Hosting Events in a Virtual World: 5 Tips for Success
2020 will be remembered as the year of the pivot, as companies pivoted in nearly every aspect of their business to address the challenges that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially true when considering corporate event strategies.
Imagine this scenario. Your marketing team is in full-swing planning for the company’s annual user conference when a global pandemic hits two months before the big event and halts all plans for the show to go on. Unfortunately, this was the exact position many marketers found themselves in this year. Even those who pushed their events back six months quickly recognized that in-person events weren’t going to happen. What were they going to do in place of the event, which played a major role in connecting their company with its customers, partners, and prospects? For many, virtual events became the solution, taking the place of in-person events. As a result, marketing teams were thrown into overdrive, brainstorming ways to mimic their annual conferences through computer screens.
So what does the head of demand gen hope for when helping to launch a company‘s first all-virtual event? Among many things, the top wish list items are a seamless hosting experience with zero technological hiccups, compliments from attendees that it felt like a real event despite the circumstances, and a rich pipeline and engaging conversations that rivals that of an in-person event. Sounds improbable, doesn’t it? But it can be done—with a Herculean team effort from talented marketers, hosting a successful all-virtual event is more than possible.
Given the uncertainty around events even into 2021, here are a few best practices organizations can follow to knock their upcoming virtual events out of the park.
Create one-to-one opportunities to connect with attendees. Traditionally, trade show and conference booths offered the perfect time for attendees to connect with product experts and ask questions. This doesn’t have to change when you go virtual. Companies should aim to re-create these same interactions by allowing attendees to sign up for one-to-one online chats with product experts. Provide a fair amount of time slots but make sure you offer even more dedicated support at a later time to those who weren’t able to secure a spot.
Encourage customers to talk with other customers. One of the most valuable insights for customers or prospects is the voice of current customers. In lieu of customers chatting amongst themselves over dinner at the end of a session, give them a place where they can freely chat about their experiences. Try setting up roundtables based on products, challenges, results, etc., where customers can sign up to talk with those in a similar boat.
Focus on bite-size content that resonates. Virtual events have to compete for mindshare with multi-tasking and conflicting meetings, things that normally wouldn’t be a distraction during an in-person event. So content has to be short and impactful to drive audience attendance and engagement. Find great speakers to help your event stand out, narrow down your sessions to only the most popular topics, and cut each session in half.
Take the time to add in little, meaningful details. It really is about the little details, especially when trying to re-create the vibe of a memorable and interactive experience. Consider adding a different city skyline view for each “room” or turning each environment into a unique experience, just like an in-person event. For example, greet attendees looking outside of windows with the Golden Gate Bridge in the “expo” or include bucket seats, plush couches, and a coffee station in the “networking lounge.” These seemingly small details help differentiate your event from a cookie-cutter digital venue.
Remember that networking still matters. Networking sessions were always a major benefit of attending a live event, whether taking place over breakfast each morning, at happy hour in the evening, or on the expo floor between sessions. Now, companies must find ways to allow attendees to mingle and interact with one another in novel ways. Take advantage of virtual networking lounges staffed by your product experts, online meet-ups with customers, help desk support, and booths for your professional services teams and sponsoring partners.
Offer access to an entire resource center. At most trade shows or conferences, collateral is limited by what can fit on your booth table or magazine stand. But at a virtual event, you can provide your attendees with all of the information they might need to learn more about your business by creating a one-stop shop for ungated assets. Look into hosting the assets in one repository where you can track asset traffic to get more information data which materials resonate better than others.
Virtual events don’t have to be as daunting as they seem. Plus, there are some added benefits that you don’t see during in-person shows. For instance, you can offer next-day access to content if you decide to record or pre-record sessions—no more scrambling to get content online or multiple files from videographers and production teams. Plus, no booths to break down at the end of the event!
If you’re planning a virtual event in 2021, take a deep breath and tackle it step by step. Plug in some of our tried-and-true advice from the bullets above and I guarantee you’ll already feel ahead of the game. While we are unsure of when events will be able to safely return to their previous state, we can at least make the best of the virtual shows that we know will continue to fill our calendars and inboxes for the foreseeable future.
Esther Flammer is the vice president of demand generation at Conga. Flammer is a senior marketing executive with nearly 20 years of B2B and agency experience in SaaS high tech and non-profit sectors. Her dynamic leadership has driven success at high-growth B2B technology companies like Conga, Convercent, and Return Path. As VP of demand generation at Conga, Flammer is focused on driving strategy and leading the global marketing organization to successfully transform the way businesses do commercial operations—quotes, contracts, and documents—to provide a frictionless customer experience and accelerate revenue.