Vulnerable to Virtual: Event Planning after Covid-19

Whilst the technology and capabilities have been there for a considerable amount of time, very few businesses and events (especially in South Africa) have taken the leap to becoming virtual... Until forced #Covid19

We can’t deny that there’s something special about the ability to meet and connect face-to-face, but with Covid-19 and its implications for mass gatherings, it’s time for businesses to embrace the digital event divide.

This lockdown period we’ve heard lots of people and companies throw the word “pivot” around which, in layman’s terms, means implementing a fundamental change to business processes, services or products to either take advantage of opportunities or rescue failing strategies. For events and marketing agencies, the time is now to pivot towards digital.

Before leaping into virtual event planning, it’s important to recognise that you can’t simply replicate the physical into digital and expect it to be equally effective. There are a few key considerations to bear in mind:

  1. Develop a Digital Event Strategy 

Before diving into virtual event planning, it’s important to consider the “why” and whether digital events are conducive for achieving your objectives. Similarly as you would for a live event or conference, it’s important to develop a strategy – possibly even more so for unchartered territory like virtual events. Considerations for virtual events will include aspects such as:

-      Content

-      Timing

-      Scheduling

Content for digital events need to be even more timely and more relevant than ever before. Focus on what your company can do, and how you can add value for delegates right now. Distractions and shorter attention spans are one challenge of virtual events but by keeping content concise, relevant and accessible when convenient for the delegate will help in overcoming this. Also bear in mind time zones, especially if some of your delegates are overseas. Picking a time conducive to the majority is the best solution but making your content available on-demand is an alternative for those who can’t make it live.

Make the virtual event meaningful and engaging. Consider providing delegates with online vouchers towards UberEats or a meal delivery service for lunch to make them feel as though they’re in a conference setting and convert the traditional business card draw into online giveaways. Encourage delegate participation through polls, quizzes, live Tweeting and Q&A sessions.

2. Maintain your Brand Personality

It is important to maintain your brand persona within the virtual event space and not lose the essence of your brand because the platform in which you engage has changed. Consider which elements from your physical event you’d want to preserve within the digital context to give your delegates the same “feel” as the live event. Remember the small, personal touches that delegates have come to expect from your brand or organisation and find ways to personify this virtually.

3. Explore Streaming Platform Solutions

Whilst Zoom meetings and online webinar platforms are the most common, there is an opportunity for companies to consider an omni-channel approach. In a remote environment, most delegates won’t have eight hours to sit in front of the computer (especially during lockdown with family responsibilities) so consider posting downloads or recordings of sessions on your website or YouTube channel to enable delegates to download on demand and host networking get-togethers by way of video chat.

When face-to-face events become a possibility again, there is the opportunity to host hybrid-events which are livestreamed from the physical. Not only does this allow delegates in remote locations to tune in and participate without incurring travel expenses, but it also enables you to switch to an entirely online event if the need arises (enter Covid-19!).

4. Customer Experience

Whilst we’ve touched on the importance of timing and accessibility, designing an engaging online customer experience is critical for virtual events. Much like a real life event, the role of event organisers is to ensure a seamless experience from arrival to departure.

Test your internet connection (and your presenters’), prepare backup visuals in the event of a technical glitch and, if possible, do a brief rehearsal. Encourage speakers to have a second screen open to see the delegates view and remember that not all guests are tech savvy so make provision for potential technical issues in advance by creating guidelines and/or FAQ’s.

After the event, and even more importantly after virtual events, following up with delegates is important to obtain feedback and insights for future events.

5. Consult with Specialists

Whilst lockdown resulted in South African’s making a quick conversion into online boardrooms, there’s a significant difference between a zoom call amongst colleagues and hosting a professional virtual event. No one wants to be the target of the next online meme as kids and nannies burst into the background of a critical presentation.

Consult with specialist event companies and livestreaming solutions providers to ensure a seamless, professional virtual event. Utilising professional service providers will also enable you to maximise brand exposure through strategically placed logos and provide seamless transitions between presenter and on-screen presentations.

Whilst there is no denying that face-to-face events will always have their place - possibly even more so now that we’ve all realised the value of personal engagement, touch and non-verbal communication (don’t you hate that face masks hide your smile?!) - even once we’ve surfaced from the Covid-19 crisis, there is likely to be a greater inclination towards digital events as part of the business’ strategic marketing artillery.

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