There is nothing like a global pandemic to spice up the event space. The COVID-19 outbreak has led to a rash of event cancellations and postponements.
But, with no real idea of when social restrictions can be safely lifted, there may be a more financially viable option available to event planners.
Instead of wasting the time, money, and effort put into promoting the physical event with no set date, switch gears and host a virtual event instead!
We are all in this together and audiences have been responding favorably to the shift towards online events. In many ways, the move just makes their life easier. They still get all the education and networking opportunities but no longer have to travel (and can attend sessions in their pj pants)!
Shifting from a physical to a virtual event can feel overwhelming but it is much easier to do than you might expect!
In order to keep attendees, speakers, vendors, and sponsors happy follow these steps to make a smooth and easy transition.
Choose the Right Virtual Event Platform
If you are already using an online registration or ticketing tool like Accelevents, you’re in luck. With chat functionality, virtual meeting rooms, and integrated live streaming, you are already most of the way to successfully hosting a virtual event.
But, if you are not currently using a virtual platform, explore what is available and select the option that best suits your event needs. Some are better-suited for trade shows, others for professional networking events, and others still, are best for large scale virtual conferences.
To help you narrow down your options, take a look at our guide to the Top 14 Virtual Conference Platforms.
Spread the Word
Do not hesitate in shifting from a physical to a virtual event. The longer you sit and think about it, the less time you have to prepare and transition your agenda and content to the new format.
If this is a recurring event, organizers should begin by reaching out to past attendees to let them know that you are moving from a live event to a virtual format. It is possible that some of these individuals decided not to attend a physical event this year (prior to the shut downs) and an online opportunity may be enough for them to reconsider attending. These individuals will be able to network and learn the same way they would if they were attending live sessions, they just no longer have to travel or incur additional expenses. For many, this will be an opportunity too good to miss.
Keep all lines of communication open and be as clear as possible. Reach out to all registrants and let them know about the shift. You will also want to inform them of any potential changes in the timing of scheduled sessions.
Make sure to provide event attendees with a detailed description of how to use the virtual event platform. You want to do everything you can to make this change easy.
Some attendees may worry that they are losing value with a virtual event so before they can cancel or register a complaint, let them know that the platform you are using will provide the same return on their investment as the live event. Make sure they understand that they will have access to streaming video presentations, breakout sessions, virtual meeting rooms, and vendor displays.
Any and all marketing materials should be updated to reflect the change in format as well as any adjustments made to the schedule. Be sure to post the changes on social media as well as on your event website.
Depending on how far out you are from the event, this change could lead to an uptick in registrations. Travel expenses that may once have acted as an obstacle to some people have been removed, making your virtual event automatically more accessible to a wider target audience.
Discuss Plans With Your Speakers and Vendors
Be sure to notify all speakers and vendors of your change in plans. The sooner you can do this the better. It gives participants enough to adjust their presentations to match the new online format.
Let them know which platform you are using and ascertain whether or not any specific training is required. Your platform provider should be able to assist with this process but do not rely on them. Be proactive and make sure that you put together your own support team. This team can help bring everyone up to speed but they should also be available to provide additional technical support on the day of your event.
Set up virtual meeting rooms for vendors so that workshops and breakout sessions can continue uninterrupted. Be sure that the chat function is enabled and working properly to facilitate easy communication.
As soon as you are able, begin setting up virtual booths for your vendors. These booths will need to be configured to ensure that all of their marketing assets, like logos and branding, are present and any handouts or materials they would like to share with attendees are made available. Depending on the number of vendors participating in your event, this could take a bit of time so the earlier you can get started, the better.
Enable Networking and Participation Among Attendees
You will want all attendees to interact with one another just like they would when face-to-face. This means making sure that your event platform has a chat interface. If a primary goal of your conference is networking, then chat capabilities are a must.
You’ll also want to clearly explain and establish breakout session structure or when the Q&A portion is live for both exhibitors and attendees so that they fully understand the opportunities available to them.
If you are enabling chat during a live streaming session, make sure that you have a facilitator present. This individual can monitor the chat, encourage discussion, and ensure that any relevant questions or comments make their way to the presenter.
When marketing your shift to a digital event, again, it is critical to let your audience know that these opportunities are readily available to them. It is often the connections made between event attendees that boost satisfaction and increase the event’s perceived value.
Take a Test Drive
Before the big day, it is advisable that you register as a guest with your event platform and spend a little time navigating the virtual space.
Test the video streams, chat functionality, meeting rooms, and vendor booths to make sure everything is working as it should.
While in the digital event space, take a moment to explore ease of use. Will everyone be able to figure it out? Have you provided enough explanation both on your page and in emails?
If the answer is no, take a little time to provide better, and clearer, instructions. You don’t want attendees feeling confused and for them to be reaching out en masse for help. Reduce their stress, and in turn, yours, by trying to preemptively answer their questions.
And, of course, because there will always be a handful of people that do not read directions, make sure your support team is on hand to mitigate any potential disasters.
Once you have made the decision to shift from a physical event to a virtual one, the truly difficult part is over.
With many available tools, resources, and event platforms, the full transition online can be completed in as little as one week!
Don’t wait until it is too late and you start to receive refund requests and speaker cancellations. Make the change early and confidently. By following the steps in this article and choosing the right event platform, you are sure to provide your audience with the informative and enjoyable experience they were hoping for!