The event industry’s collective greatest fear has become a reality: The social distancing protocol has been extended past the original tentative 15 days and will now continue until at least April 30th. Many public facilities, including venues where events take place, have decided to close for the foreseeable future to ensure that the pandemic is truly over before reopening their doors. As we all know, spring is a big time for events, so event pros everywhere are taking a loss. That said, an unspoken tenet of being an event planner is that they think on their toes; their natural creativity makes them great at problem solving on short notice. Hence, let’s talk about converting live, in-person events to virtual ones.
The power of virtual reality should not be underestimated- and neither should the costs it will save you during a devastating time. Although it’s not the same as going somewhere and interacting with people in person, today’s VR is meant to be an immersive experience. It’s not about watching a scene, it’s about becoming part of it. And it saves you the exorbitant fees associated with travel, registration fees, and missed work time for employees if you’re holding a work-related conference.
So how can you bring your own unique event to life with virtual reality? We recognize how overwhelming this process is, and we don’t want to minimize that at all. This article is dedicated to walking you through it and providing insight and support. Essentially, the process of converting your in-person event into a virtual event can be broken down into several steps. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Choosing the Best Platform for Your Event
First, you’ll need to choose a platform that fits your event and its goals. Adobe Connect is ideal for conferences and other highly interactive events because it has a plethora of features. It includes video and webcam sharing, and it even guides you through an easy process to design materials for virtual courses. (Again, excellent for online conferences and workshops). If your event requires numerous different files to be downloaded or flexible features, Adobe Connect simplifies the process and delivers high audio and video quality.
We also really love vFairs because it supports and enhances comprehensive promotions and events. We all know how integral marketing is to sell out an event and building a business- and in the wake of the outbreak, the ability to keep audiences engaged in dynamic ways is more important than ever. vFairs customizes landing pages that correspond with your company, making it easy to connect with attendees across multiple channels.
vFairs has a user-friendly interface that makes it easy and fast for visitors to register and attend your event. In any market- especially an experiential one- online events need to be both convenient and uniquely impressive. vFairs helps you bring your event alive without the technical difficulties and complications that make many event professionals shy away from virtual events- even as they become a competitive aspect of the industry. The platform even has an online information desk for attendees and exhibitors to visit; it offers help and tips that help users get the most out of the experience at your virtual event. There’s also a virtual “lobby” that welcomes visitors and gets them started on their journey. Navigation is provided at every step of the way, which helps ensure your attendees won’t get lost-
We’re seeing it happen all over the world- event professionals are canceling their events because they don’t believe they can be done virtually. When events feature diverse entertainment, multiple vendors and hands-on exhibits, it’s easy for event pros to assume that these experiences can’t be delivered online. But with the right software, it’s entirely possible to work with your vendors to create life-like, immersive experiences that engage the senses with visuals and audio AR.
To enhance exhibits and the overall experience, vFairs has a multitude of interactive features. Datasheets, brochures, and live videos are available to your vendors and exhibitors through ready-to-use templates.
Virtual events also make it easier to track the attendee experience during and after the event. Using some platforms, including vFairs, you can save data sheets and information and download it after the event.
Some other platforms we like? MegaMeeting has an easy-to-use interface and allows users to share files in real time. GoToWebinar is popular for its audio and video meetings, which offer live chat. Using a platform that offers live chat as an option brings your event to life by giving attendees the ability to communicate spontaneously, the way they would at an in-person event.
If you want your attendees to be able to virtually walk through the event, consider your AR options. With virtual events, augmented reality essentially layers superimposed images over the image that is already on the screen. It can really bring the scene on the screen to life for attendees. AR has an immersive quality that makes them feel as if they’re part of the action- not just watching on the sidelines.
For example, let’s say your attendees are taking a virtual walk-through of your event. As they navigate it, animated caricatures with your logo pop up to direct them toward smaller sessions that might interest. Personalizing virtual events by making individual suggestions adds value to the attendee experience. Think about it: If they were walking around a venue, they would have the freedom to explore different exhibits and sessions at their whim. So give them the same freedom at your virtual event. Use their behavior at previous events or interactions with your company to make animated suggestions.
Step 2: Live Stream Your Event
The upside of taking events virtual? Under ordinary circumstances live streaming helps expand your audience exponentially by allowing remote audiences to be part of it. Not only does it allow people who couldn’t come to attend from wherever they are, but it also makes your event visible to audiences who might have never heard of it otherwise.
Setting up live streaming is one of the most important parts of planning a virtual event. As we’re sure you well know, many live events feature live streaming as a way for attendees to share their experience in real time. And unless you’ve been living in a cardboard box- and the quarantine only started two weeks ago, so that’s no excuse- you know that people love to watch and share live stream events on social media.
Live streaming your virtual event should be a strategic move. So consider your goals for your event, and think about your audience. If the purpose of your event is to help professionals learn a new skill, use that to inform your live streaming strategy. Also, determine exactly how long you want to be able to stream as you determine your plan.
Consider your audience and decide what kind of experience you want them to have. If your purpose is largely to entertain, your focus should be on giving attendees the same experience they would have in-person. (Of course, there will be differences, but the point is to make it immersive and exciting). If your purpose is to launch or sell products, your strategy should be focused on allowing attendees to experience and interact with the items as much as possible online. Teaching professional development skills? You should make sure that your platform has a variety of interactive features that facilitate learning or allow for visual demonstrations.
Step 3: Consider Your Sponsors and Vendors Too
So far we’ve talked a lot about what your attendees want, but your exhibitors and sponsors are important, too. For example, if your goal is to generate leads for your sponsor (or generate leads for both of you), you want to use AR and VR to tell a visually compelling, emotionally relatable story about your company. Don’t just tell, but also show, potential leads who you both are, and what inspired you to work together toward common goals. Are you and your sponsor joining forces to do something powerful for your attendees and community? Sharing your unique story and getting personal with your attendees helps generate leads for both of you.
If your sponsor’s goal is to generate product sales or introduce a new product, you’ll need an effective product demo. Just like with virtual events, you’ve already calculated your ROI, so you know who your potential customers are. Hopefully, you also have a good idea of what they’re looking for. Now it’s time to decide on the best way to give it to them.
Step 4: If You’re Doing a Virtual Product Demo, Do It Well!
Although the experience will undoubtedly be different, your virtual event should aim to deliver the same value that it would in person. Be thorough; cover everything that your attendees signed up for even though the event has gone virtual. Feature the same speakers they were looking forward to. Give the same networking opportunities they would have had at your in-person event.
The placement of product demos are important. Try having an exhibitor do a brief (five minutes or less) demo after a session. Then give attendees the option to enter a meeting room if they’re interested in learning more. To help your exhibitors get the most out of your event as well, insert a link that allows attendees to schedule one-on-one time with them.
If the purpose of your event is a product demo, you can do this quite effectively online. It’s not hard to facilitate role playing using interactive features with most platforms. Then allow the attendees to video chat freely afterward. It’s also a good idea to wrap up your virtual product demo with a Q & A that allows them to get the most knowledge out of the time and money they invest.
And just as you would at an in-person event, tailor your demo so that it relates to multiple attendee types. If you think you might have some tough customers, do your best to anticipate any difficult questions and pushback you might receive. Before the event, take the time to research answers and solutions to issues brought up by skeptical, contrary, or combative attendees. There is usually at least one such attendee at any product demo, but remember that despite their scrutinizing, some “tough customers” want to be proven wrong- they’ve had negative experiences with other companies or similar products in the past, and have become cynical. And yeah, others are just argumentative or inflexible by nature and want to be “right”.
Whatever the case, you’ll need an intervention plan that works if your event becomes held up by an attendee who perseverates on a disagreement or a specific topic. With virtual events, that intervention will have to be different than it would in person. Face-to-face, you or the person delivering the product demo would be able to simply voice that the group will be moving on, and all further questions or comments will be taken after the event. You can still do this online, but you’ll have to designate a chat or video to further discussions that happen prior to the event. If you can, try to do this with a video rather than a chat box. This way, attendees feel that you’re addressing them personally, and they won’t get the impression that you’re using the virtual nature of the event to dismiss them.
Step 5: Let’s Get Technical
Yeah, we saved the best for last. We don’t need to warn you that technical difficulties can make or break any event, especially a virtual one. So make sure that your internet service is working optimally, and your connection is fast and reliable. Live streams that move slowly or periodically experience glitches turn attendees away and detract from the personal experience you want to create. The smoother the technical aspects work, the less people will think about the fact that they’re losing the face-to-face interaction. Your event should facilitate spontaneous communication in more than one interval.
Give careful thought to your provider platform. The speed and quality of your digital signals should be optimum, so choosing the right service is important. Speak to your vendor about these things before committing.
This may seem like a simple step in comparison to #1 and #2, but it’s important that your platform accommodates a smooth check-in. The first thing you need to decide is how many attendees will attend your virtual event, and make it easy for them to gain access. If you’ll have paid entrance, make sure it’s a fast, simple process to input their credit card information and quickly gain access to your event. If payment will be handled in another way prior to the event or through a different medium, provide attendees with a log-in code.
We know it seems like a lot of information to process, and it is. That’s why we try to break it down into simple steps. Now that you’ve got a general idea of how to convert your canceled event into a virtual one, stay tuned (and view previous articles) for more in-depth information on the topic! You’ve got this.