This content was originally published by the Idaho Business Review on May 20th, 2020.
As the global community grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, events that were once considered mainstays have been cancelled, rescheduled, or moved to a virtual format. Now that many regional stay-at-home orders are being lifted, where does that leave the events that impact our businesses? What should we be doing right now to prepare for both the near and distant future?
As we move forward with scheduled events, we need to look to consumer confidence as a guide. Are people ready to once again physically attend large gatherings? A recent Gallup poll shows that many Americans are not ready to return to normal life until either coronavirus cases significantly decline in their state (36%), there are no new cases in their state (31%) or a vaccine has been developed (12%). With experts speculating about future spikes and seasonal outbreaks, approaching your event calendar with this in mind is critical.
Many companies have already shifted smaller events to online platforms. And chances are, you’ve dipped your toe in by using Zoom, GoTo, Slack, Microsoft Teams, or another digital platform to meet and communicate during quarantine. Over the next few months, these and other resources will continue to be widely used to reach audiences who cannot (or choose not to) meet face to face. Don’t abandon the tools you’ve already started using. Rather, dig in and explore features you might not be leveraging, research other technologies in the market, and pinpoint what works best for you, your organization, and your target market.
If you’re considering shifting an event to a virtual platform (partially or completely), the simplest option is to livestream your speaker(s) for your audience to watch. This can be done over Vimeo Livestream, YouTube Live, and a handful of other platforms with some ease. When an event requires audience participation, however, look to platforms like the ones below. They offer built-in features such as polling, surveys, gamification options, and chat. Virtual event platforms go much further than your typical video conference, keeping your audience actively engaged. They also give you insights and data that you may not always get from in-person events. These metrics can pay dividends by allowing you to deliver additional value to your sponsors, clients, and organizers.
As you evaluate your options, also consider if the interface is one your audience will be comfortable with. Will they be able to navigate through the features with ease? Is it intuitive? It might even make sense for your event to have its own app. An app can (but doesn’t have to) embed live content and become a hub for fun elements like games, icebreakers, networking, and sponsor experiences.
Virtual Event Platforms We Like, And Why
Best known as video-conferencing tools, these platforms can also be a simple, cost-effective way to create an online event.
$ Cisco Webex Meetings – offers advanced business/enterprise network integration
$ Zoom (Pro plan and up) – main room and breakout rooms are easy to manage and navigate
$$ GoTo Webinar – includes integrated event registration and payment options
$$$ Adobe Connect – prepare and save a conference ahead of time, avoiding live technical issues
These two platforms were created especially for multi-faceted digital events, and it shows. Users have complete control over how they navigate speaker sessions, the tradeshow floor, and more. This level of technology comes with a heftier price tag and time investment, but heavy hitters from Avon to Intuit think it’s worth it. Both offer features like networking, help desk, lounge areas, and audience-behavior data. My team and I have attended events through each of these platforms, and we couldn’t pick a favorite. I suggest you check them both out.
Consider Virtual Reality
Keep your eye on Virtual Reality (VR). People are attending events in VR, which allows them to truly “feel” like they are physically sharing space with others. Your audience can also attend in 2D mode from their PC, tablet, or phone via YouTube, making your event accessible for those who do not have a head-mounted display (HMD), aka “virtual reality goggles.”
I recently participated in a tech conference that typically takes place in Europe, but because of Covid-19, was converted to an online event. I attended a keynote, was part of a couple of breakout sessions, visited the tradeshow, and interacted with vendors – all in VR. It was phenomenal! If you’re thinking that this technology is too costly for your event budget, prices are coming down quickly and may not be as out of reach as you think. VR also facilitates some interesting solutions for both virtual and face-to-face events. One of our clients produces large equipment and wanted an alternative to shipping everything to events around the globe. We worked with them to convert their products into a VR format so that they could be easily demonstrated without needing the real thing on hand. This might not be the time to put all your resources into this technology, but you should be assessing if it has a place in your long-term strategy.
Face-to-face events are not going away, but they are going to look different. As organizations find digital solutions that work for their needs, event formats will shift to a hybrid of face-to-face and online interaction. Several of our clients are moving in that direction, but it will not happen overnight. Many businesses have had a rocky quarter and are relatively inexperienced in virtual events, leaving them feeling uncertain about investing in virtual platforms with all the bells and whistles. While it’s true that virtual events remove costs from a logistics perspective, a system that gets extremely close to the face-to-face experience will have a cost attached to it.
For the time being, continue exploring what options are available and make sense for your organization, your clients, and your audience — now and in the long term. What we are going through is seriously shaking people’s confidence when it comes to physical interaction. You and your staff may be ready for that big event you pushed out to this fall, but your audience might not be. Offering them ways to participate and stay connected virtually could be critical to the success of your event.
Raymond Kramer is the Managing Director of Intracon North America. Intracon helps clients close the gap between content and audiences through training, event management, consulting, and multimedia content creation services. Raymond can be reached at Raymond.Kramer@Intracon.com