The world has turned upside down. Because of the Covid-19 crises, businesses were thrown into a whole new world. That world was the world of virtual events. With trade shows and meetings postponing or canceling altogether, companies were rushing to replace their live events with, well…ANYTHING…to stay in touch with their customers. It seemed that most companies were, at first, simply providing regimented lecture-type online meetings. Compare that to the exciting world of face-to-face events, which are full of spontaneous moments, chance encounters, and networking and selling opportunities. In short, face-to-face events offer the human connection not easily duplicated by any other marketing method. Not easily duplicated, but not impossible.
The Challenges of Virtual Events
Research conducting by the Freeman Company measuring event marketer sentiment found that two-thirds of those hosting digital experiences found engaging audiences the biggest challenge. However, there are strategies that can help your audiences stay interested, engaged, and wanting to participate from start to finish. We caught up with a few of our Project Managers and Creative Consultants to get their take on what makes a world-class virtual event.
Jean Howard, TPG Director of Business Development Jean, with stay-at-home arrangements standard right now, attention spans are shorter, and distractions are greater than if an attendee were sitting in a presentation at a trade show. What are some virtual strategies we have employed to keep the viewer’s attention?
More than ever, content needs to be current, empathetic, and relevant to your target audience’s current environment. This is the time to identify with your audience’s working at home distractions, and uncertainties for the future. 45-minute presentations should now be short and succinct, perhaps closer to 5-10 minutes. Interactivity, polling, and quizzes can help keep attendees checking in. Dynamic interstitials with music, video, and virtual hosts help keep the momentum going and eliminate the typical talking-head format that encourages multi-tasking. Keep your audience attentive and curious by building in value and surprises along the way!
Jean, technical issues can be frustrating for online audiences. For instance, sound levels, sound quality and lighting vary from speaker to speaker, even within the same session. What advice and tips do we give to speakers and panelists so that the event has a more uniform look and sound?
Today’s virtual event production requires that the home workplace becomes a video production studio. That means PC camera positions, flattering face-level lighting, quality microphones, stronger internet connections (using Ethernet cable instead of Wi-Fi) all become paramount. Our virtual event video producers send production kits to speakers before they videotape remotely. Just like in a professional studio, dress rehearsals are assurances of more uniform production quality.
Kristen Heitman, TPG Experiential Program Manager Breaking up the session into bite-sized, easily digestible segments seems to be a winning method for keeping audiences interested. What are some novel ideas we have incorporated into our clients’ virtual events to keep the experience fun and alive for participants?
Keeping things short and sweet, with audience interaction, is key. As Jean mentioned, we have found success in adding interactive quizzes or polling during a presentation. The poll results can be sent to the participants to see how they stack up against their peers. Adding an incentive for participation is the best way to get a higher number of responses. Also helpful, we suggest to our clients that they staff their event with company experts during show hours. Attendees can have easy access to a real person to answer questions via chat, or to set up a meeting with a sales rep. Because we are missing out on our normal face-to-face interaction, finding a way to connect with attendees is extremely important.
Kristen, what are some of the ways audiences can have a more personalized virtual experience and network with other participants?
Because everyone is entering the virtual space now, it’s important to stand out from the crowd and make personal connections. Virtual happy hours can be a fun way for people to connect face-to-face. You can send physical items to anyone who signs up, or to a small, targeted group, so everyone can have a similar experience from their own home. These networking events can be conducted in breakout rooms with fewer people to make the experience more personal and memorable.
Kim Mallery, TPG Project Manager Utilizing an on-camera host/emcee is often overlooked by companies when planning a virtual event. How does a host benefit the online experience and keep the audience engaged and happy?
First impressions are everything and virtual events are no exception. The way you are initially greeted can set the tone for an entire event. Enlisting the services of a professional host is a great way to enhance the attendee experience and ensure a welcoming, comfortable, exciting atmosphere. Professionals are masters in communicating online and their ease at connecting directly to the participants is palpable. No matter how well-rehearsed your event is, things can happen. For any number of reasons, people or content may not be streaming when intended. Professional hosts are extremely agile in these situations and ready to jump in on a dime, while appearing warm, inviting, and at ease. They are the glue that holds the event together.
Kim, the way content it is delivered by company executives and panel members can be inspirational, or it can fall flat. What advice would you give session speakers, who may not have a lot of on-camera or presentation skills experience so that they are as compelling as possible to the viewer?
One word, practice, practice, practice! OK, one word, three times, because that is how important it is. Executives and other enlisted speakers are busy people and often they are fitting your event into an already overloaded schedule. However, the most important advice I would give them is to take time to rehearse their material. Read the script (or practice the ‘off the cuff’ responses) aloud many times before the event to help the language feel comfortable and less stilted. Then rehearse in front of the camera, in the location where they will be during the event. A good strategy for utilizing non-professional speakers is to set up their session as an interview with your professional host posing questions to your subject matter experts. This allows for a more conversational tone as the speaker can put things into their own words. But make sure the questions are provided ahead of time, so the speaker still has a chance to practice their responses.
Christina Piedlow, TPG Owner and CEO The TPG team was impressed with your leadership in helping to smoothly transition our traditional trade show clients into virtual virtuosos. Do you have an overarching philosophy about how to navigate our clients through these tumultuous times?
We are invested in our clients’ success. To be successful in this environment means taking risks and looking at events differently. Recognizing that virtual, hybrid, and IRL experiences should all be part of a program strategy is paramount, especially during these times. Having fully integrated programs enables clients to pull back resources in some areas and increase resources in others when the climate calls for change. We are here to help make those transitions easy – to strategize and make recommendations and to ensure that our clients’ programs, whether they happen virtually or in real life, both stand out and deliver outstanding results.
Conclusion Yes, it’s true that face-to-face events provide the human connection not easily duplicated by any other marketing method. But with careful planning and practice, loyalty to your brand values, personal touches, a few surprises, and even a special look and feel, your virtual event can be pretty darn close. We look forward to providing new opportunities to serve our clients, providing digital campaigns and experiences, or virtual events and webinars. Feel free to contact us.