It’s no surprise that the pandemic-driven shift from live to virtual events has changed the way we plan, implement, and interact during meetings of all kinds, from weekly sales meetings to large-scale summits.
This shift has brought with it a host of new phenomena. First there was Zoom business attire, which featured snazzy shirts and jackets and an open-ended question about what was—and was not—being worn on the bottom half. Then came the sometimes comic, sometimes stressful interruptions of kids and cats and countless domestic realities. And now we have Zoom fatigue, a newly recognized psychological condition that could only have been brought to us by 2020.
As we move forward, the reliance on virtual events will continue to be a touchstone for businesses seeking a venue to connect, educate, inspire, market themselves, and grow. So how do we go beyond the standard and now exhaustingly common online experience to make our virtual events dynamic, engaging, and effective? Here are a few of our favorite strategies:
Sound & Lighting
It can be tempting in the rush to make our virtual events stand out for their innovation to gloss over the more basic but no less critical aspects of planning and hosting online events. No number or variety of whistles and bells will help an event if participants can’t hear the speaker, or if the lighting is so off that it looks like it’s being broadcast from a cave.
Basic Strategies: Create a standard set of guidelines for speakers and hosts with specs on lighting and sound requirements. This can include a video tutorial on how to set up for an effective broadcast, as well as product recommendations on microphones, webcams, and other technical elements.
Upping the Game: Present your host and speakers with a production kit complete with everything they need to set up an effective virtual studio in their homes. This can include a webcam, a microphone, headset, and lighting elements like an LED ring set. You can even provide background pieces like a branded banner or poster to ensure consistency of on-point messaging.
According to a study by Markletics, the no-show rate for virtual events is 35%. Historically, this rate has been higher than that of in-person events, and today’s strong reliance on online experiences can make it even more challenging for businesses to create events that rise above the competition to garner successful participation rates.
Basic Strategies: Develop and implement a pre-event marketing strategy that not only gets people to sign up, but gets them excited about attending. You can feature video introductions to speakers, teasers for different talks and topics, and engagement-encouraging offers to submit questions in advance.
Upping the Game: Focus on creating a community around your virtual event. Give attendees a way to connect with each other and the hosts and speakers in advance through a Facebook group or dedicated Slack channel. Take advantage of pre-event polling to help you steer the event and give participants the chance to customize their experience by providing input on their preferences and prioritized interests.
Once participants make the investment of time and possibly money to attend your virtual event, it’s important to give them a solid return on that investment. Show them they made the right decision by providing them with an experience that is interactive, innovative, and immersive.
Basic Strategies: In-person events generate energy and engagement by using small groups and breakout sessions. Virtual events can do the same. Most web-based meeting platforms including Zoom have the capability to set up breakout “rooms” where participants can be sectioned off into smaller groups with a moderator for brainstorming and discussion. Attendees who may not raise their virtual hand to make a comment or ask a question in the wider group can feel more comfortable in a smaller one, and are more likely to exercise the kind of participation that will leave them feeling like the event was tailored to and mattered to them.
Upping the Game: Turn your virtual breakout rooms into an exciting experience by paying attention to what happens before, during, and after small group sessions. Make wise use of breaks and transitions to get people energized and focused. Some event organizers play music in between sessions or while switching from a wider group presentation to breakout rooms. Others have short stints of entertainment provided by musicians or even magicians. An increasingly popular trend is to preface a discussion session with a short meditation for focus.
Event hosts are also upping the game during breakout sessions with creative additions like the inclusion of sketch artists who take minutes by illustrating the ideas expressed in a fun and engaging way.
What happens after an event can be just as crucial to its overall success as what happens before and during it. Solid event follow-up is key to reaping the benefits of a well planned and produced virtual event.
Basic Strategies: Follow up with attendees to ask them for their feedback and to provide additional value. Getting feedback will not only help you improve for future events, but may also furnish you with material you can use in testimonials and your own marketing efforts. If you send a recording of the live event, you also give attendees additional avenues to engage with you and keep you top of mind.
Upping the Game: If you’ve done the work in setting up a community around your event, you are perfectly positioned to follow up within this established community. In addition to asking for feedback and providing a recording of the event, consider offering incentives for attendees who share hash-tagged comments or post about the event on social media. You can also leverage the community to support a nurture sequence you’ve designed to lead your participants along the journey from attendee to client.
Virtual events are here to stay, and businesses that want to stand out need to go beyond the basics to up their game in a way they never have before. To optimize your company’s use of virtual events as a successful business strategy, work with a business growth consultant who understands how to take your online events to the next level of participant engagement and ROI.
Image credit: Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels