After an initial phase dedicated to rapidly move from in-person to digital events, a new generation of native, virtual events are now taking centre stage and are proving to be more sophisticated and effective.
by Patrizia Semprebene Buongiorno, Vice President, AIM Group International
2020 was undoubtedly one of the most innovative years for the meetings and events market. The pandemic obliged us to completely review plans, reschedule events and re-design the way we meet, share and learn. We are making giant steps forward from the traditional in-person events that we organised up until now. Digitalisation was already at hand; online events were already possible and were organised from time to time. But the lockdown propelled associations and companies to largely pivot to virtual events, moving planned live events into digital formats.
During the first part of the year, we rapidly assessed the situation, reviewed plans, and organised online events in short time frames.
Native virtual events are different.
In the last quarter of the year, we at AIM Group started to collaborate with our clients to organise a second generation of virtual events, the native digital event. These were conceived to be online targeted at virtual audiences, using advanced digital features and learning from previous experiences.
The new generation of virtual events shows some distinctive features:
Revised conference schedules and transformed attendee experience.
Attending live events for three days means that you can concentrate on the many hours of education and the raft of different sessions. But staying for three days online for eight continuous hours is hard because attention spans are shorter and other tasks distract attendees. So, it is important to offer more possibilities for attendees to consult content on demand over several months. Our online events are split into shorter sessions held over several days or weeks. They can be live or held late in the evening or during the weekend, rather than concentrated in the traditional three-day format. (see the ICare 2020 Digital Weeks).
3D immersive platforms for appealing virtual conferences.
The virtual setting is challenged to maintain high attention rates and the navigation needs to be pleasant and easy. Advanced platforms can be customised to the needs of the association or company. Useful technical features facilitate networking and information sharing. However, Imagination and creativity on all aspects of the design are essential to deliver an appealing event (see the FIMP House or the Virtual SIOT).
Fostering Virtual Networking.
One of the main reasons for attending an event, is the possibility of meeting new colleagues and peers, to strengthen new relationships and collaborations and to enlarge the business network. So, digital events must meet these objectives by providing clever opportunities to meet new people, using simple processes, and encouraging spontaneous interactions. A video-chat is an appealing way to meet someone and allows you to see the person’s face and their reactions. Virtual lounges, moderators, ice-break live sessions and dedicated tools can also help achieve this goal.
Engagement & virtual interaction with sponsors.
Banners and logos on communication materials or on virtual spaces are not enough to boost the interaction between participants and prospective sponsors. Virtual booths with company representatives available for one-to-one or one-to-many meetings and video chats are a good solution. This can be complimented with on-demand corporate videos, brochures and info materials. Sponsored sessions or symposia can be proposed as well.
Social and CSR initiatives are crucial also for virtual events.
Large scale events usually include some social activity to reinforce the sense of belonging and friendship among colleagues or association members, so digital events must try to do the same. A live happy hour with a shared toast, introduced by a short video tutorial on a cocktail preparation, can be easy to organise. But you can go further and organise a virtual game or quiz, with participants split into different teams. Collaboration can be encouraged through the use of separate parallel rooms to solve the game together (See the SIR Virtual game). CSR and event legacies are a must nowadays and should also move online. Fund raising initiatives or alternatively knowledge sharing can be offered. For example, physicians can provide education or awareness raising to the general public. Or for instance as part of the green CO2 compensation project, there are trees and adoptive forest planting.
In conclusion, as you usually release your creativity to personalise and make each in-person event memorable and with a strong identity, you must also do the same in the virtual environment, adapting to specific features and opportunities.
But this is not a concluded journey. Events are constantly evolving with the next generation which will focus on community management, leveraging all the available channels, from virtual to live gatherings, digital communication, augmented reality and more.