From 2009-2013, I worked for a company that provided a virtual events platform. I blogged regularly about virtual events on the company’s blog, as well as my personal blog.
While we saw an uptick in interest from the 2008 financial crisis, evangelizing virtual events was a challenge.
When I told people I worked on virtual events, the most common reaction I’d get is:
“What are those?”
I tweeted that Google Trends is currently showing a surge in interest:
Circa 2009-2012, I blogged regularly about virtual events.
Back then, it seemed like only a handful of people were reading.
Now look. 👇 pic.twitter.com/0V6mwKYdeA
— Dennis Shiao (he/him) ✍️ (@dshiao) March 14, 2020
These days, with most of us sequestered at home and events being cancelled, everyone is talking about virtual events. I saw the term on the homepage of The New York Times, something I’d couldn’t have imagined back in 2009.
Before you jump in and say that “my event is going virtual,” here are ten questions to answer.
1) Why have a virtual event?
There’s an obvious answer to this question. Most likely, your physical event was cancelled, but you still want to educate and engage your audience. I get that. But my question goes deeper, at a Simon Simek “Start With Why” level. In his famous TED Talk, Simek says, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
People might grasp the “what” of your virtual event, but see if you can discover a deeper “why,” beyond the physical event replacement. Maybe your “why” is that a browser-based experience can better bring introverts together in a way that a physical experience could not.
Believe me, if you can nail a meaningful “why,” your virtual event stands to benefit.
2) Are you giving yourself enough time?
COVID-19 caused events to be cancelled. Event organizers took one of two routes: they postponed the physical event to a later date, or they moved it to a virtual event. A big mistake I see event planners make is to underestimate the work involved in planning a virtual event.
A complex virtual event is far more than a series of webinars. If your physical event was scheduled for April 13th and your virtual event is scheduled for May 13th, ask yourself if that’s realistic. Unless your virtual event is simple, I’d suggest that you’re being overly aggressive.
3) How are you handling paid ticketing?
If your physical event had paid ticketing, how are you carrying those tickets over to the virtual event? If you lowered the cost for virtual, how are you crediting the price paid for the physical?
Also, how do you process new sign-ups to the virtual event? Will you use a third party payment service or expect the platform to handle it?
4) Have speakers agreed to present in your virtual event?
Check your speaker agreements, then talk to each of your speakers. If you hired a celebrity to present the keynote, does she agree to do the keynote in an online presentation?
For larger events with hundreds of speakers, you’ll need to reach out to all of them and determine which are agreeable and available to speak in your virtual event.
5) Have you worked out important registration details?
Let’s say you had 5,500 people registered for your physical event. Have you worked out a way to transfer those registrations into your virtual event platform, so they don’t have to register again?
Have you figured out how to create virtual event credentials and securely communicate them? And finally, will you open the virtual event to new registrations?
6) What’s your vision?
Somewhat related to point #1 (above) about your “why.” Now, my question is, what is your virtual event going to feature? Is it focused around the sessions, such that your event is a bare-bones sequence of one hour webinars? Or, do you plan to design an elaborate, three dimensional experience that the world has never seen?
I won’t say that either is the right answer, but it is important to hone in on your vision before deciding to move forward.
7) Can your existing team pull this off?
For event planners, physical and virtual events share similarities. However, if your team of event planners has never executed a virtual event, there may be challenges. If your existing team is not comfortable running the end-to-end execution, look for agencies or consultants who can help.
There’s an industry certification from PCMA called Digital Event Strategist (DES). If you’re hiring consultants, it’s a good sign if they hold this certification.
8) How will you deliver leads to sponsors?
This is a business decision first, a technical question second. At your physical event, perhaps sponsors were provided with badge scanners at their booths. The business question is, what business rules will you establish on how sponsors will receive leads in the virtual event? The technical question is, based on what you decide, does your selected platform support it?
9) Will your target audience attend a virtual event?
With everyone working from home right, you’d think the answer is “of course!” But be mindful of your demographic. Perhaps there are some users who were inclined to attend your physical event, but not inclined to join a virtual event. You know your audience best, so you should be able to use anecdotal evidence to answer this question.
10) How will you keep your audience engaged?
Physical events have lots of “tools” to keep people engaged: lunch, networking breaks, post-event concerts and the age-old phenomenon of connecting face-to-face. None of that exists in a virtual event, so how do you keep people from losing attention — or worse, from leaving?
Many of you have answers to each of these questions. However, if you’re struggling to answer some, or if you’re stumped on how to pull off a virtual event, feel free to email me. I’m firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!
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