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Is Changing Your Live Event to a Virtual One a Good Idea?

Presenter at live conference

If the COVID-19 pandemic has put you in a situation similar to so many other event planners across the globe, you may think that hosting a virtual event in place of the live event you were initially planning for this spring or summer is your only option. Before fully pivoting to a virtual event, here are ten things you may want to consider:

1

Will your event translate well to virtual?

First and foremost, it’s vital to make sure that your attendees’ experience at the event will be a productive use of their time if you switch to online programming. In a recent LinkedIn post, Brett Hyman of NVE Experience Agency commented, “Making people watch an experience is materially different than enabling people to participate in it.”  Education-focused events can translate fairly smoothly to an online format, while those events solely dedicated to networking may have a harder time remaining productive online without a lot of additional work up-front.

2

Do you have enough quality content?

Review the information you’d planned on sharing at your live event. Can a reasonable amount of it translate well online? At a virtual event, your content is key to success. If you can come up with a strong list of topics that will still work, virtual might be a good fit.

3

Can the content be accessible for visually challenged and hearing impaired attendees?

In the chaos of changing directions, it can be easy to overlook content accessibility. Obviously, we all know that this is an important consideration that should be addressed. If you plan to promote your event globally, you may also need to ensure that translation services are available.

4

How tech savvy is your audience?

As much as you’d like to assume everyone is relatively tech savvy these days, you really can’t take this fact for granted. Simply put, if you know that your customer base tends to struggle with technology, a virtual event may not be the best option.

5

Do you have the tools to keep your audience engaged?

Any seasoned event planner will tell you that online audience engagement is one of the primary keys to the success of your virtual event. What kind of tools do you have to keep people laser-focused on what’s happening online? Can you offer live polls and live Q/A during your sessions, or live tweets during the event? What about creating an online community through an event app that would allow virtual attendees network with each other? Do you have branded swag items already purchased for the live event that can be used as prizes for attendees who actively participate in a session or post on social media using your event’s hashtag? HubSpot offers some helpful tool suggestions here.

6

Will your presenters be comfortable in front of a live camera?
How will their environment affect your brand?

A recent Salesforce blog post makes a great point, “Being on camera on a set is very different from being in front of a live audience. Speakers used to a live environment are now in a feedback vacuum, so they must project confidence to engage the audience.” Consider this situation for your presenters. Will they be comfortable in this new scenario? If not, can you offer them ample time to practice in front of the camera before the event?

You may also want to think about the environment your online presenters will be located in. A live event offer scores of opportunities for branding stages, podiums, and signage throughout the event, all of this is lost when the event becomes virtual. Consider supplying presenters with branded apparel or consistent (and cost-friendly) backdrops to bring the environmental branding into your virtual space. Not only will this provide a consistent experience for live attendees, it will also promote your company well when snippets of sessions are shared post-event.

7

How will you gather data?

Virtual Events: The Ultimate Guide points out that “Event feedback is crucial for virtual events when planners don’t have the ability to gauge reactions by the expressions or verbal feedback from attendees onsite.” Post-event surveys are the primary avenue attendees can use to share their feedback. Do you have the ability to create a survey that’s relevant and deploy it to your participants in a timely manner? On event day, will you be able to measure attendee engagement during the sessions? Do you have a process for tracking attendees’ activities during the event? Unsure where to start? See a quick rundown of some of the top tools you may need here.

8

Can you provide quality video production, technology, and connectivity?

The answer to this question needs to be a resounding, “Yes!” In her tips and best practices article, Shannon Tien recommends, “Before kicking things off, test your Internet connection—and have your speakers do the same. Prepare backups of visuals and presentations in case a file goes wonky or AWOL. If possible, run a rehearsal. The sooner you identify problems, the sooner you can identify solutions.” Remember to consider not only the hardware you’ll need, but staff support and expertise as well. Try to anticipate issues your attendees may encounter and address them in FAQs or an event guide if you can.

9

Post-event follow-up is even more important after a virtual event. Can you adjust your follow-up plan?

As mentioned in #7, the post-event survey is key. But what else can you offer attendees after the event to stay top-of-mind? Since face-to-face engagement suffers during virtual events, can you schedule 1:1 meetings with key accounts? Can you send them additional content or give them access to session recordings? Perhaps you have branded items you purchased for the event that would make thoughtful gift bags or “thank you for attending” gifts?

10

Can you add extra value for attendees?

In a recent blog post about this topic, Emily Raleigh, HubSpot’s Marketing Manager of Brand and Strategic Partnerships, suggests: “If you are shifting from a live event, try to add extra value to the viewers who are now tuning in online. Do an extra session. Offer more Q&A time. Give an extra special offer. Find creative ways to add extra delight moments.”

After considering all this, if you feel good about going down the virtual event path, make sure you create a plan and follow through with clear and direct communication to everyone involved, including your sponsors, partners, leadership team, and, of course, your attendees about the change in direction. Then, dive in, flow the plan, and get to work! Have fun with the process and don’t be afraid to be creative. You’re guaranteed to learn a few things, and you might even discover a new way of handling your events that you hadn’t considered before.

If you need support or creative ideas related to custom branded giveaways (or how to best use them), packaging and fulfillment, or how to effectively promote your brand during a virtual event, reach out to our Identity Works team. We’re here to help and would love to brainstorm new ideas specifically for you: helpmybrand@idworks.com.

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