Event marketers are ramping up in-person events with a fresh perspective provided by two years of virtual meetings and the proliferation of tech specifically focused on video conferencing.
However, while some meeting professionals are itching to get back to in-person events, some organizations have grown quite fond of the reach and data-enabled by virtual meeting experiences. The extension of virtual content delivery methods creates a unique opportunity for planners with new methods to boost engagement among attendees regardless of their location. Smart Meetings talked to industry experts for tips on how to produce meaningful experiences for everyone on the registration list.
Make it Tangible
One of the root causes for virtual attendees feeling a loss of connection and interest is a lack of physical participation throughout the experience. Adrian Si, director of marketing strategy at ASV, suggests event planners create a kit that can be sent to virtual attendees ahead of time to prevent them from feeling like they’re missing out on what’s happening on-site.
Creating a tangible experience can also include fun and games with a competitive twist, Si explained. While creating opportunities for virtual and in-person attendees to interact with each other has been a hurdle for some event organizers, contests, such as trivia, allow both audiences to compete together for actual prizes. “It makes them feel like they’re part of the process,” Si says.
Create a Dedicated Experience
A dedicated online agenda, offering virtual participants features that wouldn’t be available to in-person attendees, can be elevated through a screen. Polls and surveys can be conducted easily online with the results displayed to both audiences.
Administering such features can be an effective method of keeping virtual attendees engaged following a keynote speaker or panel discussion. Event organizers can also create virtual breakout rooms to facilitate a more entertaining break for virtual attendees who can’t mingle with their cohort in between presentations like their in-person counterparts.
Offer Content On-demand
Many events feature a slew of workshops for in-person attendees to choose from, but that can lead to missed opportunities for companies to convey their content to online audiences. Offering on-demand content allows virtual attendees access to all the information offered at an event.
But virtual workshops and webinars, aren’t the only content that can be offered with an on-demand format.
Event planners seeking ways to keep virtual attendees from feeling like they’re missing out on what’s happening locally can build virtual displays similar to those that live attendees would see at an in-person event.
This includes viewing videos with product information or participating in an activity to create some sort of take-away that a virtual attendee would otherwise miss out on.
Virtual attendees have many options for events to choose from. But features such as these help to ensure they feel like they enjoyed the full experience and increase the likelihood that the same attendee would select another event produced by the same company in the future.
Know What Your Attendees Want—and What They Don’t
A “return on emotion” or ROE is the business metric used by Liz Lathan, co-founder of Haute Companies and The Community Factory. Lathan says that it’s crucial to create an environment for action that will ultimately drive the pipeline for revenue.
“You have to have content they want to be a part of,” Lathan explains, adding that the metric based on five emotions is “the blueprint for a program that people will want join.”
The blueprint, referred to as “H.A.A.A.M.,” focuses on creating an event that helps attendees feel hopeful, a sense of adventure, a feeling of acceptance, all while taking an active role and feeling motivated to put it all into action.
While most companies tend to focus on creating an adventure for attendees that’s explicitly focused on their content, “this is incorrect,” Lathan explains, noting that there’s added benefit to focusing on the adventure and experience for attendees, as opposed to focusing on how to spin content.
This misstep often takes the form of a panel discussion. “A panel is not a two-way conversation,” Lathan says, adding that many attendees are seeking networking opportunities at events. “If I’m only meeting people over alcohol at 5 p.m., I’m not meeting my full objective.”
To alleviate this issue, Lathan suggests that organizers create small breakout rooms, both virtually and in-person, that facilitate the opportunity for small conversations among attendees rather than forcing attendees to watch a small group of people discuss different topics.
Leverage CSR to Create a Sense of Community
Today’s attendees expect more from companies. Exercising some level of corporate social responsibility (CSR) can go a long way in creating a more meaningful and engaging experience during events.
So many consumers, especially younger consumers, are really interested in knowing whether companies are doing the right thing initially, but also whether they’re following through. “They’re not just talking about it—they’re doing it,” Si adds.
Organizers of in-person events have ample opportunity to use different activities focused on CSR to create a connection between attendees and the local community, but virtual events can harness those very same benefits.
“You can bring CSR in through the adventure part and really connect people to it,” Lathan says. One way to accomplish a win-win is through partnerships with conservation groups, creating events that raise funds.
Lathan organized one such event with a nonprofit focused on conservation of marine apex predators (killer whales) called Fins Attached. The event was made available to in-person attendees as well as those who joined remote.
A subversive research vessel in the Pacific Ocean facilitated an underwater shark deck adventure that was shared live via a camera feed with proceeds from the event going toward conservation research.
“Now you have your virtual audience doing a water-based experience and your in-person audience doing a water-based experience and it’s a beautiful marriage,” Lathan says.