As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the events industry, more and more organizations are having to make the tough decision between postponing an event, taking it virtual, or cancelling it all together. While it’s easy to dismiss creating a virtual experience in lieu of the other two, there are a few things worth considering:
- People need inspiration, engagement, and training now more than ever. As people wrestle with this (hopefully) temporary new normal, stress, anxiety, and uncertainty are higher than ever. Not every topic that was originally scheduled will still be top of mind, but it’s highly likely that some of your planned sessions are still of great value to your audience.
- A virtual experience won’t replace the in-person event, but it can bridge the gap. No virtual event can stack-up to the on-the-ground experience you get from attending an event in-person. Nor should it attempt to. What you create for the virtual experience may look very different than what would have happened in-person, and that’s okay. What’s more important is providing value to your members in a time they need it most (see #1).
- There are distinct advantages to virtual events. Many people consider virtual events “less than” an in-person one. And while there are certainly things a virtual experience can’t provide (see #2), there are things you can do virtually that you can’t do in-person. The biggest mistake many groups make is trying to replicate the in-person experience as much as possible, rather than leveraging the strengths of what a live, virtual environment can provide.
No, it won’t make sense for every event to move to a virtual experience. But for those who serve their attendees through a new medium, it might just be exactly what they need. Besides, people had this time marked off on their calendar anyway, you might as well help them fill their schedule!
If you are considering transforming your in-person event into a virtual experience, there are a few myths about virtual experiences that are worth dispelling:
- Myth #1 – Webinars are the only way to create a virtual event. There are a variety of virtual experiences you can create, a “traditional webinar” is only one of them. Depending on your circumstances, a virtual keynote, extended classroom, lightboard lecture, or interactive workshop might be better suited. And don’t forget you can also have a virtual emcee that bridges the gap between the different sessions.
- Myth #2 – No one pays attention during a virtual event. Yes, if a webinar is boring, people will quickly move on to something else. But that’s true of all content. As Jerry Seinfeld said, “There’s no such thing as a short attention span, only boring content.” Need proof that people will pay attention in a virtual environment? Just look at the considerable hours people spend on TV, movies, video games, and binge watching YouTube videos. With the right content and the right presenter, a virtual experience can be just as engaging as an in-person one.
- Myth #3 – An in-person event is always better than a virtual one. Yes, you absolutely miss out on some key parts of a live event when you attend virtually. There are no random hallway conversations, no “caught up in the moment” experiences of attending live, and no lines for the buffet style food. But there are some advantages, such as the fact that everyone who is attending is sitting at a computer which can provide an unparalleled level of interaction. Plus there are no travel costs for attendees which means those with tighter schedules (or budgets) are still able to attend.
There is no way to capture the magic of an in-person event, but that doesn’t mean that a virtual experience can’t be magical in it’s own right. All it takes is the right people, the right technology, and the right plan.
If you’ve decided to move forward with a virtual experience, here are a few tips that may help you with the process:
- Pick the right technology. There’s no one technology that is perfect for all events. If you have a massive audience (1,000+) and interaction isn’t a focus, a Facebook or YouTube live stream is probably your best bet. If your audience is smaller, and you’re looking for more interactive components, Zoom is currently the top choice among most organizations.
- Pick the right presenters. Suffice to say that fantastic in-person speakers don’t necessarily make fantastic virtual speakers (though many do). Make sure the speakers you select have experience presenting virtually, are familiar with the technology, and know how to engage a remote audience (via compelling stories, interesting visuals, interactive chat, breakout rooms, and more).
- Create the right presentation environment. Don’t just rely on a presenter sitting down in front of their laptop webcam at their kitchen table and expect the presentation to be compelling. Make sure the presenter has a high quality camera, professional level audio, good lighting, and high-speed ethernet access. Nothing ruins a virtual presentation worse than bad audio or audio that is so out of sync with the video that you feel like you’re watching an old school martial arts film. Ideally, the presenter would also have an on-site or virtual producer to manage video feeds, and a virtual emcee to manage questions and maintain interaction in the chat.
- Use a variety of presentation formats. A person speaking to a camera and talking over slides is only one style of a virtual presentation. Consider which option will work best for your topic, audience, and technical setup. If you have multiple presenters throughout the day, consider using a variety of styles to keep the content fresh.
- Leverage interaction as much as possible. If people just wanted pre-recorded content, they would watch TED talks, Netflix, or the recording of the event at a later date. But people want a community experience, so create one. Every attendee is sitting in front of their computer (or smartphone), which means they can easily ask questions without disrupting the speaker, fill in polls that give you valuable insight, provide instantaneous feedback, connect with others in breakout rooms, post directly to social media, and engage as an entire community at once. Find ways to make the virtual event a community event.
We are currently experiencing an unprecedented challenge in the events industry that is not only impacting the individual events that were scheduled, but also the lives and livelihood of everyone involved, from the meeting planners and event organizers, to the speakers and emcees, to the members and attendees we all willingly serve.
Virtual events will never replace what makes our in-person events so great, but they can help bridge the gap in this time of need. If you have questions about whether or not a virtual experience is right for your event, feel free to reach out.