From face-to-face to virtual

Expert Opinion Features
From face-to-face to virtual

Silke Hoersch on how to turn your event into a virtual experience.

Just a few weeks ago, we were feeling optimistic about holding Ungerboeck’s yearly APAC and EMEA Unite conferences in March.

What happened next was out of our hands, with the Covid-19 pandemic. We did not want to give up on Unite, so we worked on a virtual conference concept that would still cover the great content we were eager to share with our customer community.

We had one week to revamp the agenda and to elaborate the technical set-up. Our decision to make this a free event for our customers allowed us to increase our reach tremendously.

So, how do you turn a multi-day conference, filled with educational sessions, presentations, product trials and networking opportunities, into an engaging virtual experience?

1) Online event format

When moving a multi-day event online, you have to reconsider the duration and the content. People don’t have the same attention span in front of their screen. Consider delivering shorter sessions (30-45 minutes), reduce the number of presentations per track, and ensure time for Q&As, as well as breaks in between sessions. Schedule your sessions to accommodate time zone issues.

Add enough resources to run the show: moderators, presenters and panelists. Do not underestimate the time it takes to brief all involved. Rehearsals should be mandatory to test the technical set-up.

Clearly identify your KPIs: what are you trying to achieve? This will help you decide whether registrants should be charged, if the sessions will be made available on-demand after the event, and how you will follow up.

2) Choosing the right technology

Choosing the right provider will depend on the functionalities that are essential to your event.

These include:

• Ease of set up for sessions
• Ease of use for presenters
• Audience engagement tools such as polls and Q&As
• Supporting large number of attendees logging in at the same time, ideally without the need to download a desktop app
• Support quality video production

3) Marketing & Communication

Moving our conferences online enabled us to triple our attendance rate in less than a week.

Event website

Your event website is at the core of your event and is the main source of information for your attendees and it should include a clear agenda with direct access to the different sessions, speakers’ names and a registration link.

Chatbot

Utilise your website chatbot to answer questions prior to the event, but also during the conference.

Email marketing

Advertise your event to your database with mass email communications prior to the event. Send delegates feedback surveys.

Social media

Use your social media channels to tease your event and to promote content and speakers. Post a preview of the sessions and introduce the event hashtag.

4) Driving engagement during your event

One of the biggest challenges of virtual events is to keep your attendees engaged when you can’t see people’s reactions to your presentation. There are tools that can help you:

• Polls will help presenters get a better understanding of the audience on the other side of the screen.
• Real time answers to questions.
• Text notifications or content sharing during session, for example through a chat tool
• Social channels: Create a # for your virtual events and encourage attendees to interact. Moderate the discussions.
• Consider entertainment ideas during breaks, for example mini ‘workouts’ or music and teaser videos for upcoming sessions.

5) Post event

All of the content should be available to attendees right after the conference.

Crisis breeds invention and when we all come out of this, reflecting the experiences we made, we will not hold the same events as before. Hybrid events will become much more relevant in future and we will have to find ways to commercialise the virtual elements.

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.