“There’s definitely more data that we were able to collect with the virtual event than with an in-person event,” Enit Nichani, vice president of marketing for North America at IGEL, told TechTarget this week. The article said that a reporting feature in vFairs—their digital platform of choice—enabled their marketing team “to see how many times a user visited a particular booth, what sessions they attended and how long they stayed for those sessions.”
“That’s a lot easier than trying to take a physical or even a digital form, and uploading the data into those systems,” said Laura Ramos, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Half the time, none of that ever happens.”
There’s no doubt that there are some drawbacks to virtual events. After all, we are social creatures. But there’s also a lot to embrace. Here are other ways to take advantage of virtual events.
Go global. There should be no barrier besides time difference why you can’t have a bigger global audience, if that works for your niche. And some organizations have staggered sessions so there’s something for every time zone. Of course, content from virtual events can also be easily put on-demand. “At Microsoft, we publish event recordings to Stream and Yammer for people to watch when it works for them,” said Bob Bejan, a Microsoft corporate VP. “Leverage digital conferencing platforms… that enable live captioning and translation for speaker remarks so audience members can view subtitles in their local language.”
“Your exhibitors are in desperate need for leads,” said Brian Cuthbert, group vice president, Diversified Communication. “So whether it’s virtual tradeshows or webinars with companies like Webex, or ON24, your vendors need leads… Everything is drying up and that lead funnel is critical. It’s about content and education. Can you create certificates, master classes, certification? Using a learning management system that tracks their progress through the experience. We’re thinking of a way to use e-learning as a component. Whether you try to replicate or go with webinars and e-learning, they’ll pay for it. Create it once in these platforms and sell it as many times as you can. It’s something we do a lot. We’ve used vFairs. The single most important thing is realistic expectations about what the sponsor and attendee can expect.”
Audience access to editorial staff. Education Week’s Online Summits provide readers with a unique opportunity to interact directly with reporters, practitioners and experts. Attendees can participate actively in reporter-expert-peer/peer conversations around niches within K-12 educational topic areas. At live events, it may not always be easy to interact with who you want. They could be popular and busy, or there just isn’t time. In a virtual event, you can have a place where, for instance, Education Week journalists and guests staff online “discussion” rooms on a host of topics within a broader niche. This can also give good exposure to your editorial staff.
Offer content—video, gamification—and then bring people together around that. We’re really just starting to learn how to “have a keen understanding of how to engage an audience virtually,” said Jesse Serventi, founding partner, Renovus Capital. “A lot of it is asynchronous. You’re on an island. You’re going through it by yourself. It’s tough to engage. But then it’s also synchronous where you might be watching many hours of content. That’s tough too. The companies doing the best job are bringing in both. They might be starting off with prerecorded asynchronous content, watching video, doing a multiple choice quiz, and then coming together to do a group exercise around that and developing relationships—reaching you through multiple modalities. That’s just a great way to engage the customer or get customers hooked in an even better way than live in-person training. I do believe there’s great opportunity to use all these different tools to create a better experience.”
Get top moderators and speakers. While a good moderator is important in live events, it might be even more important virtually. It’s so easy to turn away at home. The moderator needs to keep the conversation flowing and not get bogged down. And then she gets to choose which questions to ask; the Q&A could be the best part. When it’s live, you don’t have that choice in front of you. There can be some bad questions that get through. Also, most everyone is still home and that includes prospective speakers. So take a shot at some top speakers who may have been unavailable to you in the past, due to either availability or cost.