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Making Virtual Events Work

Face-to-face meetings and events are on hold – at least for the near future. Many planned concerts and events were canceled or have been postponed until 2021 in the wake of the pandemic when it became clear that social distancing and limited traveling were required to get control over the virus. Adobe, for example, quickly had to shift its annual Nevada conference online, more than quintupling its guest list. SalesForce switched its 2020 World Tour Sydney event in March from an in-person gathering to a live stream format with only two weeks’ notice; despite the last-minute shift, the company surpassed its expectations as a record 80,000 participants signed up for the event.

The insurance industry has also changed course, going virtual for its tradeshows and conferences. For example, insurance tech company Vertafore announced that its Summer of Accelerate, powered by NetVU, will host its first Carrier Week virtual program, kicking off August 18, in place of its annual in-person conference. The Wholesale & Specialty Insurance Association (WSIA) likewise moved its on-site event, scheduled in September, to a virtual platform. The Big “I” Fall Leadership Conference is going virtual for the first time in October.

So how do you make virtual events work?

Pivoting to a Virtual Event

First, have a game plan and a clear objective of what you want to accomplish in place, supported by an agenda aligned with your goals. Some of the issues to consider when planning a virtual event include: the type of experience you want to deliver – a live-streaming format, on-demand or both; relevancy of the content to potential attendees; whether or not you’ll charge for the event; the best time for the event; whether event registration will be required; how you will promote the event including the use of social media; if you will have sponsors; whether individuals will have access to the event once it’s over; and how you will track (KPIs) the success of the event.

Choose the right virtual events platform for your needs, and create an immersive experience – as close to what attendees would experience from in-person sessions.

Consider the length of each session in the event so it doesn’t get out of control or result in endless segments where participants opt-out. A good baseline is to keep each session to 30 minutes.  Keep the sessions tight. Make sure clear language, large fonts, and high color contrast are used at all touchpoints—including presentations.

Develop meeting protocol guidelines. This includes the process of knowing when and how participants should unmute themselves. Let participants know when you’re archiving and recording the communication to share with anyone who is unable to attend.

Delegate assignments and conduct a practice run, from screen sharing to using touchscreen interactive software. Determine who will handle the technical aspects and who will be front and center. Prepare for potential tech issues, including from attendees. Prior to the event, create a guide for attendees explaining how to access the event, sessions, and more. If possible, allow attendees to practice launching sessions or sending messages before the event starts.

Create memorable moments and encourage engagement from your attendees/participants. If you’ve requested questions from your attendees for your speakers and presenters ahead of time, be sure they are prepared. If not, try to anticipate what they will be asking so that everyone is better prepared.

Your virtual event can also include network capabilities among participants via a mobile event app. Attendees connecting on the app can schedule one-on-one appointments with each other, exhibitors, or sponsors.

Individuals planning to participate in a virtual event should add the conference to their calendar immediately and make it a priority. Block out the necessary time to attend the event. Prepare your gear – equipment, headphones, etc.  Minimize distractions and don’t multi-task while the event is taking place.  Engage in live events and have fun!

Benefits of a Virtual Event

Hosting a virtual event is cost-effective for you as the host and for your attendees, as it doesn’t involve travel, lodging, meals, and other related expenses. You can also get a lot more people attending your virtual event. It’s easier to set up logistically for you as the host, your sponsors, and exhibitors. Attendees also have access to more sessions, especially if on-demand content is available 24/7; they don’t have to choose between two sessions taking place at the same time as they would at a live event.  You’ll also be able to offer exhibitors a “virtual booth” page to showcase their products and services at a discounted rate, enabling you to potentially have more companies exhibiting at your event.

The bottom line: Take the same time and care in putting on a virtual event as you would an in-person one.