Is a virtual event the way to go? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t

Ashley Sava

Your business spent months crafting the perfect execution, strategy, agenda, marketing materials and social media posts for your large onsite event, and COVID-19 swooped down and said: “Not today, pal. Or tomorrow. Or next month. In fact, why don’t you put on the brakes for the foreseeable future?” 

Not cool, Coronavirus. Knowing your organization isn’t alone might ease the pain a tad, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have to make one of three calls. 

  1. You can postpone the event for a later date that you won’t be able to guarantee. In this case, perhaps announcing the rescheduling of the event until after the pandemic subsides is the best choice. 
  2. You can decide to offer the event online. 
  3. You can cancel the event altogether.

Is switching your offline event to a virtual one the right move? 

Companies who were planning on holding seminars, conferences, trade shows, summits and customer gathering are all making some pretty tough calls right now. Although digital alternatives aren’t quite able to achieve the vibe or excitement of an in-person event, innovative, technological approaches can be worth exploring. While many businesses rely on such events to support campaigns that generate demand, build a quality lead list and expand networking opportunities, many prospective buyers, partners and clients value the content and experiences that come from attending these gatherings. 

It’s important to give justice to your planned event by not forcing an online format where it doesn’t belong. It’s also important to continue to captivate your audience, partners and prospective customers by continuing to deliver valuable experiences that you CAN replicate online. 

Here are three factors to consider when making the decision on whether or not to go turn to virtual delivery:

Can you make it less of a time commitment?

Attendees who planned to travel for a four-day conference will not want to sit in front of their screens for four days. Registrants who signed up for an eight-hour seminar aren’t going to have the same attention span for that long of a video conference. Consider shaving a four-hour event in half. For longer events, weigh the pros and cons of transforming some of your content into an on-demand delivery format that consumers can digest at their convenience. Opt to find an engaging influencer to speak during a one-time-only livestream to spike interest and engagement. If it seems impossible to scale back your planned conference or summit, a virtual event might not be the best way to go.

Are you committed to doing the work to transform the plan?

An online event simply can’t be the presentations, scheduled sessions and speakers that you previously planned for. This new format should strive to be just as exclusive and special, which will take time, funds, resources and commitment to deliver. If you’re going to have to rely on a slides presentation, consider tabling the event for a later date. Procuring tech, outsourcing work and tapping into your team’s most creative insights might be necessary to make your event worthwhile. Remember, nothing worthwhile comes easy, and nothing easy is worth having (or in this case, holding).

Do you have attention-keeping tactics in mind? 

Your new agenda needs strategies to help attendees stay engaged. Excellent content is priority, but audience involvement can’t be overlooked. Research ways to reward attentive participants, find ways to incorporate gamification and hold raffles. Launch polls, live chats and live Q&As to break down the barriers between your audience and the host. Don’t underestimate the value of priming attendees ahead of time. Communicate the value of your event via social media posts and emails to guarantee maximum attendance.

Remember, it’s not all bad

Digital events require carefully planned content that can be easily repurposed after the fact. Don’t let this hard work go to waste. Use some of the highlights to spike interest for your next event or offer exclusive pieces of content to those who signed up for your event but were unable to make it this time around.

While the pandemic is causing distress and chaos for companies around the world, it’s also forcing us all to think about how we can better manage future disasters and crises without having operations go up in smoke. Stand out as a business who delivers valuable experiences, even when things can’t proceed as planned.