For better or worse, digital media has infiltrated every facet of our day-to-day lives. The prevalence of digital experiences has moved them beyond the mainstream; the modern reality places traditional media and analogue behaviours—such as visiting a shop in person—as a rarity. The same phenomenon is visible across in the marketing industry; what was once digital marketing is now simply: marketing.
The Covid pandemic played no small role in hastening the adoption of digital behaviours, as individuals worldwide were forced to stay home and consume their media online. This, in turn, had a knock-on effect on businesses, who were forced to shift to the digital sphere in order to maintain their operations.
Even as pandemic lockdowns start to fade into memory, more and more of us are choosing to remain working remotely, and favouring digital over analogue engagement for our business activities. In response, businesses find themselves scrabbling for ways to find outreach success without the assistance of in-person connection.
Event Management in a Digital World
Event management is a key discipline in any brand communication strategy. Product launches, conferencing, and experiential “pop-up” events can be the cornerstone of a successful campaign—there is simply nothing quite like a live in-person event experience to connect consumers with your brand, and make tangible what would otherwise be a virtual experience.
With the Covid pandemic came a fresh crop of virtual event solutions, each claiming it could replicate the excitement and electricity of in-person events. A typical virtual event planning company pitch involved big promises with regard to presentation format, staging, creating audience connections, and generating a commercial edge.
And, whilst we saw some successful events delivered by virtual event planning companies, for the most part, online events struggled to maintain attendee engagement, or to offer any meaningful commercial return.
A Problem without an Answer(?)
There are countless potential reasons why so many virtual events felt—and continue to feel—so lacklustre.
Some of the blame can fairly be attributed to a lack of understanding on the part of virtual event planning companies; still more on the credulity of businesses who assumed they could host virtual events and keep their audience engaged in the same way they’d host an actual event in person.
In reality, these are the easy answers. The fact is that the challenges faced by those delivering virtual events are numerous and complex. In this blog, we’ll explore some of the key problems that need to be overcome to make virtual events a success.
It’s the Technology, Stupid!
The first and most obvious challenge is the technology itself. Many of the features that make live events so special—such as the ability to move around freely, and meet and interact with people in person—are simply not possible with existing virtual meeting platform tech. This lack of flexibility and interactivity has a big impact on the overall event experience.
And, then there are the more mundane but nonetheless important technical challenges that need to be overcome, such as ensuring each online audience member has the right equipment and access to the correct software version, managing connectivity issues, and dealing with audio dropouts and other audio-visual problems.
Innovation and Connectivity
It’s not just the technology itself that’s the problem, it’s also the way that it’s used. One of the biggest challenges facing virtual event planners is how to use technology in a way that enhances the event experience, rather than detracts from it.
This is where many virtual event planning companies have failed: they have simply tried to replicate the live event experience using video conferencing technology, without considering how to use the technology to create a more engaging and interactive experience.
Going forward, the best virtual event will be one which puts technology at the heart of the experience. The right platform needs to be selected for the specific event requirements, and a comprehensive technical plan needs to be put in place to ensure a smooth and trouble-free live-streaming experience.
A successful virtual event management company needs to look for ways to build engaging experiences that encourage participation, networking, and proactive virtual activity.
Virtual Events ≠ Real Experiences
Long before the days of social distancing and super-spreaders, B2B marketing professionals were using webinars to host events and deliver messages to a dispersed audience of interested leads. For these professionals, virtual conferences are an established model: you draw in your crowd by offering some initial value (often for free), then drive audience engagement with a demonstration held online. This process allows you to gather information on your prospects, put yourself in front of them, gather feedback from participants, and follow up on connections.
Whilst virtual event services are familiar to these types of business professionals, many B2C marketers and less active B2B counterparts now find themselves desperately trying to catch up, looking toward virtual event companies to supply expertise and tech platforms (and with little thought to the value they offer).
For those that are rushing into this space, desperately looking for a go-to partner to help them deliver group events online, the advice is simple: stop for a moment and think about the kind of virtual conferences you yourself would want to attend.
The core touchpoints of a successful event need to be identified in advance, crafted into a positive narrative and staged for your audience to get the best impression of your brand. Event management done well, will create lasting impressions that can spread through their networks.
At a minimum, effective virtual event solutions should account for the following:
Picture the scene—
You go to a major product launch and are seated in front of a sweeping stage bedecked in branding. You take your seat and settle in for a keynote introduction from the company CEO. It’s “just” a product launch, but you can’t help feeling that rush of excitement.
We’ve all seen those Apple product launches—think for a moment about the emotions and excitement those events evoke. Now ask yourself: what if my virtual event was filmed in a staged environment like that? What if it was a “proper” presentation with real people, being broadcast remotely but with the same level of planning as would go into an in-person event? Wouldn’t it tell a better story?
Of course, facilities and budget may have a major influence on this decision. So thinking smaller, what about an iconic setting in your building, or even one simply in front of your best piece of branding? It may be something your clients would be familiar with; it may be entirely new but give a lot more “wow” than your cubicle.
Think: real event, broadcast virtually.
This doesn’t relate to what your Powerpoint looks like (although that may be a component). This is about narrative.
If you’re running a virtual event, your brand must have a story to tell, otherwise, what’s the point? What is your story and who is best placed to tell it? That may be you, or you might just be the PT Barnum in your particular circus: the ringmaster who introduces—with the right degree of gravitas and expertise—the orators who are going to tell your story best.
Just because an event is being held virtually, it doesn’t means you have to rely on basic Powerpoint slides to get the message across. Video, animation and audio can hugely assist in achieving real impact. They can also help hugely in taking the pressure off the “live” factor. Talking for half an hour is tough for anyone—let alone with passion and enthusiasm.
Let pre-prepared sections take the heat. And work with good event management agencies who will collaborate with stakeholders to ensure the greatest delivery of your message.
Creating Audience Connections
Remember, a presentation is supposed to be interactive. Utilise your software’s Q&A or chat functionality, but make sure you’re equipped with an assistant to help with this inbound communication. Huge issues arise when these systems serve only as a distraction.
Ensuring each enquiry gets an answer—live, if time allows, or post-event—is crucial. Consider using hashtags to more efficiently manage feedback in real time on social media. Alterntiavely, think about pre-gathering questions from your invited audience, creating connections and nurturing investment in your virtual event.
During your event, leave a lasting impression that people can interact with. This could be something highly shareable on a slide that stays on screen while you talk through the next part of your narrative (think: a quote or illustration). Make it easy: give the hashtag for your event, make it shareable instantly via a QR code, or offer a prize competition that prompts social sharing for your event (and its replays!)
What to Look for in a Virtual Event Company
Whilst the tips above are intended to serve as a jumping-off point, for businesses with neither the term nor the inclination to operate their own online event, retaining the services of a virtual event company makes a lot of sense. However, there are myriad virtual event companies operating in this space—how do you choose the best one to host virtual events that serve your company? Take a look below for some things you should look out for:
Hybrid Events and Conferences
For a traditional conference in a live stream format, look for a virtual event company that can offer a hybridised take.
Hybrid events offer the best of both worlds, using technology to connect attendees who are in different locations. Through live-stream or pre-recorded content, participants across the globe can be provided with a virtual platform to meet and interact, bringing them together at a physical conference later.
A hybrid event should take advantage of tech to improve the experience of all participants. The use of big data can enhance networking opportunities at conferences and provide a better return on investment for sponsors by allowing them to gain insights into their target audiences.
Product Launch Events
Product launches are a fantastic way to generate interest and excitement around a new product or service.
While the physical elements of a product launch event are important, such as the venue, lighting, and audio-visual set-up, it’s also essential to make sure that your virtual attendees feel like they are part of the action.
Ensure your virtual event company has the tools, platform, and insight necessary to offer your clients a fun and engaging group experience. Remember: your audience’s attention span is shorter online than it is in person, so it’s essential to make sure that your content is engaging and interesting.
Virtual Team Building Events
Hosting a successful virtual team-building event can prove challenging to even the most experienced virtual event management companies. In fact, forget the virtual element for a moment; producing fun team experiences for colleagues is a challenge regardless!
In a virtual world, it’s essential for businesses to keep the members of a distributed organization connected, energized, and inspired. When it comes to team-building, online event companies must be able to create opportunities for employees to interact, learn about each other, and have some fun-all while being productive.
Businesses are now relying on virtual event companies to create engaging online experiences that will delight employees and help them feel more connected to their organization’s culture—no matter where they are in the world.
The Bank: A New Breed of Virtual Event Companies
The Bank is fully experienced in all elements of event production, whether they’re real-world, fully virtual, or hybrid. Since our inception, we’ve developed a number of innovative production techniques that fully immerse your audience from lead generation through to the event itself.
We craft, hone and work with brand owners to build narratives, then help to deliver them to the absolute maximum. We create wrap-around elements that make your consumers want to share your content with their network. And we produce lasting assets to support this experience, putting it on autopilot for your brand.
To learn more about our virtual event planning services, arrange a meeting with our team today (via Zoom will be fine…)