For obvious reasons, virtual and hybrid events went from trending to the new norm in 2020. Furthermore, the benefits of and interest in online events exceeds convenience during a pandemic. Many event professionals say their businesses have benefited from the ability to reach broader audiences for less overall cost.
For attendees, virtual events provide a way to be part of experiences they might have otherwise missed out on. Even before the pandemic, virtual events were trending for several reasons- not the least of which is that people are overworked and busy, and don’t always feel like going out when they have time off. Virtual events offer a different way to experience events from the comfort of one’s own home. They also allow for multi-tasking. Would you be more likely to tune into a live stream if you could do the laundry at the same time? The answer for many is “yes”.
Sure, there are psychological disadvantages to constant multi-tasking, lack of face-to-face interaction, and too much regular media consumption. But even though social distancing measures have eased up in many places, there is still some new degree of isolation in most of our lives. For many, virtual events have become a way to stay connected while practicing self-care and creating balance in their daily lives. Virtual events may also make it easier to balance work with family responsibilities.
What Do Attendees Want? When Do They Want It?
As a result of the pandemic- and the growing positive response to virtual events- there have been many articles on how to create engaging, immersive online events. As event professionals, the focus is usually on creating virtual events that offer real experiential value. And while the experiential aspect of online event planning has the power to make or break events, it’s only one part of the whole picture.
It’s easy to get lost in the creative and technological aspects of bringing virtual events to life- and as we discuss what attendees want, we’re certainly going to cover those topics. But in looking at the bigger picture, we can overlook key details that attendees wouldn’t want us to forget. Obviously, their perspective is the most important, and the only way to personalize online events is to know exactly what they want. The only way to do that is to ask them!
Obviously, every group of attendees is unique. Personalization has been a top experiential trend for years- this isn’t news to you. But as we tailor online events to deliver comparable value to in-person events, its importance of this trend looms even larger on the horizon. The purpose of today’s post is to give you a general idea of what attendees around the world are saying they want. But it’s even more imperative to find out what your attendees want.
That’s why our #1 recommendation is to conduct a survey in the weeks prior to your event. It doesn’t need to be long, sophisticated, or in-depth; in fact, we recommend keeping it short and sweet. Essentially, you want to find out what your attendees’ goals are. What do they expect and desire from your event? When you can fulfill a good amount of their needs and wants, you’re well on the way to building your own online event culture. As with in-person events, the better you know your consumers, the stronger your brand becomes with time. And let’s face it: We’re all doing some reinventing as we make the transition to virtual events.
After reviewing extensive research conducted in 2020, here’s what we found:
1. Attendees Want to Be Engaged
No surprise here. According to a survey of 1,000 conference participants in the U.S. conducted by CensusWide for PromoLeaf, 46 percent prefer to attend a live session that allows them to answer questions and receive answers. 40 percent said they want an online event that can be accessed on demand afterward. Don’t get us wrong- making events available on demand is important because it includes those who couldn’t make it live. But many attendees get more out of events when they can interact directly with hosts and speakers.
2. Affordability Seals the Deal
Maybe it’s because virtual events have a perceived lesser than in-person events, but cost is a determining factor for many attendees. According to the same CensusWide survey, 45 percent of respondents said that $200 was the maximum amount they’d be willing to pay to attend a one-day virtual event. However, a close 38 percent said they wouldn’t be willing to pay more than $100 for a one-day event. Just 10 percent said they’d be willing to pay $300 or more.
3. #WebinarWednesdays: They’re Still a Thing
We consulted several sources for a consensus on the best day to host an online event. The unanimous answer to the first part of that question: Wednesday. According to research by WorkCast, most online events take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays ,and Fridays. But as evidenced by the popular hashtag #WebinarWednesdays, events held on that day have gained infamous popularity.
Why is this? One theory is that Wednesday events break up the monotony of the work week and provide a welcome distraction. On Monday, people usually arrive at work (in person or online) with a full inbox and workload to get started. For people who work Monday-Friday, there may not be enough time (or brain space) to squeeze in an online event.
By Friday, many people feel overworked and ready for a break from online consumption. Furthermore, the fact that so many people are working from home has led to more flexible working hours. The result: Some are able to condense their workload, leading Fridays free for leisure activities.
But according to WorkCast, there is still a strong market for Mondays and Fridays. Events held on these days seem to gain high attendance figures and conversion rates, as well as generate leads. This is probably because the people who are too busy to attend during the week view these events on-demand on weekends.
In review, viewing numbers for live events are significantly higher on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. However, on-demand figures are generally similar throughout the week.
What does that tell you? It tells you to consider your audience. What is their work schedule like? What is their age range, and what are their main priorities? For example, if they’re balancing work with family, this will affect the days and times they attend online events. The CensusWide Survey for PromoLeaf, which surveyed over 1,000 conference participants throughout the U.S. and across a broad range of age groups and industries, revealed an important trend: Just 67 percent of respondents between the ages of 35 and 44 said they preferred in-person events. For some, this is likely because family responsibilities take precedence over events.
Therefore, when scheduling online events, it’s important to know the data- but it’s even more important to know your audience.
4. Give Your Attendees the Time of Day- Literally
This is more than just an expression. When hosting an online event, you’ll need to consider who and where your audience is. Virtual events open events up to much broader, remote audiences. Therefore, the ideal time of day depends on the specific audiences or regions you are targeting. For example, if you live in the U.S. but are targeting Chinese audiences, you would need to host a live event in the middle of the night. For most regions, hosting a webinar just before or after lunch- their time- is ideal.
What if you’re targeting a global audience? The best possible course of action is to make your core audience top priority- and then make your event accessible on-demand for those who miss it. It can be challenging to keep the value and integrity of live features when attendees are experiencing them on-demand. But it’s possible. For example live chats or Q & A can be moved into a forum where those unable to attend live can fill themselves in. We also recommend creating an option in which they can contribute to ongoing conversations over a course of several days. Try to make yourself and/or your speaker panel available via this type of forum and answer questions within hours.
5. Easy Access is Key
This one seems obvious enough, but that’s exactly why it often gets overlooked. The entry point of an event sets the tone throughout it. If it’s difficult to get into an event or navigate from the starting point, attendees are frustrated from the beginning. Although some attendees will be sympathetic- the switch to virtual events is challenging for all of us- many will form a negative first impression if the entry is difficult. First impressions often happen unconsciously, but they are lasting. And since events are going mostly virtual now, there’s a lot of competition out there.
We want to start off by saying this: Don’t hit the panic button (figuratively or literally!) if you run into a glitch. Communication and engagement are key; like we said, nearly everyone is experiencing technical glitches along the way. So if you find that attendees are running into a recurring problem at the beginning or throughout your event, stay with them. Make assistance easy to access and use a video or audio platform that keeps you and/or your staff connected at all times. If you continue to engage with them and help them overcome any difficulties, attendees are less likely to feel lost if they face problems.
Ideally, you want to head off potential glitches before your event goes live. This should always be your goal. Luckily, there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure easy entry. Be sure to add the event link to calendar invitations. Also, send out an email reminder on the day of your event, including the link and password.
6. Be Prepared!
It’s unanimous across virtually all research: Attendees want online events to run smoothly. They prefer to attend events with a clear agenda that is easy to navigate. That means your technology needs to operate well; ideally, it should be easy to use and as free from glitches as possible. One of the biggest technological issues that causes confusion or interrupts virtual events involves live streaming.
The good news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money- or have sophisticated technology- to create an excellent live stream. If you have a smartphone or a laptop with a working camera and mic, you’ve already got the equipment you need. Even if your laptop doesn’t have a built-in camera or mic, you can hook up separate devices and use them in the same way. Set up your camera or smartphone to record both video and audio. If you’re using your phone, a solid tripod that supports your device usually delivers great quality.
To make sure your tech is running smoothly, test it multiple times prior to your event. If some of your staff and/or speakers are using a specific technology for the first, you may want to do several run-throughs with them as your event approaches. Testing on the day of your event is important because it ensures that all your technology is working optimally; last minute glitches are certainly not uncommon!
The researched-based information we shared today gives you a more solid idea of what attendees universally want. Like we mentioned before, your own attendees’ prioritizes will be unique in many ways. You have an ongoing relationship with your attendees, whose needs and desires are constantly in flux- especially right now! Just like you did with in-person events, it’s important to continually be learning more about your consumers. Engaging them with pre-event and post-event surveys enables you to constantly improve. It also makes your attendees feel seen and heard at a time when most of the world is feeling isolated- and that’s vital. Bringing people together has never been more important, and you can do it by giving them what they want.