Many event organizers I talk to assumed that virtual events would be a temporary fix while we all waited out the coronavirus pandemic. But we’re inching closer to 2021, and it’s pretty darn clear that COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere.
This month alone, I’ve virtually attended company retreats and workshops, a large conference, niche tech events and even some pretty awesome whisky tastings. I’ve seen an explosion in new ways of connecting. I also happen to be a core part of the team that runs the world’s largest open source calendar software . So we are in the mix, and I see a genuine demand for engaging virtual events.
If your organization can find a way to connect with your audience from a distance, you’ll be at a major advantage. Not only will you be able to weather the current period we’re in, but you’ll set yourself for success in the long run as events continue to move to online platforms.
That said, it can be hard to embrace virtual events if you’re used to hosting meetings, conferences, classes and other events in person . I get it. If we were hanging out, watching the sun set and debating how to leverage this new normal for your business or community, I’d drop the following fundamental principles.
Virtual Events Open Doors.
In my experience, virtual events offer more opportunities than drawbacks. I’ve run 19 in-person conferences, nearly 100 corporate retreats, and have been contributing to online events for a decade. In order to fully embrace online events, it helps to remember the benefits:
- You can reach a larger audience.An event at a venue can only seat so many people (especially these days, with social distancing and capacity limits). With virtual events, your potential audience size is limitless.
- There are fewer barriers to participate.Virtual events make your gatherings more accessible to more people. There are no transportation logistics; no rushing from one place to the next; no geographical limits.
- Lower costs.Virtual events can be incredibly cost effective. No venue rental, no catering, no equipment rentals? No problem. That savings can help you increase revenue more quickly, and you can pass some of your savings along to your attendees by charging lower admission fees.
Content is not an event.
Broadcasting a one-sided presentation is really called a webinar. And in many cases frankly should just be a YouTube video. It is not an event.
It’s important to distinguish between content and events.
An event is a live, shared experience that invites attendees to participate, whether they’re engaging with each other or asking questions to the presenter. It is scheduled at a certain place (virtually or in-person) and time and is fundamentally grounded in the creation of community. It is timely and ephemeral.
A piece of content is evergreen: It can be consumed asynchronously, so there’s no reason your audience needs to convene in the same virtual space at the same time. When you share content, your audience is passive, whether they’re watching a webinar or reading a whitepaper.
Simply sharing a piece of content on a Zoom call is not a winning strategy for virtual events. Look for the connection between people that an event creates. You need to create a shared experience and give your audience a chance to participate. There are dozens of ways to accomplish this, from breakouts, to leveraging social, and a bevy of new tools coming out to fill this huge void.
Find your “why” to create awesome virtual events.
Let’s focus on the “why” of your event. Its purpose and how you know that it was a smashing success.
If you’re a fitness instructor, the “why” could be that you’re offering accountability and motivation— virtual coaching and classes are much more dynamic than sending your clients a pre-recorded workout video to watch alone.
If you’re moving your annual conference online, maybe your “why” is to offer networking and promote discovery. While some of your sessions might be in webinar format to recreate the experience of watching a keynote speaker, you’ll also want to get creative and offer opportunities for people to get to connect one-on-one and network. Zoom breakout rooms are a great option for this.
Once you nail your “why”, then you can design an experience that is focused on delivering the unique value of the event to your community.
Don’t shy away from online events.
Amid all the uncertainty this year, one thing is certain: Virtual events are here to stay.
When you embrace the virtual format, you unlock new opportunities to connect with your audience, grow your business, and increase revenue. For more tips on virtual event management, check out The Events Calendar blog .