The value of face to face interaction will always be topmost, but now’s the time to broaden our horizons and seriously consider the virtual world for our business engagements and interactions.

The restrictions of the global lockdowns we’re currently experiencing brings this home to us more than ever before. Although we can’t do in-person live events, meetings or gatherings at the moment – we still require face to face communications as much as ever, albeit remotely or virtually through online platforms.

What is a virtual event?

At some point, you might have attended a webinar, joined an online meeting, used a video conferencing tool, or even spoken to your family and friends online.  These are just some examples we might have encountered or use.  Now it’s time to consider hosting your next conference or product launch virtually.

Participating live on camera in a virtual event brings its own fears and uncertainties. You might shake with nerves, or break out in a sweat … either you can throw in the towel right there, or you can take a deep breath and embrace the challenges to master this invaluable platform and the tools it offers.

This is what marketing managers are faced with today. The world is changing in a very real way.  What do we do?  Things have been turned upside down.  We’re physically out of touch with everybody, but yet we still have to market our company, drive sales, keep our lead generation going as we navigate the challenges which lie ahead.

WHY HOST A VIRTUAL EVENT?

Here are a few reasons to consider why you would host a virtual event.

 

  1.  ACCESSIBILITY

    You can reach many more potential customers, (as well as your existing customers), through virtual events. While a live in person event presents limitations in terms of people being available to attend or not, virtual options allow you to accommodate online attendees who are unable to attend physically.

  1. BUDGET

    Different virtual/online platforms present different cost and budgeting options.

    While some platforms are only available on a 12-month contract, others offer a free platform, with a time limit. So it depends on what your goal is, as this will help you decide on the length of the webinar required.

    A webinar also brings some other benefits; it also costs less to reach more people because you’re also not restricted in terms of a venue – nowadays the costs of large venues can be exorbitant.

    While there are costs associated with hosting a webinar to reach a large group of online delegates, a live event for 1000 people would cost you significantly more.

  1. RETURN ON INVESTMENT (ROI)

    Due to the fact that you can reach so many people at a reduced cost per head, your marketing spend has better value because it can go further.

 

  1. IN-DEPTH REPORTING

    A virtual event allows you to monitor and extract good analytics. You can see who from your invitation list who registered.  You can then track who actually went on to the webinar and how long they stayed.

 

  1. ENGAGEMENT

    While shy people may not stand up and ask questions in a live event, a virtual platform yields far more participation in terms of surveys, polls, questions and answers.

 

HOW DO YOU CREATE A VIRTUAL EVENT?

In short, a virtual event is built around content, attendee engagement and data.

While virtual events don’t require food and beverage, they’re made up of many of the same elements as any in-person event.

For example, this might include:

      • an event website, event registration, the live presentation content, live one-way audio or video, questions and answers, live polling, note-taking, favourite slides, recorded content, interactive video conferencing, feedback surveys etc.

Virtual events rely on technology; attendance wouldn’t be possible without computers and mobile devices, but there’s more to virtual event technology than video conferencing tools.

Just like an in-person event, virtual events benefit from the use of the entire event technology platform that helps you promote, execute and manage your event seamlessly.

Here are some most important pieces of event tech to use when executing your virtual event:

      • the design of the event website, the registration (the online event registration software is very important), email marketing (your whole marketing campaign needs to be well-executed) and the platform you choose – the way it integrates is a very important consideration.
      • Keep the design SIMPLISTIC and user friendly.

A virtual event could either be pre-recorded and broadcast at a later date, or it can be streamed live in real-time.

The fundamentals of organising a virtual event are the same as with planning for a live, face-to-face event. You need to consider elements like your strategy, objectives, goals and your desired outcomes – what you want to achieve from the virtual event –  when you want to hold it and who the target audience is.

Within the strategy and objectives, you would consider aspects like whether you’re aiming to achieve brand awareness, launching a product or trying to push traffic to your website. It might well be an educational webinar?  Or it could be for the purposes of capturing leads.  Is it aimed at an internal or external audience?

These are some of the considerations when planning the virtual event itself.

When planning your event, you need to take into account the logistical and creative aspects of the project– depending on budget and the desired outcomes.

The Strategy will drive the Creative Concept and the Content Creation. This depends on whether it’s a Business to Business (B2B) event or a Business to Consumer (B2C) event.

Logistical Requirements. As with any event, your planning is crucial. Here you will need to decide on the following elements:

      • Your database and a registration system. This might well be an app because you need an event technology platform to drive the entire virtual event – from start to finish.
      • Then there will be designing and executing an effective pre-event campaign in order to market the webinar itself to drive up attendance.
      • Next, you to decide on the platform that you want to send the webinar out on. What you are looking for here is the company that will actually do the digital broadcast or streaming on your behalf.
      • The PROs and CONs of deciding on the most suitable PLATFORM will be determined by your CONTENT.
      • Most companies offering a platform want you to sign a 12-month contract. This is extremely expensive.  Then there is the option of using free services (like Zoom).  However, the free option brings with it strict limitations on your talk time – approximately 40 minutes.
      • A contract is much more expensive if you’re only planning to do one or two virtual events during the 12 month period.
      • The other way around this if you want to do a longer webinar (I would strongly urge you never to exceed two hours though!) is to link up with the digital company directly to negotiate with them.
      • The company that has the platform can put you in touch with their service providers who already have contracts in place; they will then sell you a one-off webinar platform. This is much more cost-effective if you’re only planning to do virtual events once or twice a year.
      • When choosing your platform you must also consider the RELIABILITY it brings with it. You don’t want it to be continuously buffering and losing signal as you will lose your audience.   I cannot stress this enough!
      • You can also do something called ringfencing – if you only want the event to be available in a particular country, or to a particular audience, this can be ringfenced.  This would need to be discussed with the company that you actually choose to go with as your service provider.
      • The next thing you need to consider logistically is the CONSOLE.
      • What is the CONSOLE you might well ask?
      • In short, the console is what you’re looking at on your computer or mobile device when participating in a virtual event.
      • Some consoles are simply one dimensional. In other words, it’s like watching a video playing.  They don’t offer ANY interactive options like polling, or Q & As.
      • So it’s very important that when doing your strategy, you work out what end result you actually want from the webinar itself, because this will guide you in terms of your platform that you’re going to choose, and also what type of console you require.
      • You need to choose a console that has the flexibility to be customised. This then has price implications – which then relates back to your strategy and your budget.
      • As I said before, you can opt to utilise a free platform if you just need to deliver something that is quick and simple – Perhaps a B2C event– business to the consumer – as opposed to a B2B – business to business event.
      • If you’re doing a B2B event the content must be current and your speakers must be dynamic and able to deliver really good speeches or presentations. You might want to add a sponsorship option into a webinar to make sure that you can recoup some of your costs, which would boost your ROI.
      • If you want to bolster your brand with customised webinars, then consider a platform where you add logos, change the colours etc to make the webinar interactive, interesting and appealing.
      • Ideally, your webinar experience must have a modern feel to it. So you need to really design the console to be attention-grabbing; otherwise, you will lose your audience very quickly if you don’t offer them different engaging things to do while it’s running.
      • What you’re trying to do is replicate a live event experience as closely as possible – but in the virtual world. Ultimately virtual event attendees want to feel like they’re experiencing something out of the ordinary, just as they would if attending a live event.
      • Then there’s the issue of gathering the DATA INSIGHT or the ANALYTICS from your webinar – in short, maximising the digital experience for the data-driven insight it brings.
      • Again this is aligned to what your strategy is and what your desired outcomes are because certain platforms yield more data than others. Moreover, you might want to utilise your data by linking it to your CRM System. In that case, the platform you choose needs to have the flexibility to link.
      • Post Event: Choose a service provider that offers the capability of storing your content after the event, allowing access for a certain amount of time.
      • So, in summary, when considering the element of data and analytics, you’re looking for integration – a platform that will give you service and support 24/7. THE RELIABILITY  OF YOUR PLATFORM  IS CRUCIAL!  I cannot stress this enough.  However, if your webinar does go down, you need to know that in addition to a good platform, you’ve got the support on hand to sort it out immediately.
      • Ultimately, a virtual event brings you the opportunity to educate, inform, engage and interact effectively with your audience. But it is also about entertainment – and harnessing all the technological tools at your disposal to do so in a seamless and memorable way!

If you are looking to gain further insight or are looking to plan a virtual event, schedule a consultation
with one of our team leaders today.

Dubai-based Karen Ashwin is founder and CEO of the renowned global; The Event Production Company, with offices in Africa and the Middle East.

An event, marketing and communication industry maven,  here she shares her tips on pulling off impactful, meaningful and unforgettable virtual events with clarity and insight.

contact her via email:  karen@eventcompany.ae