Tips for Successful Hybrid and Virtual Events
By Jon Forst, co-founder and co-CEO of TRADEMARK Event Productions
It’s estimated that 500 million people attend Zoom meetings each day, 115 million attend Microsoft Teams meetings, and another 100 million use Google Meet. That’s over 700 million virtual meetings a day. Your attendees are tired––sick and tired––of watching their work-life through a screen. Getting excited about another virtual or hybrid event can be a tall order for event planners and attendees alike.
When the pandemic started, the virtual event was a new adventure. A sense of “you can’t keep us down” surrounded the reengineering of in-person sales meetings, user conferences, product launches, and other corporate events. Attendees still had the stamina for watching and were curious about virtual events. In the beginning, we saw large attendance numbers and high engagement metrics.
It’s harder to capture the imagination of attendees than it was a year ago. It’s time to rethink virtual and hybrid corporate events. Here’s how:
Rethink what “event” means.
Corporate events have always been just that: events. Something that happens at an appointed time, on an appointed date, and that people attend in person. For events to have the same ability to immerse audiences, influence attendees, and build brands, marketers and event planners must rethink the anatomy of an event.
Virtual events span time and space.
The value of a keynote or a conference session or a news conference is to reach and influence the audience. We no longer need to do this at a specified time. Virtual events allow us to reach attendees on their schedule. The goal of each session must be audience views and engagement, over a period of time. Keynotes and sessions must be effective whenever they’re consumed, through any device the attendee chooses and in any location that the attendee may be.
With the ultimate flexibility of on-demand viewing, our clients are discovering that they can increase total attendee numbers by factors of 3x-10x. That’s a win-win. Companies reach more people, and more people participate and receive the message.
Pre-Event Promotion Matters Like Never Before
With competition for every moment of screen time, event organizers must begin to market events earlier, more broadly, and more creatively than ever. We suggest using channels like online placements, organic and paid social marketing, PR, direct and email campaigns. Use celebrity sponsors to deliver messages and invite attendees to tune in. Awards and contests that are only available to “live” streaming of the event may entice users to tune in to a live-streamed event rather than wait for the replay.
Certifications or awards for attendees that complete a required number of sessions can help some companies entice users to participate as well.
There are three things to remember to win attendees: Early, Often, Omni-present. Market to users early. Market to them often. Make sure your event is present at every turn through remarketing and multi-channel delivery.
Raise the Bar on Production Quality
Keynotes and conference sessions are now on-demand performances. Sessions and content must immerse and engage attendees because there’s interesting content just a click away. Creative content that rewards attendees with virtual knowledge will attract and engage audiences.
Highest Quality Content for All Platforms
Video, audio, multimedia, and interactive content must be at the highest production quality and must be executed flawlessly during the live event. Content must be produced with multiple delivery channels in mind. Making content compelling online, on a big screen, or on a mobile app. Each and every moment of the production must have a purpose to capture and keep the attention of attendees.
Sessions should be high-impact, visual and audio must be engaging and unique so that attendees wish to stay and watch. Each session must be produced in a way that information is delivered quickly, and that enables audiences to “tune in” to the live performance as well as watch the reply on demand.
Advertise and Deliver Bite-Sized Content
Events with carefully planned, bite-sized sessions are easier for attendees to consume. Live events with captive audiences can get away with 90-minute keynote and opening sessions. Virtual and hybrid events require keynotes and sessions to be consumable much quicker. A good guideline is 30 minutes for a detailed keynote. As little as 5 minutes for a product demonstration, and panel sessions that last no longer than 15 minutes. Each minute must deliver value to keep audiences watching.
Compelling session summaries and descriptions must entice attendees to click through and watch. Detailed analytics are available in most virtual event platforms, and can be used to hone session descriptions to optimize audience reach.
Bring The Real World Into It
During the past year, we’ve seen highly creative ideas pay off for conference planners in terms of attendee numbers and engagement. Virtual lunch-and-learns can be coordinated with delivery services like Uber Eats or DoorDash. Downloadable tools such as quiz games, live chat, virtual contests and challenges, and even video interaction increased audience engagement scores by as much as 300%.
Personal invitations from connections or influencers can help to drive anticipation and bring real-world relationships into the mix of virtual events.
Also consider having one of your keynotes participate in a Q&A session, or drop into a VIP channel. Negotiating this as part of their contract is simple, and adds a lot of impact.
Plan for a Plan B: Virtual or Hybrid
In a world that is ever-changing, many of our clients are parallel planning, meaning that they’re planning a live event, with all the infrastructure and strategy of a virtual event underpinning it. The result is often a hybrid event. While up-front planning is more time-consuming and costly, the benefits outweigh any downside of this approach.
Companies that embrace virtual in conjunction with live event planning will have a seamless fallback plan in case they’re forced to go 100% virtual. Planning for virtual also means that event planners have content ready for a long-tail in marketing. Events can gather more attendees as sessions are advertised and available on-demand, over time.
For organizations that prefer in-person, real-life events, it makes sense to plan portions of the event in-person, and portions virtual. For example, morning keynotes followed by a coffee bar and pre-arranged meetings may be a good way to build personal connections while still respecting social distancing guidelines.
In-Person, Hybrid, Virtual – Attendee Convenience and Engagement Rules the Day
The bottom line is that there are many options for successful event planning and production whether events are live in-person, 100% virtual, or a hybrid model. The key is having a complete plan, built with contingencies in place, and a carefully planned and executed agenda that results in content that is easily reused and consumed on-demand, online.
“Learn more about how Trademark produces events in today’s business climate. See our work here.”