So, your big event got cancelled? And with it went all those opportunities to grow your brand and make meaningful connections? We hear you. It happened to us, too. Our big event got pushed to next year. It happened to lots and lots of good companies.
But rather than just admit defeat and take the easy way out, brands are replacing these immersive real-life experiences with immersive digital ones. They’re pivoting and figuring out how to provide similar value and comparable connectivity while maintaining social distance.
Now, on one hand, an event is still an event, even if it’s virtual. And marketing is still marketing, even if it’s online. The core remains the same, which means that marketers can carry over many (but not all) of the skills and principles they previously used. In fact, a virtual event might be the perfect time for marketers to show what they know about marketing.
“I think this is the time to shine, as a marketer,” says Som Puangladda, VP of global marketing at GumGum, a computer vision company. “You’re able to show if you can do more with less. How can you find creative ways to succeed? We’re so reliant on in-person experiences, and no one thought the day would come where that was taken away from us.”
But as we mentioned earlier, there are some meaningful differences that event organizers should account for. Here are some tips for hosting powerful virtual events that engage your audience without ever having anyone set foot in a conference hall.
Invest in Quality
Don’t leave the fate of your virtual event to shoddy technology. Make sure speakers have proper microphones, because those AirPods aren’t gonna cut it. If you’re streaming video (and you should be), use a high-quality camera. Have speakers find a spot with really good natural light, or have them invest in a couple lights to brighten up the scene. Make sure anyone who’s on-screen positions their camera at the right angle—you don’t want to be staring up a speaker’s nose for 45 minutes. In short, plan ahead and don’t skimp on the tech. If the technology works great, no one will notice it, and that’s the point. The last thing you want people to say and they’re closing their computer screens is, well, that was great, but the stream kept cutting out.
Create an Immersive Environment
Like an in-person event, imagine the entire event from the perspective of your attendee. This online experience is still an experience, and it’s important to give your attendees a good one.
“Experiential is a tactic,” says Jeff Bardin, experiential account director at creative agency Giant Spoon. “If you create something that is smart and innovative and bring it online, you can still capture hearts and minds.”
When you think about the event in totality, you can zero in on specific moments that have a chance to be really meaningful. Note these opportunities for intentionally-crafted moments, and deliver on them. The ultimate focus should be upgrading the experience for the attendee in every possible way. How can we improve the log-in experience? How can we better introduce speakers and breakout sessions? How can we do something powerful during downtime? How can we do something awesome with our post-event recap? Leave no stone unturned.
And more broadly, every piece of the virtual event environment should have a consistent visual identity. Just because the event is online doesn’t mean that branding is no longer important!
Focus on Connection
We spoke about literal connection above, but this is about metaphorical connection. Event marketers have to make that one person on the other side of the computer screen feel engaged with—even immersed in—your event. For starters, have all speakers primarily use video. Nobody wants to look at an endless slideshow of bullet-point notes for 45 minutes at a time. Maintain that face-to-face connection, even if the speaker and audience aren’t in the same room.
For speakers, a virtual keynote should be given a slightly different treatment than a keynote given to a room full of people. Marketing guru and public speaker Jay Acunzo has some good thoughts on this. He recommends taking tips from narrative-style radio shows like This American Life, to get and, more importantly, to hold attention. Som from GumGum agrees.
“As a speaker, I’m approaching a virtual gig like it’s a podcast,” she said. “Like, this person is so good that I want to continue listening and I don’t even see this person. I understand that 40 minutes on a webinar is a super long time unless the content is really relevant and the delivery is on point.”
Acunzo also recommends that speakers pre-record their talks and add some production value to breathe some life into an experience that’s deadened by the technological barrier. It doesn’t have to be excessive, but pre-recording and adding production value to the speech gives you the opportunity to fine-tune for a virtual experience.
And as an organizer, you have to rehearse and be prepared, even more so when the event is online. Focus on transitions, and make sure there’s not excessive downtime between segments. If it’s unavoidable, plan some entertainment for the interim. GumGum, Puangladda says, is talking to a DJ that it uses at its in-person experiences to spin for some upcoming virtual events.
Once you have that connection to the audience, it’s important to hold onto it. Disjointed logistics are surefire ways for audience members to tune out, especially during an online event. Because it’s easier than ever to scroll through Twitter, or turn on the TV, go outside for a walk.
Deliver on Your Promises, But Keep Attendees Guessing
You have to give the audience what they came for, but that doesn’t mean the whole event needs to follow a minute-by-minute calendar. In fact, some elements of surprise could represent a really powerful opportunity to deliver that exceptional moment for attendees.
Nils Arend, the chief experience officer at creative agency Optimist, feels that it’s necessary to have some elements of surprise in any experience.
“I love the contrast and the unexpected,” Arend said. “Delivering a multi-dimensional experience where the audience can go off the proposed track and still have an experience that’s unique to them, it only makes the brand more credible.”