Remember events? Held in large halls, populated with exhibitors and their stands, keynote presentations and break out rooms, they provided a marketplace for ideas, for networking opportunities, and, of course, sales.
Of course, to focus on the physical aspect is to underplay corporate events. What they did most of all, was create a community.
Well, there’s a new sheriff in town – the virtual event. This (sort of) newcomer has huge shoes to step into, but cannot honestly be expected to fully live up to the incredible standards set by its predecessor.
In the first two months of lockdown, we saw brands and organisations quickly move to virtual events – in some cases very successfully. But with everyone now faced with a plethora of virtual conferences to join, half-watch while checking Twitter and then put on mute while answering emails, brands and event organisers now need to think carefully about how they can stand out.
Fundamentally, virtual events do not work in the same way as real life events, so to merely shift all content onto an online platform and hope for the best is not playing to anyone’s strengths. If we are to make our brand or clients stand out from the crowd – if we want our stakeholders to actively get involved – the most resourceful and forward-thinking event organiser needs to rethink their role around an entirely new set of priorities.
Events organisers need to become the curators of their own channel of live and pre-recorded content. Like TV channel managers, they need to build a channel strategy that takes into account technology, potential content and resources. Here are five pointers on how to achieve this:
Improve your production standards
Whether you’re filming interview content or arranging livestreams, many brands are starting from a low base in terms of production quality. By simply polishing what you’re already doing, you are far more likely to stand out from the crowd.
Use technology to be engaging and interactive
Find a new way of interacting with audiences – a highly engaging virtual event can generate a much greater ROI than a simple one-sided webcast. While many of us are getting used to live Q&As, chat functions and screen-sharing, there are more engaging and accessible audience interaction features to consider, including online voting, AI-powered closed captioning or subtitles, and the ability to split attendees into breakout streams.
Change the format
Just because it worked as a live event in the past, it doesn’t mean that it should be one in the virtual world. Consider how a particular topic or discussion could best be presented as a piece of content. Perhaps you should rethink it as a beautifully shot piece of content to be watched any time – or will the energy and debate of a live event be more meaningful? While a live event can of course be recorded and that recording made available later, in many cases the better production quality of non-live would mean that that content is more likely to be revisited time and time again.
Chunk up your content
You may want to dispense with the single-day event entirely, and instead create a package of smaller, more digestible pieces of live and non-live content distributed over multiple days. The new reality of our online lives is more likely to lend itself to this episodic approach. There could also be opportunities to release smaller pieces of content in advance of a live event at which these are then discussed. Perhaps you can make the process of creating content an event in its own right – an opportunity to make your inner circle of key stakeholders feel particularly valued.
Reinvent your sales process
Don’t assume the old rules still apply – if you took income from exhibitors and sponsors in the old days, you need to find new ways to show them value for their involvement. Think about new models for sponsorship, and rebrand sponsors as solution providers to put them at the heart of your content.
The expertise and strategy that we once engaged across the spectrum of marketing and events activities must now be sharpened to a single fine point: the creation of a video-led platform that strives to provide better quality and more engaging content than your competitors.
Content which, to use the Netflix lexicon, users will be waiting to drop, and then want to binge.
Written by Christopher Bo Shields. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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