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Seven Pointers for Turning an In-Person Event Virtual

As the global COVID-19 pandemic worsens, organizations are reevaluating their meetings and conferences, seeking to replace them with virtual gatherings in some cases.

But before deciding to create a virtual event, there are key factors to consider—even the smallest of details can make the difference between a successful virtual event, or one that has many stressful moments.

Here are seven tips to help turn an in-person event into a successful virtual one:

Ask yourself: is it worth it? 

Before planning a virtual gathering, stop to consider whether the event is worth it. If the matter is urgent, a virtual meeting may be necessary. But don’t forget those who are negatively impacted by moving to a virtual environment. For example, if the event was originally planned to be held at a hotel, think about ways to give back to those potentially facing job insecurity.

Be realistic

Let’s face it: you can’t replicate the complete experience of a face-to-face meeting online. And for a segment of meeting and conference attendees (let’s call them “extroverts”), the top reason to go is to see and reconnect with others in person—an impossible task in a virtual setting.

An event also may lose some of the professional status it held in person. In virtual form, even the most important annual events may fail to hold the same status in stakeholders’ minds.

But fear not. A few adjustments to meeting plan and goals can create an experience that is different, but similarly valuable, by focusing on the advantages that the digital world offers.

Think content, not convention

Now that you’re not convening people in person, the quality of your content becomes even more important.

Of course, content is always important. We often advise clients producing events to think of them primarily in terms of content. An event as simple as an individual panel discussion is an opportunity to:

  • Stream the discussion live;
  • Create social media-sized video clips;
  • Do stand-up on-camera interviews with panelists before or after;
  • Publish the transcript;
  • Tweet the highlights; and
  • Moderate a follow-up LinkedIn discussion, among other things.

What are all the different ways to capture, use and reuse the content generated during an event? The potential audience for that content may well dwarf the attendance of the event itself and can continue to generate value long after the event is over. This is especially true if you. . .

Go as public as possible

Digital content is better for growing audiences than monetizing them. It may be tempting to charge people to attend online conferences just as one would for live events. Better to go for a broader audience, if possible.

There are a variety of channels to consider for invitations, depending on whether the event is for an internal or external audience. If the event is external and there is no set attendee list, advertise the virtual event to like-minded individuals through programmatic display or social advertising.

Invitations for internal virtual events should follow the standard internal communications process that employees are familiar with. For both internal and external events, be sure to include the link to join, agenda and house rules in the invitation. These details help attendees know what to expect and increase the likelihood of attendance.

Logistics, logistics, logistics

This is perhaps the most critical component of a virtual event. The logistics for moving an in-person event to virtual are nearly endless, but here are a few thought starters:

  • How many attendees are expected?
  • What platform will facilitate the event?
  • Does the chosen platform support the number of anticipated participants?
  • What is the process for audience members to ask questions and engage?
  • Who is the host of the event, and are they supported by a capable call managers?
  • Will the panelists have the appropriate connectivity to participate?
  • Will the chosen platform accommodate regulatory restrictions for all participating geographies?

It is always a good idea to map out all the needs and questions prior to diving into the planning phase for an in-person event, and a virtual event is no different.

Find ways to connect with the audience

With so many people practicing social distancing and quarantining, providing opportunities for engagement is more important than ever. During a virtual event, give people opportunities to collaborate and network. Allow the audience to ask questions, take polls during the event and leverage virtual breakout rooms for small group discussions. The virtual breakout rooms can be especially effective for getting participants to stay engaged and feel a much-needed sense of community during the event.

Follow up

To avoid feeling like a one-off to attendees, develop a communications plan to keep in touch following the virtual event. When using new technology and platforms, surveying attendees is an extremely valuable way to learn what the experience was like and how to improve it moving forward. Surveys can also provide a way to understand what content resonated best with attendees, and what information they want to receive—and the preferred format—after the event is over.

While in-person events may be the preferred method for many gatherings, virtual events can—with proper planning—be an effective way to educate, engage and inspire your audience.

Click here for additional insights on working for home, from APCO’s global team.

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