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5 Steps to Ensuring an Engaging Virtual Event

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By Chelsey Tyler

Senior Client Partner

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There’s no question the events industry is drastically changing. Seventy percent of organizations are moving their face-to-face events to partially- or fully-virtual events, according to a recent survey by PCMA, a network of event organizers. If you’re planning a conference, product announcement, exhibition or trade show in the next year, it’s time to thoughtfully adapt and innovate to create a stronger event in the long term.

Whether you’re looking to scale an already-digital event, turn your existing physical event into a virtual experience or launch a brand new virtual event, digital technology can open the door to connect with new communities, expand audiences and showcase innovation across your organization. With several years of experience helping orchestrate Google Cloud Next — including its transformation to a fully-virtual event in 2020 — we’re sharing our learnings around what it takes for a successful pivot: key considerations, essential tools and technology, and what’s imperative to get right. 

Reconsider Your ‘Why?’ Through a Virtual Lens

The coronavirus crisis is forcing organizations to hit pause and reassess goals and top priorities, and that means looking closely and questioning every facet of your event. Start with the following questions to help you form a foundation for a strong, inviting event — whether virtual in the short term or hybrid and in-person in the long term.

  • Who are you as an organization, and what is this event’s purpose? 
  • What position are you coming from as you plan and present your content? Disruptor? Challenger? Leader? 
  • Who is your main audience, and what does their everyday life look like right now in the midst of a pandemic? 
  • What makes your event unique? Is it the stellar panelists and speaker lineup? Are you making an exclusive announcement? What will attendees gain by tuning in (especially for paid events)?
  • What schedule and format makes the most sense given your goals? How can you best convey what you want to say and what you want people to learn? 
  • What are your KPIs for the event? How will your revenue and sponsorship models change? 

Nerdery’s Virtual Events Workshop will guide you through these questions and more, helping you understand the essence of what makes your event special and outlining a strategy for recreating those elements in a virtual environment.

Assess Your Technology Infrastructure

Creating the best experience possible may mean working with technology you already have in place, leveraging leading event platforms in the marketplace, building something custom or some combination of all of the above. 

What technology do you need to have in place to support registration, streaming, interactive activities and more? Scalability is critical for virtual events as planning cannot be based on historical in-person numbers and attendance can grow exponentially without the barrier of travel. Cloud solutions like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure offer scalability, and tools like YouTube, YouTube Live, Twitter and Slack can complement content to enhance the attendee experience.

Integrate where you can to leverage leading technologies, but remember the impact of brand and experience. Consider building a custom experience that can not only bridge the gap between disparate systems, but melds physical and digital together. Using technology for hype and for a uniquely branded experience is also something to consider in an attendee’s overall experience “at” your event. Building immersive experiences as a part of your digital experience can be done with the right focus — and technology provides a great opportunity to get creative. 

Deliver the Energy

For many attendees, workdays went from a mix of meetings, desk work and face-to-face conversations to almost entirely screen time — sometimes while also caring for children. Even with compelling content and a strong speaker lineup, it can be a hard ask to attend an all-virtual event or conference that takes place over many hours or days. 

Consider ways you can replicate the energy that comes with an in-person event: How can you create exciting, shared moments for attendees? Can you tease exclusive content or build anticipation for the next session or day? Likewise, delivery of live, in-person content is much different than something that is live-streamed or prerecorded; how can you best prepare and train speakers to be dynamic in this new medium? 

Refine Your Content

With a physical event, organizers can leverage the added draw of an interesting locale, in-person networking, swag and more. If you’re considering a shift to a fully- or partially-virtual event, interest will almost solely be based on content: what attendees will learn, earn or achieve and how it will help them make progress toward personal or professional goals. 

How can you leverage your technology to play to this new medium? Consider innovative micro-interactions that will help create community — like polls, quizzes, Q&A, topic rooms and virtual lounges. Think outside the box in terms of actual content delivery: what works best as a panel, keynote or interactive workshop? How can attendees meet criteria to gain access to exclusive content or expert meet-and-greets? 

Lastly, don’t overlook production quality. If speakers are streaming or recording from home, provide tips on dress code, background and ensuring great audio and video connection. If you have access to a studio space, leverage camera angles, branded backdrops and more to create a polished and uniform experience. 

Leverage Data and Analytics

If done correctly, virtual events open the door to deep analytics and contextual information about your attendees. Activate the buyer’s journey and provide opportunities for participation and engagement to learn more about where attendees go on your event site, what sessions they like and more. Pre-event, registrant data can help you suggest customizable session tracks and breakout groups. Post-event, sales and marketing teams can follow up with tailored educational materials and product offerings that will enhance and extend the experience far beyond the event — keeping your brand top-of-mind if and when attendees resume in-person events. 

The above considerations will set your organization up not just for a successful virtual event, but a strong hybrid or in-person event when the time comes. Beyond creating a temporary solution, strengthening your digital capabilities will elevate your event now and redefine what it looks like moving forward. Contact us to set up a free, two-hour virtual event workshop to get started.