It’s no secret that COVID-19 has shaken up the event industry in 2020, and as you march forward into the next six months and beyond, it is more critical than ever to be flexible in your event planning. Will you need to pivot to an online-only event? Is it possible for your event to be hybrid, and if so, what would that look like? Are in-person events possible right now?
In this webinar, “The Future is Virtual – How to Get Your Events Remote Ready”, you will hear from experts in the industry as they discuss the impact of 2020 on in-person events, and how you can reimagine your event in the time of COVID.
Content is Still King
“When we talk about content being king, we’re talking about the way that it’s engaged or how engaging that content is. ‘Can I read the slides? Can I hear the speaker? Can I see the speaker?’ If the slides are too small and difficult to read, it’s not going to be an engaging presentation,” said Scott Davis, Account Executive, Mediasite Events.
People are not on-site where the only demand on their time is the conference they are attending. People may only have an hour at a time to consume information, so content must be easily found and consumed. Give attendees the option to watch sessions at their own pace by offering a content library or creating a mix of on-demand and live video.
“Having your content available on demand after the original delivery will now allow attendees to access your content for maybe a month or three months, six months,” Davis said.
Instead of a three-day in-person conference, attendees can access event sessions much longer, which is beneficial to sponsors that now have more time to reach their audience.
When your event concludes, make sure you have a strategy in place to track analytics for your event. Know who watched the content, what they are watching and how long they are watching. Did they re-watch portions of a certain session? How did your virtual event meet your hopes and expectations?
Creating Community in a Virtual World
A sense of community can be built in a variety of creative ways. According to Megan Herfel of pc/nametag, creating specialized kits for speakers or attendees can be a great option. Kits might include wearables (such as t-shirts), snacks for break times, sponsored tangibles (such as pens, fidget spinners or water bottles) or local flair from restaurants, breweries or coffee shops. Beyond the fun factor, kits can be used to share a calendar of events or instructions for logging into a session.
“It gives them maybe a new set of headphones or a new bottle of water, but also some kind of more functional things like instructions or best practices for those attendees in advance. It’s so helpful as we’re switching to this virtual world,” Herfel said.
Imagine what your event would look like if it was NOT virtual. What would coffee breaks look like? What opportunities would you have for networking? Would guests be having dinner together? Cocktails? By recreating a live experience for your virtual event, attendees will feel more connected and engaged. This could be as simple as an attendee kit or working with a local destination marketing organization to incorporate local cuisine or cocktails.
Finally, create community by leveraging technology. Use breakout rooms, Q&A sessions or online polls to foster an “in-person” experience virtually. Use LinkedIn or Facebook groups for attendees to chat and connect.
“Give them a spot to share and to connect and to have that community feeling where they know that they’re all attending together. Maybe they can make notes about specific sessions and start a conversation that way,” Herfel said.
Finally, don’t forget the hashtag! Attendees can use a hashtag to share information they’ve learned, stay up to date on announcements or event changes and to keep up with the event in real time.
So you’d like to host an in person event?
As in-person events slowly make their way back in the coming year (though there will always be some sort of virtual component going forward), giving your attendees clear communication and reassurance about the safety of your event will be key.
John Leinen at the destination marketing organization Destination Madison said: “The safety protocol is key to providing the confidence that your attendees are going to travel and get there and feel comfortable. Room distancing and physical distancing is going to be important, as is providing virtual alternatives.”
Make sure you work with your venue to assure safety protocols are stringent and space is abundant.
“One way you can feel comfortable that the venue you selected is good to go is if they’ve received the GBAC star accreditation. GBAC stands for the Global Biorisk Advisory Council. If a facility hasn’t received this accreditation, they haven’t implemented the most stringent protocols for cleaning, disinfection, and infection disease prevention,” said Meg Statz, Event Service Manager at Monona Terrace Convention Center.
Once you have the safety plan in place, communication is key. You must be able to communicate expectations for attendees and reassure them the event is safe.
Here are a few tips the experts discussed in this webinar:
- Stagger Registration. Give guests varied registration times to prevent long lines. With six feet between guests, the registration space will need to be roomier than the past.
- Give extra time for everything. Bathroom breaks, coffee breaks, moving from one room to another – all of these things will require more time as people stay socially distanced.
- Plan movement. Seat people front to back in the room or require they stay in the same seat all day.
- Be transparent. Clearly communicate if things need to change and make sure attendees understand the safety measures in place.
What does the future hold for the event industry?
Whether you host your event in-person or virtually in the coming years, COVID will likely affect your plans. Work with your local destination marketing organization like Destination Madison to find an appropriate venue. Can it accommodate your technology in a virtual event? Can it accommodate social distancing? Be sure to also work with local businesses that can help give your event flair.
Most of all, be prepared to pivot. If possible, find a location that can help you transition from an in-person event to a hybrid or virtual event as seamlessly as possible.
John Schwoerer, Monona Terrace AV Manager, suggested finding a space with on-site broadcasting facilities that can host both hybrid events or be used as virtual event headquarters.
“On-site attendees become virtual,” he said. “The pricing change would be minimal. Even if an event pivots to fully virtual, the broadcasting facilities can still be used for the event to give it a professional feel.”
You can watch the full webinar here.