Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Going virtual? Looking to the future of events

By Corie Leaman, Director of IT Nation Events, ConnectWise

Technology has revolutionised every aspect of our lives. In recent weeks the role it plays has increased dramatically as we work, home study, socialise and even exercise – all within the confines of our homes.  Thanks to rapid advances in virtual technology even museums, galleries and theatres have been getting in on the act allowing visitors to enjoy all they have to offer, albeit from a tablet or laptop. 

In the UK alone, the events sector is an important part of the economy, worth $14 billion.  It includes 25,000 businesses and supports more than 500,000 employees.

With small and large-scale events being cancelled around the world, this has had a chain effect on everyone involved in the sector, from venues, to vendors, event planners etc., as well as on countless other sectors that rely on events for growth. Virtual technology has provided the events industry with a much-needed, potential lifeline.

In order to make the most of all that virtual events offer, there are a number of elements that must be considered. Here are my top tips: 

Choose the right technology

It sounds obvious – but before you even start planning a virtual event, make sure you have the technology to support it!  Hosting webinars provides a great starting point for organisations who are already familiar with the technology, allowing them to build up a digital audience.

Technological solutions can range from those that are small and straightforward to complex and scalable, it’s important that organisations find the tools and resources that work for them and their goals. If starting anew, ease in by using something easy or familiar, like Zoom. The other option is setting up a more involved content management system. There are numerous online articles that compare tools to help choose the best fit.

Virtual events aren’t that different

In-person and virtual planning isn’t all that different, which makes it easy to transition as an organiser. Virtually, it’s still important to consider the event narrative and manage the timings of each talk and Q&A – even sitting at home, attendees need breaks. Virtualisation also means that attendees may be watching from different countries and time zones, as well as being on their own schedule, so creating captivating content is key.

In terms of online resources, social media is a major aspect of in-person events and not to be disregarded. Like in the promotion of in-person events, creating hashtags and looking

for ways to communicate with audiences should remain a priority. Encourage engagement by asking different questions about participants’ views and locations. Appoint a dedicated moderator to guide the conversation and focus on relaying information between speakers and attendees. Using a platform that is able to support chat and Q&As will benefit this process.

Quality is king

It’s important to consider how moving online will impact partners, sponsors and attendees, accounting for possible fluctuation in budget, attendance and interest. Considering new ways of incorporating audiences and contributors is important – for example, vendors can be included by asking if they’d sponsor a session.

Attendees too are more likely to be distracted by their regular work environment: interrupted by emails, calls and meetings. Reduced engagement can impact us all: exhibitors looking to incite interest, organisers who have dedicated time to planning the event, and attendees who aren’t reaping the benefits of the experience. However, as we navigate the nuances of virtual events, people will become accustomed to attending virtually – focusing their attention.

Additional benefits of virtual events

The benefit of virtual events is that invitations can be extended to new communities, where time, money and location don’t play such a large role in preventing attendance. Securing quality speakers is also easier since they only need to give up an hour of their time for their session, plus additional time for Q&As.

This opens doors, providing organisers with a wider selection of material to work with. Although virtual events are often broadcast in ‘real-time’, viewers can also control the content they consume, and when – meaning it can live far beyond its broadcast date.

A best of both worlds future

Nobody could have foreseen how the first half of 2020 would play out. The ‘new normal’ has shown us the value that virtual technology can bring. That said, whilst many organisations are likely to trial digital events in the coming year, it is unlikely the conversion to online will be a one-way street.  Rather, organisers will look more seriously into hybrid events – combining the benefits of both options.

Attendees, partners and exhibitors, keen to reclaim a sense of normality and face-to-face interaction, can attend events live, while people will also have the option to attend in part from the comfort of their own home. However, until in-person events can resume, organisers trialling virtual events are able to show attendees, partners and sponsors, that their investment is worthwhile – providing value both in the short and long term.