With so many engaging tools and technologies at our fingertips, virtual events aren't just substitutes for in-person experiences. Without some expenses such as travel costs, virtual events can reach broader — even global — audiences. For example, the pharmaceutical firm Argenx recently launched its MG United patient-focused platform and hosted a digital event to unveil the new platform and connect people diagnosed with myasthenia gravis. People all over the world tuned in to the event, which featured interactive content, a virtual art gallery, patient stories and a real-time word cloud.
We spend more than one-quarter of our lives online, so virtual events are just the next evolution of human interaction. At Enthuse Marketing Group, we've seen how impactful digital touchpoints can be during quarantine, and future virtual events will only become more captivating, engaging and personable as technology improves. If you want to capitalize on the potential of virtual experiences, here's what you should do:
1. Reframe your objectives.
If you were initially planning an in-person experience, think about your original goals. Were you trying to build awareness for a new product? Were you trying to get samples into consumers' hands? If those goals are still possible to achieve — or relevant, given the circumstances — then it's time to begin reimagining the experience for a virtual environment. Virtual events can accomplish a wide variety of goals, but your original intentions may no longer apply in some cases.
2. Account for audio and video quality.
Your attendees are used to consuming content in HD (or even 4K) with superb sound quality. Even the most captivating content will fail to entice them if it's streamed in standard definition using subpar audio.
If your event has multiple segments or speakers, consider developing prerecorded videos or animated content to create a more seamless experience. But some sessions, such as keynotes and panels, should be done live to create a more meaningful and engaging experience for attendees. This also allows for a robust Q&A at the end of the session.
When it comes to virtual events, there are numerous small details to consider, including muting and unmuting microphones, playing intro and outro music, fielding questions from the audience and addressing any technology issues that might arise. So, it's important to make sure you have assembled a skilled team that has virtual event experience.
3. Consider the before and after.
Start by setting expectations. Before the event, share an itinerary and include instructions on what to bring and how best to optimize device settings. Consider sending an event kit ahead of time to help attendees feel more actively engaged.
For a series of bespoke culinary experiences that we created on behalf of the financial service company UBS, our team cold-shipped meal prep kits to participants across the country in advance of the livestreams. UBS wanted to host an online event for its private-wealth clients during the pandemic, so we sent a four-course dinner for attendees to prepare with two hosts via video: Sean Johnson, celebrity mixologist and director of spirits at Michelin starred restaurant Gabriel Kreuther, and Joe Anthony, the restaurant's chef de cuisine.
But the work isn't over once the event ends. When possible, you should offer an on-demand video of the experience for people who couldn't make it and promote shorter video clips on social media channels. By engaging with attendees before and after the event, you can significantly expand your audience and encourage more people to return for future interactions.
4. Focus on storytelling.
Since you're not in the same room as your audience, you need to craft a story that transitions them from their homes to your digital event. One option to consider is adding interactive sessions that transport attendees to a different destination. This could include a cooking or cocktail session that focuses on the food and beverage of a certain region. For example, an Aperol Spritz-making session will take your attendees to Italy, while a Paella cooking class can give them a taste of Spain.
The sessions should align with the theme of the event, or could be a good opportunity to bring in sponsors. Just make sure you remember the ending. During its MG United event, Argenx concluded the meeting by bringing attendees back to the real world. The company illuminated landmarks across the country in teal to honor those affected by myasthenia gravis. Taking the virtual event into the physical world created the perfect ending for their virtual experience.
5. Prioritize engagement.
Audience engagement is the difference between compelling virtual events and run-of-the-mill videos. Whether you offer a social feed that encourages participants to interact or you let attendees choose their own adventure through a variety of engagement options, make sure you're handing over the reins so that they can make the experience their own.
Immersive environments are a great way to foster audience engagement. For example, during the SBC Digital Summit for the betting and gaming industry, attendees could navigate a virtual space that imitated a physical conference center. From the home "lobby" screen, attendees could go to the networking lounge and connect with other participants, visit the product display lounge to view the latest innovations in gaming, or head to the virtual exhibition hall to interact with sponsors.
While virtual events can seem logistically easier to pull together than in-person ones, a poorly executed virtual experience can quickly fall flat. If you're building virtual events into your 2020 or 2021 event calendar, take care to create a memorable experience that attendees won't soon forget.
Kim Lawton is the founder and CEO of Enthuse Marketing Group, a woman-owned small business based in New York City. Kim has 25 years of proven experiential operations and marketing experience spanning branded consumer products, and she has cross-functional expertise in both creative development and marketing campaign activation, measurement and management.