My Event Has to Go Virtual. Now What?

Header Image
image of computer with many faces on it in a zoom call

Part 1: My Event Has to Go Virtual. Now What?

By now, most companies and individuals that are able to adapt to a work-from-home-environment have adjusted to remote work being part of the new normal, whether temporarily or as an entirely new way of doing business. We’ve learned to turn to virtual meetings and other distance-based ways to connect with clients and teams throughout our workweek, but questions about what to do with our larger events still loom large. 

Whether it’s an annual meeting, conference, trade show, or fundraiser that’s been canceled, postponed, or forced online, we are all facing major decisions about what to move forward with, and how. Marker Seven is working with virtual events and brand consultant Jan Berndt, the talent behind digital events and campaigns for Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Spotify and more on ways to help our clients bring their events online in meaningful ways.

To begin developing a successful event plan, Berndt first recommends you understand what exactly you need to accomplish. While this may sound intuitive, it actually requires a bit of thought - you’ll be conducting an existing event in a new way, and will need to determine how much of the experience you’ll need to bring along into the virtual realm.

Virtual and Hybrid Events can be broken into three basic categories:

  1. Broadcast, or one-way-communication events, like webinars or one directional live streams where the speaker or product is the main event, with an audience watching but responding only on a very low level of interaction

  2. Interactive or panel (two-to-multi-way) events, like forums or discussions where participants have the ability to chime in either at any point, or at a designated time after the main presentation 

  3. Combination Plus - combining broadcast, interactive, and additional requirements like networking and training sessions, all seamlessly working together in one branded platform to not let the audience jump between different tools and tabs all the time

How can you tell which kind of event you are likely to need? 

Begin by asking yourself which different target groups and personas you are addressing with your event and why each group is attending your event in the first place? Then break down these main drivers into short user stories (you will need these at a later stage anyway to build a compelling customer journey for your virtual event) and then try to build a digital experience that caters exactly to these needs. This is so much more important than just trying to build a one to one copy of your analogue event – and suddenly you are going to realize that digitized events come with new built-in opportunities to engage with your audience even more deeply (e.g. match-making and communication among attendees, providing CTA driven information and live offers based on users’ exact interests and profiles, improving experiences based on analytics during and after the event etc.). Think about virtual forms of interaction and try to define KPIs for each of your target audiences in advance — think about your virtual event in a way you would think about your digital campaigns, too. 

Also ask yourself if the whole event needs to be live, or if you can provide some parts of the show as on-demand assets. Berndt shares that many people assume that all content needs to be live, but it isn’t the case. Recall a trade show for example where exhibitors provide OnDemand content playing in separate areas away from the main showroom floor - there may have been a pre-recorded product demo you could sign up to watch. An exhibitor’s sales team may have been live and nearby to answer any questions during or after the showcase, either in front of the group or with you individually.

The same is true for determining your virtual event experience - what level of live interaction is needed and useful to accompany your pre-recorded product demos? Should you have a chat feature that can activate during or after the demo where a sales team member can virtually step in to assist? Before you get too complex right at the start: always think about how many (digital) staff members and colleagues you will need to execute and maintain the event.

To help you begin to understand whether to utilize an existing tool currently on the market, integrate a combination of tools, or look for a custom solution, we have a partial checklist to consider as you begin researching how you will manage your event. 

Before the Event

  • Are we holding a live event, or providing On Demand content (potentially with live assistance)?

  • Determine event type and tool(s) to use 

  • Decide to use public links or password protected rooms

  • Is registration required, so we can see who is attending, or can people simply call in?

  • Is payment required, or is the event free?

  • Do we need to design anything custom - such as backgrounds for speakers, or is the background from where they are calling in OK?

  • Do we need to train anyone on screen sharing or other features, or do a run-through prior to the event?

  • Designate a primary presenter/event manager to loop others in, do administrative controls

  • What sort of  event reminders will we send, and at what point before the event? (email, text, calendar reminder, etc)

During the event

  • Use a virtual waiting room?

  • Offer chat features?

  • Allow feedback throughout, or keep everyone muted until a certain time?

  • Distribute files to be downloaded during each presentation so everyone can follow along?

  • Poll participants during sessions for instant feedback and interaction?

  • Record the meeting for future playback?

After the event

  • Send a survey at the end of the event?

  • Provide recordings / on-demand content?

We’ll cover specific tools in our next article, Three Paths to a Productive Event, which is part two of a five-part series. The remaining articles include Understanding Constraints, Staffing for Success, and a look to The Future of Virtual Meetings

To connect with us about questions related to these topics, please contact us.