Our Online Guide to (… wait for it…) Online Events!

Lockdown has created a lovely reason for event companies to show case virtual aka online events and boy has the market exploded with different offerings.  Here’s my simple take for non-event people.

What is a Virtual Event?

A virtual event is an online event, which can either:

  • Be pre-recorded, like a series of ‘videos’ perhaps brought together by a live MC, and sometimes followed by a live Q&A with the speaker(s) OR
  • Be a live event with speakers all located in the same venue (a lot of hotels/venues are offering their space for this purpose) OR
  • Be a live event with speakers located all around the country/world simply recording themselves from their own home or office
  • It’s not just a video call like Skype, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, but a conversation where attendees can provide feedback to the speaker(s), can network with their peers, and an area where sponsors can showcase their wares and engage one on one with interested parties.

There are some great benefits to doing online events, for example:

  • You can extend the reach of your event nationally and internationally so you may well have more attendees!
  • Saving on catering cost (although you could deliver a gorgeous snack box to all attendees if you have the budget, or even provide a downloadable Uber Eats or Mr. Delivery type voucher just for fun)
  • Saving on venue costs as speakers can present from their own home or office (the usual rules apply here, keep your background looking neat and professional or set up a ‘fake’ background of something pretty – “The Simpsons” lounge will work for some, but not all brands)
  • Virtual events provide detailed event tracking as it’s all online so reports on popular topics & speakers, feedback on questions, attendance for the various session etc. is all pretty much ‘there’… You can get on-the-spot audience feedback via live polls or surveys. All engagements are trackable.
  • Interestingly to me, research tells us one of the biggest benefit from attendees is that they don’t have to travel, so it’s less time out of the office too.
  • You can still accommodate smaller audiences on niche topics by creating simultaneous, targeted break away sessions within the overall event.
  • Networking can happen, include time for this, both between attendees and sponsors and partners.

What is a Hybrid Event?

Hybrid events are what are predicted as the “new normal” post Covid-19 and they combine the best of virtual and in-person events.   What this means is having a physical event at a venue, but perhaps some sessions are pre-recorded or viewed live at the event via streaming.  In-person presentations at the venue are also recorded and distributed via an online platform to a different audience at home/work.  So everything that happens whether at the in-person event, or pre-recorded or live from speakers on the other side of the world, are viewed by the entire in-person and online audience

So now you have the best of both:

  • You can get that A-list Speaker that’s been brushing you off because “they’re not in the country” – wherever they are in the world, we can capture their talk!
  • Having a much larger reach as it’s not only the local guests who have attended in-person but also the online audience that has tuned in.
  • You can cater to different attendee budgets (online ticket prices are generally 10-25% of in-person event ticket prices) so you might open your event to:
    • 100 physical attendees at X price
    • Unlimited online tickets at Y price
    • Unlimited post event recordings a Z price
  • You’re already recording the event, so you have a wealth of content to use for marketing your next event!

There will always be a space for in-person events, but I believe that there is also a space for online events or the combination of the both, so let’s embrace change.

What are the most important things to remember when including virtual events?

  • Start engaging with your audience well before event. Send emails, do web posts, engage on social media, use text communications, share snippets as a roll up to the event.In fact, I recommend adding on an Event App to really engage with your audience a few weeks before the event starts (but that’s a whole other conversation!)
  • Content and Speakers really matter.Ticket prices and attendance are directly related to this. If you have the Barack Obama of speakers, you’ll pull the crowds, if you have Nelly No Name, you won’t.  You have to know you audience and the content they want.
  • Always brief your speakers and where possible have a dry run / rehearsal. It’s very different presenting to a live audience than talking to a camera or computer screen. Check their bandwidth well before the event as there are minimum requirements when presenting, I definitely wouldn’t risk it on a 3G dongle! But don’t fear, if the bandwidth isn’t great, rather go for a pre-recorded session.Sessions should generally be 35 minutes, with 10 minutes for Q&A.
  • Build in time for technical set-up before the event for online attendees who aren’t too clued up on how it all works . Open the event 30-60 minutes earlier for “networking” thus giving everyone time to test their video and audio and be ready to go when the formalities start. Good virtual event platforms can connect attendees with each other (permission based of course) as well as connect one on one with sponsors or partners.This way, a large portion of your audience is already online participating and the scheduled content can start on-the-dot.
  • Use your footage! Edit it down, create highlights, create sponsor videos, create marketing material for next time. The same goes for the data collected, it provides numbers for attendance and engagement so share it. Brag about your achievements because you can.

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