1. Platform vs. Turnkey Solution – Know the Difference.
The transition from live to virtual meetings is happening at light speed. New virtual platforms are popping up daily and it’s difficult to determine the difference between one offering and another. It’s important to make the distinction between the various types of platforms and the corresponding services each type offers. Will the platform provide production support, registration capabilities, CEU monitoring/reporting and mobile app creation/support, or are these items that will have to be contracted in conjunction with the platform?
There are solutions to serve all levels of budget, needs and desired outcomes. Everything from live streaming and webcasting to full service and turnkey solutions. If the objective is to provide an experience that mirrors the look and feel of a live or hybrid event, a full-service virtual meeting solution is the right fit for you. These types of virtual meeting platforms offer the most diverse features including 2D and 3D tradeshows, tracking metrics for sponsor and attendee analytics, gamification possibilities, CEU tracking, swag store creation and video/text chat capabilities. (Pro Tip: Word on the street is that The Event Lounge’s new Virtu-Meet product offers all this AND full production support. You might want to check it out!)
2. Going Virtual Is Your Ally in These Times
Converting a meeting from a live or hybrid format to virtual may take you out of your comfort zone and feel a little out of the box, but it has a multitude of upsides such as:
- Higher attendance levels are typically seen at virtual conferences.
- Attendees gain access to valuable meeting content while not having to be away from their home or office resulting in a huge cost savings on travel, food and beverage, and hotel accommodations.
- Virtual may mean better access to speakers. If a speaker doesn’t have to travel to your event, keynote and celebrity speakers may have more availability and may offer lowered fees.
- Post event, it is quick, easy, and affordable to offer on-demand viewing of the sessions offered during your scheduled virtual event. This not only gives you extended ROI, but it is a tremendous opportunity to upsell sponsorships and brand each session accordingly.
- If you select a platform with robust reporting capabilities, tracking every move made by your attendees once they log into the virtual event is simple. Without RIFD tracking at live events, the level of analytics and reporting allowed by the right virtual meeting platform is unparalleled – and invaluable to the organizer and the sponsors/exhibitors.
3. Virtual Conferences Aren’t Necessarily Less Expensive
A common misconception is that producing a virtual meeting is less expensive than a live event – from a time and budget standpoint. You will likely use the same amount of human capital for your virtual meeting that your live meetings require, although your virtual meeting team will likely contain staff members with different skillsets and expertise, such as a colleague from your IT department.
From a budget standpoint, virtual events usually cost about the same – or even more – depending on the technology employed. Just keep in mind, however, that live meeting budgets account for F&B, speaker travel expenses, hotel rooms and tradeshow support. All these dollars can be reallocated towards the platform, AV, and production budgets to create a flawless virtual experience for the participants.
4. Define Your Goals and Objectives
In some instances, a company’s key performance indicators (KPI) may need to be adjusted when moving to a virtual format. Regardless of the format used, it remains important to measure the attendees’ satisfaction levels related to conference content, overall conference experience, etc.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Having unexpected, unique components will keep participants engaged between sessions and throughout the conference. Sponsor commercials, a live DJ taking requests, attendee polls and words clouds, virtual event kits and gamification are fun ways to keep your audience connected.
- If your virtual conference is free, attendance may be lower than if it is fee based. If specific attendance levels are part of your KPI having inflated attendance numbers can skew that metric.
- Clearly define your KPI as you are building the agenda, crafting your content, and having pre-event discussions with your speakers and virtual meeting platform provider. This way you can be sure you are strategically planning to accomplish AND track your various KPI.
5. As the Saying Goes, “Be Brief, Be Bold, Be Gone”
Apply this age-old adage to your virtual conference by keeping sessions short and impactful and providing ample, but not too many, breaks. If the agenda has too many or too long of breaks the audience’s attention may switch to email, work obligations, homeschooling duties, etc.
Also, be mindful to not making each day of sessions so long that people fall off or tune out before things are over. Four to six hours of content a day is recommended. This allows people to schedule time for their daily required work tasks before or after they attend.
Enticing the attendees to tune in for the next session is also a good way to keep them focused and excited about upcoming sessions and speakers. This can be accomplished via a quick video teaser featuring a sponsor, a push notification that will appear on-screen or via gamification where points or dollar values are earned which can then be redeemed at a virtual swag store or donated to the participants charity of choice. (Pro Tip: Consider your attendees’ locations and select a start and end time that works for all time zones. Also be mindful of calling out the selected time zone clearly in marketing and registrations materials.)
6. Get People Excited and Make It Easy
Make the experience simple from the start. It’s more important than ever to have an easy, yet robust, registration to capture as much attendee data as possible. Without having key information on the attendees, it will be difficult for a sponsor or exhibitor to strategize their involvement and gauge their return on investment (ROI).
Attendees may be unfamiliar with what a virtual conference experience entails, especially if this is their first time attending an online format. Marketing initiatives can include sneak peek videos to build excitement leading up to the meeting. Testimonials from past participants, speakers and company leaders can also hype the ways the virtual conference is going to be content rich, easy to navigate, and well worth the attendee’s time and registration fee. Don’t forget about the power of social media and encourage participants, speakers, and sponsors to use a conference hashtag before, during and after the event.
7. Show Not Tell
Since virtual conferences are a new frontier for many, consider distributing “how to” information to the attendees before the actual event date. You may also consider hosting a 30-minute sneak peek session during which a host will demo the platform so less tech savvy participants can get a feel for how things will work.
Also, confirm with your platform provider that they offer live tech support during the entire scheduled virtual event. This way an expert is standing by to guide staff, sponsors, speakers, and other stakeholders and help if someone runs into a technical challenge.
8. Preparation is the Key to Success
After the meeting’s goals, objectives and desired outcomes have been identified it is time to assemble the all-star meeting team and clearly define the roles of each individual contributor and vendor. To produce a full-blown virtual conference, it is best to have at least 12 weeks of led time so keep this in mind when selecting your event dates and building out your pre-production schedule. Develop and communicate a detailed workflow and timeline so all stakeholders can stay on task and meet deadlines.
The end goal is to create a seamless experience for the attendees. The meetings team will need to be well versed in monitoring for technology issues if this aspect isn’t being handled by the virtual solution provider. Make sure to test, re-test and test again the AV and production components of the meeting prior to the event’s kick off to help avoid unanticipated snafus.
9. Virtual Conferences Are A Data Gold Mine
If you select the correct provider, a virtual conference will provide the analytics required to define metrics for areas such as the time an attendee spends in a session, the quantity of sessions they attend or the CEU credits acquired during the conference. The attendee data can also be used for new members or customer acquisitions post event.
At a virtual tradeshow, metrics you establish can help your sponsors track their ROI. Analytics can track a participant’s dwell time in each exhibitor’s booth, how many times each booth was visited along with the click throughs explored by each attendee. Whereas an exhibitor or sponsor relies on F2F interactions at a live conference, they’re now utilizing digital technology like text or video chatting with participants rather than speaking in person in a tradeshow booth. The result can be the same for the exhibitor, but the method of ascertaining an attendee’s information and subsequent interactions has changed.
10. What Day Is It?
We all have occasionally lost track of what day of the week it is. Engage registrants by reminding them about the conference leading up to event day. Beyond their registration confirmation with a calendar invite embedded, send a reminder the week of, the day before, and the day of… that way the event continues to pop up near the top of what may be a very full inbox.
For those planners seeking additional ways to add value to sponsorships, these frequent reminders are a great place to feature sponsor logos, videos, etc. This value-add costs virtually nothing to implement but it will help ensure sponsors get the exposure they want.
11. Set the Stage and Start Off Strong
As with in person conferences, attendance at multi-day conferences is always strongest on Day 1. Be thoughtful about the first virtual interaction you will have with your attendees at the conference and feature an opening video or activity that sets the stage for a high-energy, impactful experience. By leading off with a dynamic speaker, you’ll set the tone of the conference and have attendees raving about the session on their social media platforms. If your event allows for single day registrations these rave reviews can entice people to register for the remaining event days.
12. Keep It Open – They’ll Come Back for More
Archiving your meeting content and having it available as on-demand will keep the participants coming back for more. This is particularly true for timeless evergreen topics which will be resources that the attendees will routinely access. On-demand sessions are a value add for the attendees and provide additional exposure for the session sponsors. (Pro Tip: Don’t forget to address content permissions when securing the speaker to ensure he/she will allow their session’s content to be provided at both the event and on-demand post event.)