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The outbreak of the coronavirus in 2020 adversely impacted organizations across the spectrum. The events industry, in particular, took a massive hit. Businesses resorted to withdrawing from planned events, creating a vortex of logistical challenges. The situation called for an alternative of physical events and resulted in organizations moving their events online. The success of virtual events ensures that businesses will continue to move events online in 2022 as well.
Organizations are exploring avenues to mitigate their financial predicament and this is where online event platforms are proving to be a practical alternative. By shifting their conferences, trade shows, and exhibitions online, businesses hope to keep audiences and stakeholders engaged while upholding commercial activity.
However, converting a physical event into a virtual one can seem like a daunting and formidable endeavor. For most organizations, the shift doesn’t come naturally. Therefore, this step-by-step guide will help event organizers to move events online in 2022 with minimal friction.
Before we proceed, it’s important to have a fundamental understanding of what online events are, as the definition might vary from person to person. In essence, a virtual event is an online microsite that enables real-time networking between attendees, organizers, exhibitors, and speakers. The exact feature set available for a virtual event differs from provider to provider. For example, in the case of vFairs, audiences are connected through a combination of chat tools, webinars, and digital content served via a visually rich interface.
Once you’ve decided to go virtual, you need to disseminate this decision to your audience swiftly to reduce uncertainty. If it’s done early enough, it will save a lot of your attendees the hassle of claiming refunds for their travel and lodging arrangements. Your messaging needs to include:
Here are some marketing ideas to help you spread this information:
We’ll cover specific communication for speakers, exhibitors, and sponsors in Steps 3 and 4.
The next step is to work with your virtual events provider to set up a landing page that explains the benefits of the event and its included features. Typical elements of a landing page include:
Next, you need to decide the registration experience of your landing page. This depends on how you were managing attendees in your original event. Your registration policy was probably one of these three types:
This means that the event was open to the general public without pre-registration. In this case, the landing page will have no registration form and will allow access to whoever has the link.
If attendees had to register with your office to gain entry, then you would share the list of registered members with the virtual event provider to create their accounts and also keep a registration form with the fields you wish to capture for future applications.
In this case, you would have a finite list of members that you are planning to invite. You would share this list in an Excel format to allow the provider to create accounts, then add a login wall to the page to restrict entry to only authorized members.
The purpose of the landing page is to act as the facade of your virtual event, motivate visitors to sign up for the event, and communicate what to expect. If your event was going to include booths to feature exhibitors and sponsors, then the platform provider can set up a separate page for them as well. Remember to share this page through PR, email marketing, social media, and other planned marketing activities.
The speakers you had in mind for your physical event can still be a part of your online event. All they will have to do is join the event with an internet-supported device and deliver their talk. Email or call your guest speakers and presenters, and inform them how you plan to shift their sessions online. Showcase how this arrangement works for them as well, and how they don’t need to expend efforts on travel. Create a schedule of webinars for the day (should be reflected back on your landing page once finalized) and discuss a slot with each of your guests. There are three types of webinars that you can choose from for each guest:
(a) Live: The presenter will be asked to share his/her camera or desktop feed, and deliver the talk live using the web conferencing tool of the provider. You can reserve a few minutes at the end of each session for Q&A as well.
(b) Semi-Live: In this case, the speaker will pre-record a video of their talk and play it during the webinar session instead of presenting live. However, the speaker will be available for the Q&A session after the video to interact with attendees and field questions.
(c) On Demand: Just like in (b), the presenter sends over a pre-recorded video of their talk which is played for the audience. However, there is no Q&A session after the video is shown.
If your original event was going to feature booths/stalls for certain exhibitors and sponsors, then those can be ported over as “virtual booths” on the platform. The contact person for each exhibitor will be given access to a backend system that will allow them to:
Virtual event platforms that provide high-touch customer support usually assist these users in setting their booths up in time.
To enable attendees to interact with each other (just like in a conference), virtual event platforms often provide a chat interface. Each exhibitor will need to be informed about:
In pre-event email marketing, attendees need to be informed about how they will be able to engage with one another through the available chat module.
Finally, after the landing page, virtual lobby, virtual booths, digital content, and chat strategy are set, it’s important to give the virtual event a trial run to verify the experience. Organizers need to review site copy, design, and uploaded content to ensure it aligns with their expectations. It’s also important to establish an email-based help desk and communicate that to audiences to give them the ability to report any technical difficulty they might be facing.
Before the event goes live, it’s critical to keep marketing the virtual event as much as possible to ensure maximum attendance and turnout. On the day of the virtual event, ensure your staff and exhibitors are ready to interact with the attendees, and entertain their questions. Addressing them in a timely manner will ensure the success of your event. After the event, you can access relevant analytics to know how the attendees interacted with your event. Send thank-you emails to the attendees who filled a form or showed interest in your event and services. That sums up the steps you need to follow to deliver a virtual experience for your event.
Want to learn more? Read The Ultimate Guide to a Virtual Event.
In situations like these, where a pandemic is preventing a public gathering, it is the need of the hour to move events online in 2022 as well. Audiences are usually very understanding and more often than not, will respond favorably to the switch to online. This is why marketing messages around the event needs to be early, clear, and consistent. The major impediment most companies face in the transition is the race against time.
A virtual event can typically take anywhere from one to four weeks to prepare and setup. So, if you want to host one soon, get started early. Otherwise, you won’t be able to market the event and get the footfall you want. Apart from that, with the right virtual event provider, the move to online can prove to be a viable alternative for most businesses to cover their losses from event cancellation.
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