How Virtual Events Are Transforming the Events Landscape
Technology has given rise to the online space, allowing for digital and virtual forms of communication and the like. This year, many activities have turned at a standstill due to the global pandemic, which has led to quarantine protocols and lockdown measures. These changes have prompted the need to transition into the new normal, which has affected many regular activities and operations. In particular, the events industry has taken an interesting turn, especially with the importance of adhering to social distancing measures during this time.
Virtual events had long existed, even before the onset of the pandemic. When you hear about someone attending an event, it may very well be virtual. 2020 saw a significant increase in the number of organizations planning virtual events, but they have also been around in previous years. The global business landscape has transformed immensely this year, and events are no exception.
The pandemic has brought about disruptive effects to the state of events, causing planners and organizers to find new channels and avenues to adjust to the changes. However, virtual events are not merely a passing trend. They are expected to stay and grow further in the coming years as they offer an experience unique from in-person events.
Events Industry Today
In-person events continue to lie low due to prevent proximity between people and to slow and prevent the spread of the virus. Similarly, participants are taking extra precaution with events, with many apprehensive about attending in-person events. According to a survey conducted by MarTech, 60% of the respondents are unwilling to go to an in-person event if there are no safety measures in place, while 27% will only do so once a vaccine becomes available.
As there is still no fixed answer to when in-person events can resume normal operations, virtual and face-to-face events will likely coexist in the future. Finding the right balance and mix between the two will not be easy. However, if done and executed correctly, business owners and marketers can see massive benefits in leads generation and sales conversions.
Today, event organizers and planners are undoubtedly faced with the challenge of maintaining safety while meeting financial obligations or minimizing losses. The business environment is rapidly evolving, so preparedness and readiness to adapt to changing situations are necessary. These skills are more important than ever in the events business today, especially since organizers must quickly decide on what to do with their plans. While cancellation and postponement are feasible options, many are turning to alternative formats: virtual events.
Offering a Unique Virtual Experience
While many organizations have transitioned into digital platforms for safety reasons, virtual events bring something new to the table. Thus, various companies are also open to exploring their potential for reasons beyond social distancing requirements.
It is important to draw a line between in-person events and virtual events, especially since the two are often used comparably. Many tend to consider the latter as an online or digital version of a physical event, but the truth is that the two are separate experiences. It is not feasible to recreate an in-person event online due to the limitations of a digital platform. Naturally, things like audience engagement and program execution will proceed differently when participants are attending the event online or face-to-face.
However, with all that said, virtual events also offer benefits that give them an edge over physical events. For one, they are often less costly since you can save on traditional logistic costs like venue and food catering. Another advantage of virtual events is that they make it easier to channel participants towards the sales funnels. It is much harder to continue engaging or staying in touch with customers online after the event with in-person events. However, with a digital event, there is a higher chance of generating new leads since your participants are already online.
Challenges of Virtual Events
One of the biggest challenges of hosting virtual events is the reliability of technology and connectivity for both the organizers and attendees. As an event planner, you must ensure that your Internet connection is stable enough to support the number of people attending your event and the program you have planned. Similarly, though you may be able to skip on a few logistic preparations, you must still have the proper equipment for video and audio quality. Good audio quality, in particular, is crucial for your attendees to understand what the host is saying and grasp the event’s content fully.
Another major challenge with virtual events is maintaining engagement among your participants. Though there are several platforms you can readily use to host your event, the online format is still relatively new, so technologies are limited. They particularly lack engagement features, making it more difficult to keep attendees interested throughout an event.
Realistically speaking, it is close to impossible to replicate the engagement you can get from a physical event with a virtual event. However, this does not mean that you can no longer make your event interactive or exciting. One thing to consider is your audience’s attention span. With an online event, it is much easier for them to get distracted and lose concentration. Thus, it helps to limit your event length and make the information as digestible as possible.
Another way to boost engagement is to allow your audience to participate. Make sure to start your event with an exciting opening to catch their attention and perk their interest from the beginning. Throughout the program, incorporate elements like games or other creative things to make the event more innovative.
Overall, virtual events come with unique challenges due to the online platform’s nature and the differences in audience reception. However, experimenting and exploring the format further will help you develop creative ways to address them. Beyond these challenges, you will find tons of potential to introduce something new to your events.
Measuring the Success of Virtual Events
Given that virtual events are much newer than physical events, it is important to track your events’ performance and success. Hosting a virtual event may feel like a foreign experience for the first time, as preparations will proceed much differently. For many planners, a top concern usually has to do with measuring return on investment (ROI) to determine if an event was successful.
Fortunately, you can measure virtual event success with various key performance indicators (KPIs). Since you are using technology for the event, it is also much easier to gather data and relevant information to give you insights into your event. Check out some of these metrics to help you improve in the future:
The first number that many businesses look at is event registration and attendance. Compare the number of people that registered for your event with the number that actually attended. In some cases, you may have many people register, only to find that a large percentage of them did not push through with attendance. It will also be useful to compare registration and attendance across your events to see if you observed higher attendance in specific events and vice versa.
A major obstacle to virtual events is that participants may leave mid-way, a problem that you do not typically encounter in an in-person event. Thus, knowing how long your attendees stayed online is important to see whether you were able to keep their interest throughout the event. If many participants drop out of the event before it finishes, you may have to seek ways to boost engagement or improve the program content to make your event more enticing.
Much like physical events, feedback is just as important in virtual events, and it is also much easier to collect them online. Keeping track of how many responses you receive can tell you how much of an impact your event left on your audience, whether positive or negative.
Typically, participants who did not find your event to be memorable or particularly good or bad will not feel inclined to leave feedback. That said, going through the responses will also be important to know whether people enjoyed your event or found it extremely disappointing.
This metric may not be applicable to all businesses, but with the importance of the online space today, it is highly likely that you have a website. Thus, measuring your traffic and site visitors can clue you in on your event’s success. If your event left a good impression on the attendees, they will likely seek more information about your company and stumble upon your website.
By the same logic, you can also check your social media channels to see if there is an increase in your followers or mentions. Participants who found your event enjoyable may post about it and mention your company or add in a related hashtag, which can be highly beneficial for boosting your brand and name.
One of the best ways to engage with your customers post-event and market your company to them is through email. Thus, checking your email open rates and click-through rates is imperative to see if you left an impact enough for them to see what you have to offer.
When constructing emails, think of it as an email marketing campaign. It must have a catchy subject line and informative and appealing content to keep your readers engaged. However, before you get to this phase, you must first ensure they open your email, which you can do through your event.
Apart from the five metrics mentioned above, there are several other measures you can look into to determine the success of your event. However, the five listed above can be a good starting point to help you as you get acquainted with virtual events. By tracking these metrics consistently, you can continue to improve on your events and provide an even better experience for your attendees.
What is Next for Events?
Without a doubt, events have been transformed by the pandemic, so big changes are expected to emerge in the post-pandemic period. Check out some of the events industry’s prospects, regardless of whether you are hosting physical or virtual events.
The use of technology is not new in the events industry, but with organizers being more aware of safety, they will likely utilize it more. Technology can help limit face-to-face interaction and aid in providing a contactless experience for certain event aspects. For example, organizers will likely do ticket sales and attendance tracking digitally, and websites may come in more handy to provide more information about an event.
Health and sanitation will continue to be of utmost importance in any event, so expect organizers to enforce stricter sanitation procedures. Some may opt to put handwashing stations in the venue to encourage regular handwashing, while others may offer face masks or face shields to attendees. When it comes to food and beverage options, buffets may not be as ideal anymore, so organizers must find a way to work around this.
With technology becoming more and more integrated into events, you can expect personalization to become a norm. Event organizers will be more focused on providing a personalized experience to attendees, keeping them engaged even after the event. This can be done through email blasts, feedback collection, future invitations to events, and many other ways.
Personalization is particularly beneficial for virtual events as it allows you to follow up on your audience from the same platform, thus maintaining their interest. Sharing content and information to them can hold their interest and prompt them to specific calls to action.
Another implication of transitioning into the virtual events space is budget allocation. Given that physical and virtual events each have advantages and challenges, using a mix of the two may generate the best results. However, this will require businesses to plan out how much of their budget goes to in-person events and how much shifts to digital channels.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer as to how you must plan out your events, or what format you should use. It all comes down to strategy, which you can formulate and refine as you gain more insights through each event that you organize. At the end of the day, it is important to look back at your purpose and objectives, and from there, you will be able to determine your priorities.
The future of events is far from certain, but based on their current state, it is evident that the industry is capable of adapting to different changes. Virtual events may have risen in popularity due to the pandemic, but they surely offer unique advantages that are worth exploring further. As people are still concerned about attending in-person events, it will be highly beneficial to get yourself acquainted with the digital format if you have yet to do so. Enter the world of virtual events, which are here to stay, and you may just be surprised at the innovative things you can do.
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