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Running a successful virtual event in a post-pandemic world

In this article we’ll explore why live events have changed post-pandemic, what makes a good virtual one, why they're here to stay, and how you can run a successful virtual event of your own.

Live events, changed forever

Throughout lockdown, many brands and customers yearned for live experiences and did so because uncertainty existed around whether technology could effectively connect people. Initially, the opportunity for business growth via events seemed somewhat limited.

From this, virtual events were born and are no doubt here to stay. A point illustrated by the fact that more than 70 per cent of marketers didn’t have a virtual event strategy going into the pandemic (according to data from Aventri). But by September 2020, report from BrightTALK found that about a third of marketers said virtual events had become a core marketing strategy for their business.

That’s where we come in. In this article, we’ll walk you through what makes a great virtual event and how you can run a successful one.

What makes a good virtual event?

Virtual attendees now have greater expectations than just streaming presentations. A good virtual event should deliver an immersive experience for every attendee. Done well, a fully immersive virtual should be as compelling, interactive and engaging as a physical one.

That means multi-dimensional, multi-room spaces featuring presentation theatres, networking lounges, elements of gamification, interactivity, and even live entertainment.

The benefits virtual events provide

Virtual events can provide greater opportunities for you to learn about your attendees, find the best leads, drive your pipeline and increase revenue effectively. And the more attendees that engage, the more data you can capture.

An attendees’ digital body language can provide marketing and sales teams invaluable insights. You can see what content a prospect or customer downloaded, what videos they watched, what questions they asked, what calls-to-action they responded to, who they connected with, and for how long. You can also capture poll and survey results.

With physical events, it can be difficult to easily and clearly see how many people registered, showed up, what sessions they visited, how long they stayed, whether they raised their hand in a breakout session, and if they took a piece of collateral. This information is more readily available with virtual events and is key to better understanding customer and prospect behaviour.

Virtual events are also around 75 per cent less expensive than in-person experiences, typically offering cost-savings on staff, venue, setup and takedown, accommodation, travel, and more.

Running a successful virtual event

We’ve looked at the whys and wherefores of virtual events, now onto the practicalities of making it happen. Below we’ve listed our top tips for planning and running a successful live event.

1. Establish what you want to achieve

Whether virtual or physical, this first point will always ring true. Before planning the agenda or picking the best virtual event platform, establish exactly why you want to throw an event and make sure the whole team understands what you want to achieve.

2. Choose the right platform

Virtual event platforms come in all shapes and sizes. What might seem like a good solution for one event may not work for another. So how do you choose the right one? Consider the following points:

  • Futureproofing: Hybrid events are on the rise (more on that later) and physical events still have a role to play. It therefore makes sense to use an event management system that not only supports virtual events but allows you to support all your events on one centralised data platform. This will ensure your investment can support your events now and in the future.
  • Event management: Whether you’re hosting online sessions or a multi-day virtual conference, you need a system that allows you to manage invitations, registrations, agendas and payments. You need to be able to collect all your attendee data in one place. So, it makes sense to invest in a tool that allows you to do all this – as well as provide the virtual event platform itself.
  • Ease of use: This is the platform your attendees, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors will log into and use to take part in your virtual event. In many ways, it’s like the new venue of your event. It needs to be simple to use and relatively easy to set up, with a clean, user-friendly interface that makes things easy for your attendees, too.
  • Customisation: Being able to integrate your organisation’s branding and messaging throughout the virtual event platform will help create a consistent experience for your attendees. Check what customisation options are offered by your chosen platform so that your website, registration forms, attendee emails, and the virtual environment itself, can all be set up within a consistent brand style.
  • Live and on-demand content delivery: It’s important that your virtual event platform allows you to stream both pre-recorded and live content – whether it’s your keynotes, panel sessions, debates, workshops, and so on. It’s also important that your virtual event platform allows you to playback all your live and pre-recorded content and make them available on-demand once the session and/or event is over. This will extend the life of your content while also making it available to those unable to attend.
  • Audience engagement: Remote attendees can have a lot more off and on-screen distractions compared with those attending face-to-face events, so there’s the issue of shorter attention spans and what’s now commonly known as ‘Zoom fatigue’. When choosing an appropriate platform, make sure you understand what tools it offers to facilitate engagement. Some examples include chat rooms, forums, virtual breakout sessions and in-session tools like Q&As, live polling, social sharing, quizzes and surveys.
  • Choose the right time: one benefit of virtual events is that they’re accessible to everyone, everywhere. But this means some attendees will likely be in different time zones and different countries, with different holiday schedules. So be sure to take this into account. As mentioned above, ensuring there’s on-demand content will help combat this.
  • Promotion: Always ensure you leave yourself enough time to advertise the event so that your audience knows when it’s happening and how they can participate well in advance.

3. Develop a clear agenda that includes speakers and timeframes

You don’t want your attendees to be waiting around for long periods of time. Provide a clear agenda with the timings clearly marked and include any relevant links, so that participants can plan ahead.

4. Engage your audience

Your audience won’t always want an hour-long lecture. Instead, wherever possible, plan activities that involve participation and encourage your participants to have conversations with one another – and to ask the hosts questions.

5. Prepare to troubleshoot

No matter how prepared you are, the chance of errors is possible. There may well be snags and technical glitches, so be ready to deal with them. You may also want to consider using more than one platform. That way, in the event of any technical difficulties with your video or audio, you can switch over to a different service and continue the event as planned.

6. Send out a post-event follow up

Be sure to communicate with your participants about how they can get access to recordings of the event and specific sessions afterwards. This will also encourage them to join again next time.

7. Debrief

Once the event is over, take some time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t. That way you’ll be better prepared for your next virtual event.

Looking to the future: a physical and virtual blend

It’s likely that physical events will be increasingly used to complement and augment a digital-first strategy. In other words, ‘hybrid’ events – part virtual, part in-person – will continue to grow in popularity. In a recent poll, 63 per cent of marketers said they’ll move to hybrid events as their post-pandemic strategy. Only 12 per cent plan to move back to mostly physical events as soon as possible.

A hybrid engagement model is a compelling one. Done well, it can bring all the benefits of digital engagement to physical events, while also extending reach to audiences of any size, anywhere in the world.

Clear’s conclusion

Virtual events are playing an increasing role in business. Companies are quickly realising that virtual and hybrid meetings and events provide a host of benefits, including:

  • Lower costs with higher revenues
  • Reduced costs per lead
  • Ability to reach attendees around the globe
  • Connecting more people with your content, speakers, and sessions.

Virtual events, where your attendees can view a live stream and chat with speakers, and people around the world are able to fully participate without the barriers of travel expenses, are here to stay. Effective digital engagement, measurability and ROI potential (amongst many other benefits), make them impossible to ignore. But the virtual event world is still evolving, and the virtual event software industry still growing. It can be tricky to navigate and pulling off a successful virtual event can be challenging. But don’t worry, we can help.

Need help pulling a virtual event into shape? Contact Principal Director, Rachel Arquati: r.arquati@clearb2b.com / 01285 626000.

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