As businesses have shifted to remote work, events have also begun to convert into a virtual format. In fact, demand for virtual events has grown exponentially — in 2020 alone, virtual event platform 6Connex reported a 1000% growth in demand for virtual event hosting. Webinars have been an effective way to host one-off and small-scale virtual events, but how do you convert large conferences, trade shows, and summits into an online platform? Multi-day trade shows and conferences are already an enormous undertaking and converting those into a virtual format can feel daunting at first. This article will help you navigate the challenges of hosting even the most ambitious events online.
Whether you have weeks or months ahead of the event to prepare, the earlier you begin planning, the better. Considering that event hosting platforms have been taxed by an enormous shift to virtual formats, it’s essential to evaluate different options that work best for your business as a first step, such as:
Choosing the right platform can be challenging, but the key is finding one with features that suit your business’s and event’s unique needs. Factors to keep in mind during the decision-making process include:
- Features that help fulfill the goal of the event
- Networking and attendee engagement functions
- Integrations with software you already use
- Quality of customer support
- Branding and customization options
Once you’ve chosen and adopted your event hosting technology, it’s time to reach out to speakers, sponsors, and then your target audience to drive up attendance. Engaging an agency can make a significant difference with these steps for help with branding, asset design, booth design, and communication to your clients and leads.
Once you’ve established which platforms you’re using and which speakers and sponsors will be participating, the next step will be to create an eye-catching event page that includes an easy way to register. This will include engaging designers to establish a layout that’s attractive and easy to navigate, as well as SEO-friendly content that has the potential to generate organic traffic. Including a form that’s integrated with your chosen platform is key to streamlining the experience and making it as simple as possible for your attendees to sign up. Key details to include on this page are:
- A brief description of the event
- Date(s) and time(s)
- Speaker bios
- Sponsorship information
- Signup forms
- Secure payment options, if applicable
Attract and Gear Up Attendees
Once your technology is adopted and your event page is live, establishing a plan of action for reaching out to potential attendees and maintaining communication is essential, and will vary depending on your customers’ and prospects’ preferences. Common outreach methods include:
- Email outreach
- Inbound marketing
- Direct mail outreach
- Social media posting
- Pre-event blog posts
- Video promotion
- Press releases
- Direct sales calls
- Newsletter content
- Pre-show packages
- Encouraging speakers, sponsors, and partners to share the event with their networks
Methods like gamification as event promotion are especially effective for driving engagement. Gamification is the act of adapting elements of game playing into an activity, and frequently assigns a score at the end. Engaging your audience with a game will keep them excited — who doesn’t want to top their personal high score? As the event host, you can also use this opportunity to include your sponsors’ logos and promotional materials in the game to increase brand recognition while you collect data to gauge interest and encourage networking opportunities for your attendees.
Educate Speakers and Sponsors
Before the event takes place, it’s important to make sure that your speakers and participating sponsors are comfortable with the technology you’ve chosen to adopt for their sessions. Using the specific platform you’ve chosen, hold a planning session ahead of time, as well as a dry run of each presentation to help speakers better understand both the content they’d like to present and the platform being used to host. That way, any troubleshooting or confusion can be cleared up before their sessions begin, ensuring they’ll run as smoothly as possible.
Engage Attendees During the Event
With the shift to a virtual format comes the unique challenge of encouraging participation without the benefit of in-person networking and interaction. But a digital event doesn’t have to mean struggling to maintain a disengaged audience.
From virtual networking lunches, happy hours, breakout rooms, group activities, and gamification, there are a plethora of ways to liven up a virtual audience. For sponsors, including interactive virtual booths will inspire interaction while allowing them to promote their brand. This also opens the opportunity to utilize innovative technology such as augmented reality to keep audiences captivated. During an event like a webinar or speaking session, including polls and Q&A throughout is a good way to encourage participation — and can even be used after the event for data in infographics, post-event blog and social content, and more.
Post-event Follow Up
The excitement surrounding an event doesn’t have to end when the last session is over. Post-event follow-up can keep an audience engaged and raise brand awareness for sponsors. Sponsors can also reach out to those who interacted with their online booths to stay in touch while driving potential new business.
And if polls were conducted during speaking sessions, that data can be collected to create infographics as well as statistics for blog and social media posts. This way, the data can not only be used to promote your business, but also be given back to attendees and their peers as helpful pieces of thought leadership. Post-event emails, thank you notes, and other forms of outreach can also be used to continue the conversation well after the conclusion of an event.
Converting an in-person event into a digital format can feel overwhelming at first. But if you plan ahead, secure and get comfortable with online platforms, and keep audience members engaged, your business can host an outstanding event that will keep your attendees talking long into the future.
Header photo by Compare Fibre.
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