So much of the B2B world has always relied on large-scale get-togethers to drive promotion and collaboration. Enterprise-level services require compelling demonstrations, after all, and it can be tough to simply take someone’s word when they claim that they can fulfill a huge order. By visiting their production facilities, it’s possible to glean vital insight into their capabilities.
There’s also the need to promote products and services to big brands that are accustomed to being won over. Events have generally allowed companies to grease the wheels, so to speak: wining and dining prospective clients so they’ll find it easier to arrange lucrative deals. But everything changed when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and lockdowns went into effect.
Within weeks, event calendars everywhere had been torn apart. Countless events were optimistically postponed, put in the “maybe” category, then called off entirely — but not all of them. Realizing that it could be better than nothing to hold some events virtually, some brands gave it a try, and it quickly caught on as it became clear that the pandemic was sticking around.
And while things may be looking up as we navigate the early stages of 2021, we still don’t know when it’s going to be safe to arrange large gatherings again — so virtual events will continue to be huge this year. If you intend to host some, you need to handle them well, or else they won’t return any meaningful value. Here are some tips for handling the organization effectively.
Focus on building feelings of personal involvement
One of the inevitable consequences of everything happening online is that it all feels so abstract. Real-world events feel impactful. They’re disruptive in the sense that they require effort to attend. In all likelihood, an attendee of an event has built their day — and possibly even their week — around it. This builds hype around it and makes it feel more significant.
Due to this, you should look for ways in which you can make your virtual events feel more real to people — and the most powerful way to do this is to get them involved more substantially. The more you can cultivate their investment, the more they can come to forget about them being virtual and start viewing them simply as events no less worthy than any others.
For instance, you could encourage people to contribute comments or statements about the event. It might sound silly, but if you can get someone to openly endorse the event, it’ll most likely lead them to feel more positively about it — after all, that positive comment will put their reputation on the line in a small but meaningful way (and tie into the Benjamin Franklin effect).
If you can, reach out to industry experts and show enough positivity and ambition to earn their participation. And whenever you interact with people who might attend, be personable instead of standoffish. Note that you look forward to talking to them at the event. Knowing that they’ll actually get some conversation out of it will give them further reason to try.
Build a capable remote command center
Handling a virtual event doesn’t require some extravagant VR setup along the lines of something from Minority Report, but it can be more taxing than you might think if you haven’t held one before. As the organizer, your job is to monitor everything to ensure that things proceed as planned — something that can never be guaranteed through the internet.
To make this easier, you should at least cobble together a decent and expansive home office. Using multiple displays, in particular, will prove invaluable, allowing you to have a different social media channel open in each one (which will make it easier to act in the event that there’s a disastrous hashtag mistake or something else that might prompt a PR disaster).
You don’t need a huge amount of space for this, thankfully. Find displays with thin bezels and rear mounts, then hook them up with the most compact cables you can find. You might even be able to use your smartphone: micro USB to HDMI cables make it easy to connect MHL mobile audio/video devices, giving you more options for how you proceed. In the end, you’ll find it markedly easier to monitor all the proceedings without needing to repeatedly toggle back and forth between different pages and channels for hours on end.
Plan around frequent comfort breaks
Holding someone’s attention for an hour is tough enough when they’re sitting comfortably in a hushed auditorium. When they’re hunched in front of their home computer, it’s far tougher: and if they reach the front of boredom or frustration, they don’t need to deal with getting up and walking out. They can leave with a click — and once they’re gone, they might not return.
This is why it’s so vital for remote workers to take frequent breaks (building their schedules around them, even), and it’s why you need to refrain from packing your schedule for the sake of it. You might feel that you need to power through everything to keep people around, but it’s likely to have the opposite effect. Aim to have punchy sessions and presentations, cutting out all the filler (more on this next) and concentrating on actionable takeaways.
Now, if you’ve held virtual events before, it’s possible that you’ve seen people stick around for three-hour sessions, leading you to believe that there’s nothing wrong with that approach. But how much did they really retain? In all likelihood, many of them just stuck around because they felt obliged to, not actually paying attention after a short while. That’s something you need to avoid if you want people to actually care about your future events.
Offer compelling reasons to attend live
When everything is provided virtually, why should people pay attention during your events? After all, it’s said with increasing frequency that the internet never forgets. Whatever you provide digitally can (and will) be recorded, regardless of whether you’re the culprit (often through a virtual event platform with baked-in recording functionality).
Due to this, you need to come up with some good reasons for people to attend live: something you need for engagement and to make the event feel significant on the day. You could offer everyone who attends some kind of reward, perhaps: a resource that won’t be distributed to others, such as an in-depth guide to some of the topics covered.
You could focus on the planned interactivity of your event, of course. Having an opportunity to speak to industry experts and get some key questions answered can be a powerful motivator. And then there’s the chance to be featured in all the recordings. Anyone who attends your event and contributes somehow to the discussions will have their contributions replayed many times after, helping to build their reputation.
In conclusion, it’s perfectly possible to run successful virtual events in 2021, but you’re going to be up against some heated competition and can’t afford to take half-measures. Follow all the suggestions we’ve looked at here, learn from every event you run (the successes and the failures), and you should be able to make some solid progress.