After one year of organising digital events at fever pitch, Rosangela Quieti, Managing Director Congress Division AIM Group, presents 6 Tactics and tips to bring virtual events to the next level.
By Ronsagela Quieti, Managing Director Congress Division AIM Group
The pandemic forced associations, corporate event organisers and event professionals, to assimilate and dive into new formats and ways to meet. We moved planned in-person events into the digital realm, in a very short time frame with limited previous experience. It was such a challenge for all event professionals. One year later, after organising hundreds of digital events, we have tried different ways and used different tools to create emotional connections and valuable and engaging digital journeys for all parties (delegates, speakers, sponsors). Here are some takeaways from our recent experience and 6 tips to make your virtual and hybrid event more successful:
- Innovate events formats
Attendee expectations have changed considerably since the first digital events. To cope with Zoom fatigue, events are moving away from their conference format to TV show formats. Speakers are expected to act more like performers. Lively anchormen or facilitators are used to introduce speakers and sessions, to encourage discussion and interaction and summarize the “take-home messages”.
We successfully experimented this approach for example with IASP Virtual Conference, where a Master of Ceremonies, anchoring all the event sessions, and online facilitators supported making discussions smoother and more engaging. Also, dedicated tool was implemented to make the ice-breaker sessions more spontaneous and to offer an opportunity to meet and video chat with other delegates, joining random groups to say hi and meet other peers, while live chat, personalised emojis and new formats, such the quickfire double interviews, boosted the delegates engagement.
Looking forward to other innovations in formats, Social platforms, such as Clubhouse, Twitch, Tik Tok are becoming more and more popular and should be incorporated into virtual and hybrid events. Clubhouse for example is offering an attendee centric structure with new attendance options for those who feel overwhelmed by traditional virtual events and video-chat.
- Become tech-savvy
It is important to be able to leverage every single platform and tool available on the market and evaluate the pros and cons of the different solutions in term of features, user experience and economics. The right platform needs to be chosen for each project and customized so that it is a functional, useful and intuitive platform that guarantees an excellent user experience and an economic return for sponsors. It is also important to train speakers, making them comfortable with the new technology and tools and learn how to make a speech in front of a video and how to engage participant’s remotely.
To innovate the second full digital AIOP XIII Mediterranean Meeting, for example, we implemented a sophisticated web platform, based on a 3D setting and personalised avatars, chosen to make the virtual experience more immersive and engaging, capable of reproducing the experience of a real congress as much as possible, where attendees are free to move between the various congress spaces and meet the other delegates. An important feature offered by the platform provided the free interaction with the other avatars, with which you can spontaneously start a conversation when you meet them in space as in real life.
Traditional sponsorship opportunities need to be completely transformed into a digital sponsorship offering. A flexible and innovative platform can provide opportunities to create new and alternative forms of sponsorship that you may never have thought of for in-person events.
- Ensure greater quality content
Providing strong content is what is going to attract attendees and pique their interest and attention. You must deliver something special to give them a reason to be online for several hours. Plan a captivating event marketing and communication campaign (pre-event session trailers, video clips from the speakers, innovative highlights) tailor the content and campaign to reflect the interests of expected participants. You need to generate a fear of missing out to increase curiosity and ensure attendance.
- Focus on the delegates interaction
Participants were kings of in-person events, but it becomes more important to involve them remotely, while they are participating from their desks. Give more time to discussions (keeping the sessions shorter) and include innovative networking tools more suitable for a virtual discussion. Better monitor and interact with the chat platform using dedicated community managers to stimulate the discussion among participants. Consider including more edutainment solutions and also gamification programs. Organize contests, games, competitions, polling and surveys where user-generated content and the presence of experts of specific topics can impact positively on the overall experience of the attendees.
Delivering the content in a funny and exciting way will help create an unforgettable virtual experience.
- Go larger and longer.
Try to enlarge the scope of your audience. Thanks to virtual and hybrid events, attendees are able to reach out to colleagues all over the world simply and easily joining private video conferences, forums and chats. The online participation provides a great opportunity for the meeting industry to become more inclusive. Even though attendees decide not to travel due to visa restrictions, long distance, busy agendas or lack of funds, they can still join the event and this is a great opportunity not to miss out (this may remain the case when we will go back to in-person events). If you cannot come to the event the event can come to you.
This was confirmed on the occasion of the first digital ESH-ISH Joint Meeting, which recorded a substantial increase in attendance: There were 5.380 registered participants which was an incredible +150% versus previous in-person meetings. Thanks to the virtual nature of the meeting participants connected from all over the world, reducing travel related costs. By offering a lower-than-normal delegate fee to facilitate the participation the meeting reached a larger number of countries – 128 in total. For the first time, the top ten countries saw participants from India as the larger group, a higher percentage than usual from countries such as Myanmar, Argentina, Romania, and the Philippines. Also, a very high percentage (25%) of participants were under-35 years old which bucked the trend of previous years.
Another important aspect is to consider extending the life span of the event. The content and networking activities do not have to be limited to the days of the event but can be kept alive much longer. Sessions can be recorded and made available on demand for months and even up to a year. Thanks to the new conversation channels the most popular topics can be further explored and discussed post event, and this can help build active communities who can be engaged as ambassadors for future events.
The time schedule of AICCER (Italian Association of Cataract and Refractive Surgery) Annual Congress, for example, was completely personalised. Thanks to a dedicated survey, it was decided to hold the event in the right scheduled time for physicians, when they could really be available to participate, so Friday evening (just 1 hour), Saturday and Sunday morning, for a total of 8 hours of education given by 80 speakers. Then, since the discussion and the possibility to interact and freely chat on complex clinical cases and surgeries is crucial, to avoid technical setback, 70% of speeches were pre-recorded and broadcasted with a live discussion always available afterwards, with live polling, chat box and Q&A.
- Train your staff to develop new skills.
The new normal requires a team of experts who bring together knowledge of virtual, strategic event planning as well as technical competences. Associations and event planners are expected to be digital event strategists and digital event designers and to have a deep understanding of how to deliver digital content, which means that besides having a tech-savvy mindset they need to be skilled or develop new skills in the following areas:
- Digital event strategy and tactics;
- Digital marketing and communication;
- Digital content design and delivery;
- TV/video production;
- Data Analysis.
Of course, there are also a number of skills that cross over from in-person events that are relevant for virtual ones. These include project management, attention to detail, team management, contingency planning, problem solving, flexibility, stress management, budgeting and negotiation capabilities.
Finally, virtual events are much more complex than video-chats or video-meetings. It is important to be aware of all the features and opportunities they offer. We need to highlight them and share this with the organizational team (client, event organizer and sponsors). The results will speak for themselves.