gotten in person. With venue, catering and other costs being cut by moving online, brands can reallocate funds. Spend more on that expensive but more dynamic speaker. Hire an app developer to create a complementary AR or VR experience. You can even schedule food delivery drops to elevate the experience for those at home.

What's next?

It's easy to get discouraged during this time of uncertainty, but remember, this won't last forever. Having to shift an event strategy might seem like the end of the world, but it can also be an opportunity to build a new bespoke model. This pandemic is teaching us about the power of technology to facilitate human connection—musicians are live streaming concerts, fitness studios are offering digital classes, companies are hosting virtual happy hours. Brands that were hesitant to invest in digital platforms are motivated to try it out. There will always be certain touchpoints that need to be experienced in person, but there can be a lot of power and ROI in reaching consumers virtually.

Profile picture for user Yadira Harrison and Shannon Simpson Jones
Yadira Harrison and Shannon Simpson Jones
Shannon Simpson Jones and Yadira Harrison co-founders of Verb.

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