In a matter of weeks, our society has had to pivot from physical to virtual; we’ve been unexpectedly thrust into a world of new technology. Our meetings, classes, family dinners, concerts, and game nights with our friends are now all virtual. We are living our lives at home, in front of a webcam with our families and roommates in close proximity.
On top of this, we’re worried. Worried about our health, our jobs, and our financial security. Worried about the economy and its impact on our friends and neighbors. But mostly, we are worried about the longer-term consequences of this pandemic on our society. The professional façade we were once able to pull off has come crashing down around us. It’s taking every ounce of emotional strength we have left to keep our composure in front of our webcams, in our attempt to accomplish the work at hand. We are, in a word, distracted.
Waking from Virtual Fatigue
As I logged onto my 27th Zoom meeting this week to discuss another major conference going virtual, I was struck by the typical approach so many brands and agencies are taking. We are drowning in a sea of virtual sameness. Companies are desperately trying to engage with their audiences to maintain the pipeline they’ve lost to event cancellations. Agencies are doing everything they can to adapt content from physical to virtual. And virtual event platforms are working to keep up with demand, while depositing Santa-sized sacks of cash into the bank.
We’ve seen this before. It happened in the aftermath of September 11th and then again in 2008 during the Great Recession. Virtual events are becoming a panacea for when we can’t travel or connect in real life. These technologies have indeed improved exponentially since they launched but are still not a replacement for authentic human connection. The need to differentiate virtually, where we lack real-life sensory activation, is crucial. Are there instances in which virtual events are good enough? Sure. Virtual events can keep going the many conversations needed to sustain our relationships when we’re in crisis. Can virtual events replace or complement physical events? Absolutely.
Follow these 5 Rules and Nail your Virtual Event
It begins and ends with the audience. Who are they? What are their demographics, psychographics, and technographics? What are their needs at this stage of the relationship? It’s important to understand who your audience is, both professionally and personally, in order to craft a virtual event that will work to meet their needs while accomplishing your goals at the same time. Things like comfort with technology, how people engage with others, professional passions and personal interests, and learning styles will guide you in creating the right content, engagement strategy, and delivery method.
Define your objective. What is the one thing you want to accomplish with a virtual event? In this new environment, focus is paramount to success. You’ll most likely have several benchmarks you’d like to achieve but choose one overarching goal and nail it. Everything else supports the main objective; it becomes the North Star to guide your event.
Design the experience around the audience and the objective. Many event planners fall into default mode, selecting a platform from the few stable players out there and running with talking head content that fits into that formulaic context. Now more than ever, it’s critical to think beyond the platform. Consider your audience’s desires and goals; use these to create innovative content delivery and engagement models that will draw your audience in as participants, and not just spectators. Needs and objectives drive content. Content drives format. Format drives platform. Not the reverse.
High production value could be the answer, but content curation and accessibility can up the ante. What can you do above and beyond the usual that puts your event on par with top-tier entertainment productions? To make your event truly remarkable, add experiences that your attendees cannot get anywhere else. That will make your virtual event the one that creates buzz – even outside your industry. Send your attendees $2 branded virtual reality headsets and let them tune in that way, watching a speaker present on a stage without an audience. In unprecedented times, you have permission to go beyond what’s been done before, leaving your mark on the industry and creating a place in history. Be extra.
Think beyond the tactic. Completely virtual events might not be the right approach for your objectives or your audience’s needs; hybrid events may be more appropriate. Remember, this is about moving audience relationships forward so another digital tactic could be a better approach. Maybe a phone call? A peer conversation? Be smart about where you invest both now and in the long term. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s working, or it’s the right approach for you. Events, virtual or not, are points in time; relationships are points over time.
Whatever your goals or audience demands may be, we’re here to help – even if it means talking you out of a virtual event if it’s not the right thing to do for your brand. We’d rather see our partners invest wisely and meet their business objectives than pivot for the sake of pivoting.