5 Things to Consider Before Taking Your Event Virtual
With trade shows and conferences of all sizes being canceled or postponed due to travel restrictions and COVID-19 health concerns, event planners are scrambling to take their live events digital to meet the needs of their audiences. While nothing beats the power of face-to-face meetings, given the choice between hosting a virtual event or nothing at all, it makes sense event organizers are taking full advantage of digital tools like video conferencing and online marketplaces, and streaming keynote speakers and educational sessions.
But what if your event doesn’t have an established digital presence or an existing relationship with a virtual event technology provider? How do you find the right supplier in a pinch while determining which online platforms are the best fit for your event?
We asked a few leading event technology experts and here’s what they recommend:
1. Consider your options.
The definition of a “virtual event” is broad, so make sure you know what digital options are available and what they can help you accomplish, says Michelle Bruno, event technology expert and journalist. Some examples:
- Webcasting: Allows presenters (on or off screen) and PowerPoint slides to appear alongside Q&A and chat features.
- Video conferencing platforms: Can also facilitate PowerPoint presentations, or lean more toward participation by allowing attendees to pop in and out of the conversation as content is being presented.
- Virtual and hybrid event platforms: Purpose-built for the kind of situation that event organizers are finding themselves in at the moment. They offer live streaming, certification, lead nurturing, branding, sponsorship, analytics, social media and more of the capabilities that organizers are accustomed to providing participants.
- Webinars and live video: Mobile app providers that normally specialize in networking and matchmaking have started integrating these into their feature set.
2. Develop a vision and goals.
Before looking for a provider or platform, develop a vision of the online experience that meets the needs of the industry your event represents. Also, keep in mind that viewing through a screen is different from participating in real life, Bruno says.
Rather than dictating expected features and functions to a potential virtual platform provider, which may take up time you don’t necessarily have, tell prospective partners about your vision and goals for the event and see how they can help.
Then, “let them tell you how their technology can help you reach your objectives and give them an opportunity to be creative with the technology that they understand [better] than you do,” Bruno says.
3. Choose an established technology provider.
Time is of the essence, so if you don’t have a virtual event partner “in the house” at the time you decide to postpone or cancel, you won’t have time to experiment with new companies and platforms. Make a point of going with established companies that have a demonstrated track record, that can show you examples of their technology in-action and that can put together an online experience quickly.
However, it’s important to do your homework and avoid going with the first tech provider you find, warns Sabrina George, vice president of marketing for Onstream Media, a provider of webcasting, webinars and conferencing services.
“You want to work with a partner, not just a vendor, to help you navigate all these different components depending on your needs,” George stresses. “Everyone is scrambling right now, but you don’t want to go at this on your own.”
For example, if you need to produce high-end webcasts that are highly confidential and must be delivered flawlessly and on time, you’ll want to find a company that excels at that, she adds.
“You want to partner with high-quality providers that can deliver these formats to you, turn-key or in-partnership,” adds RD Whitney, CEO of the Validation Institute, an online learning platform for healthcare benefits providers. “There are providers out there that do this day in and day out and would love to partner with you, so build those relationships.”
4. Talk to your peers.
Reach out and ask those in the same situation to let you in on their planning and progress, and also agree to share what you discover with them, suggests Bruno. Start or join a closed Facebook or LinkedIn group so you can share your ideas and with colleagues. In addition, ask to “attend” virtual events that others have developed so you can decide what you like and don’t like about the chosen platform and experience.
5. Keep a clear head and look forward.
If you didn’t recognize the importance of establishing a strong online community around your events before this crisis, you surely do now. Whitney says organizations should get to work today on building and leveraging different media elements around their events that can enhance their professional communities.
Formats such as online training, certification programs, data services, research, peer learning and online marketplaces not only help events stay agile when pivoting away from face-to-face becomes necessary, they also help enhance an organization’s live events by making them more profitable, longer lasting and secure, Whitney adds.
“Event tech companies’ phones are ringing off the hook and they can’t deliver services to every company quickly enough, so companies need to be developing this expertise in-house and concentrating on event alternatives for circumstances like this that also create even greater businesses,” Whitney says. “Humans are social creatures and face-to-face events are never going away. Hopefully, this situation will only be short-term pain and create lots of opportunities for those events that are willing to evolve and constantly reinvent themselves.”