Some of the most searched topics on google is probably “How to conduct a virtual event?” or “Which is the best virtual event platform?”. Everyone must have attended more than 10 online sessions (combination of webinars and virtual events).
I lost count on the number of sessions I have conducted and attended. Have I had 100% success? Honestly, I have not and I have stopped expecting 100%. Here are the few things that I have learnt in the past months.
Understanding the why
I believe the most important thing for the client (or organiser) is to be very clear on why they want to conduct this virtual session (be in a webinar or a virtual event). Are you planning this to engage with your community in your industry or are you doing this to get more traction or are you simply joining the bandwagon because everyone else is doing virtual?
The different WHY will help the event professionals to plan which platform is suitable to your needs. There are just too many platforms available in the market and do you trust self developed platforms or a platform by award winning tech companies?
From understanding the WHY – the event professionals can advise the programming for the virtual session, will it be a multi-day conference style or a short yet impactful 2 hours webinar engagement?
The clear WHY will also help to craft out great content and only great content can attract the participants to stay throughout the virtual session. Through knowing the WHY then you can plan for the pre-engagement better.
Knowing your participants
I have conducted no less than 30 virtual sessions (combination of webinar, virtual events and hybrid events) in the past 4 months. Trust me, besides having a great lineup of speakers and topics – your participants’ experience is as important.
Why do I say so? There are just too many virtual event platforms in the market and everyone is pitching their latest feature or 3D capabilities. Let’s be practical – the one thing that is beyond our control is the internet connection on the speakers’ end (if they are doing remote), participants own internet coverage and the internet stability at the broadcasting studio.
Will these new features or 3D capabilities help to engage the participants better or the unpredictable internet connection on the participants’ end may not give them the 100% experience that was intended? I believe the best experience is still a seamless and smooth session even with the most basic features as long as the participants can still interact with the speakers and the WHY is fulfilled.
I have seen too many clients / brands focusing too much on having more features in their virtual session than their competitors – end up forgetting their WHY and getting more participants to drop off or worse still, negative comments.
Our recent virtual session had over 500 healthcare professionals registered and approximately 90% attended. Prior to this, we have engaged with the healthcare professionals to understand what works and what will not work for them. What we found out is that 64% of them will be watching the session from their mobile devices and not PC for sure. If over 50% of your participants will be watching from their mobile devices, what will be your best delivery format for a scientific session? Will a 3D lobby, auditorium and trade show booths work for this group of participants? For us, we would focus on practical engagements (Q&A and polling), easy to read slides and make sure it’s easy to access for the participants without having to download any additional plugins or applications.
You will not find a reliable online article on “Best time for virtual event” because it all depends on your targeted participants’ time zone. If you are based in Asia but the targeted participants are majority based in the U.S., then a 10am or 2pm Singapore time will not work at all. If you are targeting participants from all over the world, how can you work your program to work best for all the different regions (Europe, America and Asia Pacific)? What do you think?
Engaging before, during and after the event
I find that crowdsourcing for questions or topics of interest from the participants prior to the session is very helpful to start engaging the participants and setting the stage. Unlike a physical event, the speakers are not able to read the participants’ reaction or body language so it is always helpful for the speakers to know what the participants are expecting or what are the pain points to address in order to engage with them.
Just like producing a television talk show, very experienced producers and showcaller are crucial to ensure the smooth running of the virtual / hybrid event. Virtual participants should not feel that they were merely watching a show on their laptop but the emcee and speakers must constantly engage with them, and this can definitely be done with polls, reactions and Q&A features.
Human connections are key especially for the virtual participants. We must think of how we can create opportunities for the participants to connect with one another, have conversations and tap into each other’s thoughts to encourage learning from each other. How can we drive this using the platform and mobile app? How about a virtual braindate™ or topic based networking opportunities.
Post event engagement is also important but often forgotten by many organisers. It can be surveys to understand which area to improve or networking opportunities to maintain the engagement with the community.
More stressful than live event
Many people still have the impression that the virtual event is easy, similar to zoom sessions that they have attended. Many have not seen the preparation work behind the scene, getting the storyboard right, deciding and planning the engagement tools.
Unlike a live event, there is one part of the puzzle that no matter how much we plan for backup it will still be beyond our control : THE INTERNET. This is not just the internet connection on the speakers’ end but also the connection on the participants’ part and whether they will be using WiFi or watching from their mobile devices running on 4G or 3G.