How To Create Confidence In Virtual and Hybrid Events
As we continue to transition back to in-person events, it’s clear that virtual has made its mark and is here to stay. While many are fully on board with virtual and the hybrid extensions they offer to live events, creating confidence in virtual event offerings remains key to success.
We spoke with Sarah Bondar, Chief Operating Officer at The Charles Group, to gain insight into virtual events and creating confidence around the concept. With corporate, association, and non-profit clients, Sarah’s events calendar for 2021 is completely virtual at this time. While some clients are considering hybrid events in the fourth quarter which would include a virtual main event with small in-person elements, Sarah and her team are taking lessons learned from delivering past virtual events while also continuing to spend a lot of time researching how to make both virtual and hybrid events easy and enjoyable experiences for attendees.
Based upon their virtual event experiences and research, below are several key factors to keep in mind when planning a virtual or hybrid event in order to create confidence in virtual and hybrid events.
Consider Event Objectives and Target Audience
It’s critical to ensure that the virtual platform, event schedule, and content fit the event’s objectives and target audience. The technology chosen for the virtual or hybrid event needs to support the content and event vision — not fight it.
Know your audience. If the attendee list is less tech-savvy or if they are a mixed group with some attendees more confident with new technology and others less confident or resistant to it, choose a platform that is easy to navigate. If event attendees have strict firewalls and security in place preventing downloads, research to find the virtual events platform that can accommodate these needs.
With an international audience on the guest list, consider setting the event time around midday EST in order to meet the needs of most time zones. It’s really important to think about your client, the audience and their needs, comfort levels, and expectations in order to tailor the virtual platform/application and content decisions to create a successful event for the specific group.
Create Meaningful and Interactive Engagement
Meaningful connections are important especially when the face-to-face in-person interaction is missing.
The virtual networking platforms that offer experiences that people so often miss in the virtual world – the ability to freely interact with others by roaming around a room talking with friends, meeting new contacts, and popping in and out of conversations casually – are crucial and will allow you to meet your attendee’s need for interaction.
Interactive workshops are a great way to engage your audience and encourage attendee participation. You can educate and engage, while also harnessing the experience and knowledge of your audience by creating engaging formats with which to discuss interesting subjects. Workshop with your client at the outset of the planning process to identify the needs, experience, and characteristics of your audience and tailor content and workshop formats for the greatest success. For some recent clients, we held focus groups with some of their membership/attendee bases to identify their needs, concerns, and ideas. During this workshop, we shared a very carefully thought-out selection of our feedback. We then used this intel to curate an experience that was ultimately perfectly tailored for the groups.
Polling is also another option to keep your audience engaged during sessions. Gamification, as well, will incentivize attendees to engage – competition will always help people get into the fun! If this is right for your group, consider starting the gamification before the event to build up excitement! Make sure the platform you select has the features built-in to help drive engagement.
Netflix watch parties, trivia nights, or live cocktails and conversation sessions where the group makes a cocktail together and then network can be a very interactive and a fun distraction from sitting at your computer. Sessions that encourage people to get up and move, take a screen or wellness break, or simply walk while talking on their phone to other attendees about a specific topic are great ways to avoid screen fatigue.
Test, test, and test again in order to identify any technical issues or other glitches in advance. Run through the entire event “in your attendees’ shoes” with your team so that they experience the platform in the same way the attendees will on the day of the event.
If you are having sessions during the event, ensure that speakers, moderators, and facilitators are prepared. Review with your production team so that they understand their role and the needs of the virtual platform. It takes as much planning, if not more, to manage virtual and hybrid event experiences. Talk to speakers and review samples of past presentations, make sure your speakers deliver engaging content and have experience in working with a virtual audience.
Test the login/access process and ensure that it is robust to avoid access issues. The virtual event platform should be load tested to accommodate simultaneous access by the amount of your guest list (and ideally more!) so that the system doesn’t crash when everyone tries to access your event. If possible, allow access to your virtual platform a few days early so people have the opportunity to log-in and become familiar with your virtual event center before the actual event.
Prepare and train your exhibitors on how to use the software. Make sure they take an active role to engage with attendees and find ways to encourage/incentivize attendees to visit booths. Passive booth management doesn’t work in a virtual realm.
Live Attendee Support is Key
Leading up to the event and during the virtual event itself, ensure that “Customer Service” (live chat staff) are available to answer questions and set people up for success. Attendees feel very disconnected if they experience issues at home as they do not have that visible ‘help desk’ in a conference center lobby as they normally would with an in-person event. It’s highly recommended to run a live platform demo so that people are clear on how to access the platform and where to find the various elements of your event so that it is fresh in their minds. This also helps to build excitement for some of the best event features by letting attendees know how to make the most of their experience.
Back-Up Plans Are Essential
What if your speaker is ill or their internet goes down minutes before their session? For this reason (and many other reasons that can pop up at the last minute!) it’s best to have pre-recorded content or a backup speaker on standby.
What if your system experiences issues and outages? Consider having a communications plan in place so that you can let attendees know that you are working on the issue and can keep them updated throughout the process.
What if an attendee is disruptive in your chat room, networking event, or interactive workshop? It’s important to have a plan in place to deal with the situation and remove the attendee if necessary. Make sure you have plans in place to keep the event going if the unthinkable happens.
To summarize the above, to create confidence in the virtual world you will need:
- A virtual event platform that meets the event’s needs
- The right agenda/schedule
- A smooth and easy process to access and navigate the virtual event platform
- Engaging content and speakers that translate well in the virtual realm
- Connection opportunities for attendees
- A prepared team
With all the above in place, coupled with great content, connections opportunities, and features specific to your audience needs, you will be sure to create increasing confidence in hybrid and virtual events.