Wisdom from some of the top event professionals on virtual events and how to get through this period of profound uncertainty
Here at e180, we believe that uncertainty can be powerful.
Uncertainty can force us to take a breath, go back to the drawing board, and gather our communities closer to us. Once we get through uncertainty, we arrive at a place of innovation, and creative thinking. That is what was on our minds when we organized our first virtual event, Navigating Uncertainty: An EventProfs Huddle.
The event was a means to harness the feeling of uncertainty created by the coronavirus outbreak, and bring together the bright minds in the events industry to support one another, and problem-solve together.
At this event, like in all Braindate productions, we gave complete control to our participants to design their own experiences, and book their own braindates: they used the Virtual Braindate platform to have conversations that they deemed as most relevant.
Over the course of 124 braindates over a hundred event professionals connected with each other in one-on-one and group braindates via video chat. Thanks to their enthusiastic participation, we were able to gain precious insights into what was on their minds as they how they were navigating community engagement and event planning in a world of social distancing.
You can read the case study of the event here.
After the event, we reached out to some of these braindaters and asked them to share their top takeaways from their conversations.
In this piece, you’ll get advice straight from the best and the brightest on how you can achieve the virtual event mindset, keep your attendees happy and engaged in a digital setting, and what the future for events looks like.
Begin your pivot to virtual with a positive change in mindset
Emily Vigliar, Programme Manager at Falling Walls Conference, shared that while “most of us are still navigating uncharted waters when it comes to digital events, this moment represents a real chance for us to ‘reset’ and to focus on who we are, our core values and the added benefit that we can bring our community, rather than to simply try to replicate our physical event online.”
A change in mindset about virtual events will help event professionals view this pivot to virtual as an exciting opportunity to innovate. Emily’s recommendation also touches on the need for event organizers to go back to the drawing board, and seize this moment to redefine what a fantastic virtual experience might look like for event participants.
For many event professionals and community organizers, this reset begins with understanding their audiences’ needs and determining how their virtual event can bring real value to their participants.
In the following section, we share advice from braindaters on how event professionals can approach the novel process of planning a value-rich virtual experience.
Planning a virtual experience or figuring out what technology you should use? Here’s the approach you should take
When it comes to planning virtual events, Alex Nuttall, Associate Partner at Kindle Communications, shared this observation from his braindate: “Most folks in the event space have a similar progression when transitioning to virtual events. Almost universally, ‘what platform’ is the first and only question asked until they realize that software is not the answer to all of an event’s questions.”
Alex noted that “the platform is simply the gatekeeper to the rest of the work, much like the live-event question of ‘what venue?’” He advised that when making the transition to virtual, planners must recognize that at the end of the day, their “virtual event is still an event, and while some of our approaches and strategies will need to adapt to the new format, the energy, engagement, culture, and business-case remain the same.”
However, when organizers do approach the question of “what platform to use,” Scott Burns, V.P. at George P Johnson Experience Marketing, advised that “audience perspective” should be one of the deciding factors in making that decision.
Scott shared with us that one of the key takeaways from his braindate was the importance of understanding participant needs before building the technical experience of the event. He added, “you need to understand your audience and then inject their perspectives into the core of your new virtual experience.” Doing so would help organizers infuse their event with empathy, clarity, and a strong sense of context.
Both Alex and Scott advise taking a holistic approach to planning a virtual experience. Going further, Melanie Kahl, Program & Scaled Partnerships Manager at Facebook, shared these fantastic takeaways that emerged from her braindate on the topic of facilitating workshops and teams in a virtual environment:
Draw inspiration from everyday innovations: Usually tasked with large-scale conferences and productions, leaders remarked on the inspiration they were taking from everyday innovation in a pandemic. With virtual events, understanding the nuances of quarantine life is important. People were inspired by the ways friends pitched in on virtual homeschooling, neighbourhood mutual aid efforts, or the simple act of cooking together over FaceTime. At this time, we should ask ourselves the question: what can we learn from how we connect with friends and family? And how can we scale this intimacy up?
Recognizing what’s lost in a digital context: Some things are hard to replicate. From wallflower moments to authentic serendipity to the pulse of the crowd. It’s important to honour this. One of my braindates, who moonlighted as a stand-up comedian reflected, “The give and take doesn’t exist in these digital experiences. The energy of the audience. The riffing and improvisation.” How can we design with this in mind?
Once you nail down your approach planning a virtual gathering, you would need to define a concrete marketing and promotional strategy. This will be essential to the success of your event. However, when it comes to the evolving landscape of virtual events, what must event marketers keep in mind? One of our braindaters shares what you need to know…
When it comes to promoting your virtual event, always go value-first
Kaitlin Colston, Content Curator and Editor in Chief at Endless Events, shared this key takeaway from her braindate on evolving your content marketing strategy for virtual events:
“Marketers are having a hard time pivoting because their company does not have the virtual product fully in place. This can be hard since you are marketing what feels like an idea rather than a solid product. There seems to be broken communication between the product side and marketing teams in most businesses right now.
But in order to pivot, and move fast sometimes we have to focus on being done rather than being perfect.
As marketers as long as we are providing helpful content that is engaging, it is ok to not have all the answers. The best thing we can do is share what we do know, and what we think will happen. Being authentic and honest will get you further and allow you to genuinely connect with your audience than content that is selling smoke and mirrors!”
One of the biggest challenges event professionals face is creating organic engagement at their event. How do you keep a virtual audience engaged with a household full of distractions? How does one create moments of real human interaction? In the following section, our braindaters share the tips from their conversations on this subject.
How do you keep a virtual audience engaged?
Jesse Gainer, Head of Corporate Experiences at C2 International, hosted a braindate on how to create moments for real human connection in a digital space. He shared the following takeaway:
Jillian Cardinal, Sales Manager at JPdL gave the following recommendation on how to get people interacting with each other at virtual events:
Rachel Kaber, President of Sweetow Events shared this tip to boost engagement during sessions:
When it comes to curating engaging content, Bethan Johnson, Senior Creative Content Manager & Producer at Audience Communication and Events urges event planners to keep the following in mind:
Emily Lezin, Events and Marketing Associate at UpStart suggests that planners begin by thinking about what makes for an ideal and engaging in-person gathering, and then work backwards to create similar conditions in a virtual environment. Here are some examples:
Finally, Mandy Gardner, Senior Content Writer and Brand Journalist at JB Media Group recommends using “storytelling” to boost engagement at virtual events:
Looking ahead: What does the future of events look like?
One of the popular themes of discussion was demystifying the future of events. What comes after Covid-19? How will the events industry evolve? These three event professionals discussed this on their braindates and shared their predictions with us:
Olivier Gougeon, General Manager at Salon du Livre de Montreal, shared his prediction:
Barbara Palmer, Deputy Editor at PCMA Convene Magazine, predicted that virtual meetings will take inspiration from experiential digital experiences developed for e-commerce:
Melanie Kahl, Program & Scaled Partnerships Manager at Facebook, predicted a hybrid future: