Virtual Conferences – The New Normal
In current times, when in-person meetings are still to get back to pre-COVID levels due to social distancing norms, virtual conferences have become the much-needed lifeline for the events industry. According to a current 2020 PCMA survey, 79% of event planners are now focusing on virtual events. Read about the future of events and the virtual events success story here.
Bigger in scale vis-à-vis virtual meetings, virtual conferences leverage immersive digital platforms to connect to larger audiences. They generally feature a live complex agenda with relevant, on-demand content and are planned over multiple sessions (including breakouts). These virtual event ideas occur in the form of keynote events (where online speakers present a core message or central theme), webinars, panel discussions, strategy sessions, educational meet-ups, training and certification workshops, sales product demos, marketing conclaves, and industry thought leadership forums.
Why hosting Virtual Conferences is a winning proposition
Key advantages of organising virtual events, specifically virtual conferences, in the new normal are:
Saves time and costs: There is a drastic reduction in the time and expenses required to organise a virtual conference. With participants not traveling and able to join from wherever they are, event organisers can effectively save on staff, physical venues, attendee hotels, meals, travel costs, and all related charges.
Global reach and coverage: With no constraints on participation, content delivery, and geographical locations, the virtual event reaches out to a global clientele. Social media coverage also facilitates cost-effective digital marketing and promotions, increasing the event’s visibility.
Flexible and Variable: Virtual conferences give you complete flexibility in choosing the digital format, broadcast mode, platform, software, and tools. Thus, whether it is a virtual town hall or a sales kickoff, one can make the sessions interactive, providing customized options depending on the type of event and target audience.
Networking and connection opportunities: Since virtual events have a fast-paced format, it is easier to network and make connections. Moreover, since all information is digitally stored, attendees can easily save and retrieve important information (like names and professional profiles) on their electronic devices.
Tracking results through analytics: Easily accessible data analytics dashboards and virtual events tools allow quick, real-time engagement tracking and feedback, including reliable data on the event’s overall success and impact.
Prime Elements of Virtual Conference Platforms
Virtual conference platforms should incorporate best-in-class features like custom-built registration capabilities, and virtual event spaces consisting of a virtual lobby, exhibit hall, virtual booth, auditorium theatre or main stage, public and private chat rooms, networking lounges, and custom-branded spaces or sponsor’s areas. To captivate the audience, a high-quality cross-platform experience with multi-speaker capabilities has to be suitably crafted. Here are some essential resources to stage a successful event.
Physical Events Vs Virtual Events
Speaking at physical events is different from virtual presentations, especially from a technology and platform perspective. In-person conferences use tools as an enhancement, especially if they are hybrid events integrating the two components. Learn more about the key differences between offline and online events here. Technology that adds value to physical events include:
- Facial recognition during event check-ins
- Projection mapping using AR technology
- Second screens as an engagement tool
- RFID and beacon attendee tracking
- Indoor positioning systems (IPS) and Geofencing
- 3D event diagramming (ensuring error-free, customized, collaborative project planning)
- Wearable devices (e.g. wristbands, smart badges) using NFC (near-field communication) chips
In online conferences, virtual events tools and platforms help to optimise audience engagement (Also read: Tips to engage your virtual fair attendees). They consist of the following:
- Events platform, website, or landing page
- Event ticketing and registration platforms
- Social media, planning, and marketing tools
- Live streaming through branded multi-use event apps and platforms
- Interactive Q&A and FAQ sessions, live polls, quizzes, surveys, and chats
- AR and VR to transform the virtual conference into an immersive 360-degree experience
- Gamification through online quizzes and contests, with real-time leaderboards
- Behavior recommendation engines: Use of AI to scan visitor profiles and deliver personalized recommendations like emails, text messages, and push notifications
Tips to align Virtual Event Technology with Event Speakers
The methodology and tools driving virtual conferences are different from those used in physical events, and similarly, there are effective ways to move offline events online. Event speakers have to be thoroughly briefed on the technology tools and virtual conference platforms before the event. Here are some effective tips to bring the two together:
Pre-event briefing: The speakers should themselves ask about the virtual events software and tools used. If they don’t, the event host/platforms should brief them accordingly.
Attendee visibility: Online speakers should be informed about audience participation and visibility, well in advance. This would be dependent on the technology platform, company, and compliance protocols.
Tech platform features: The speakers have to be in sync with the platform and its functionalities before the event. Some platforms are more sophisticated, some are user-friendly and customer-centric, while others have better data security.
Mastering the operations: Online speakers and presenters should be encouraged to practice logging into the platform, sharing materials, and navigating the controls, so that they are comfortable and confident before the event.
Testing technology and speaker content: A full-fledged dry run or dress rehearsal has to be conducted to check if the presentation, platform tools, and software are all working optimally. Here is a checklist of essential items to test:
- Event recording tools and software
- Uninterrupted and high-speed internet/broadband connection
- Sound quality for all speakers, including microphone and audio
- Video conferencing platform controls (e.g. Zoom, YouTube)
- Room settings, i.e. layout, lighting, audio, video, and noise quotient
- Emergency communication devices (like walkie-talkies) within the team
- Pre-recording of the speaker’s speech as a backup in case the internet goes down
- Presentation slides to eliminate possible formatting, content, design errors, or other technical glitches
Best Practices for Event Speaker Management
Here are some general best practices for managing event speakers, i.e.
Pre-event Walkthrough: This should be done just before the live event, with all attendees participating. Apart from technical checks, this helps to review:
- Event strategy, roles, scripting, timings, and transitions
- Useful contacts database for the whole team
- Mock Q&A sessions and the event pre-recording, if possible
- A backup plan detailing contingency planning, and a chain of command in case of any issues
- An updated SOP or process manual, documenting the challenges, solutions, and best practices
- Event Agenda, including timings and session transitions, with an adequate time buffer for final sessions
Time Management: Speakers in physical events often stretch session timelines. In live, virtual events, however, time management is critical. For example, if speakers want to add Q&As, quizzes, or polling in their sessions, they need to be perfectly aware of the time required for each, before adding them to the session agenda.
Speaker Briefing: Apart from a virtual events software and tools overview, the briefing should include event basics, mutually agreed terms and conditions, and a mock emergency drill, in case something goes wrong.
Balanced Virtual Production: Working transparently with the speaker before and during the event ensures higher audience engagement levels and ROI. The event sessions should be a fine balancing act, avoiding content overload (making participants seek escape routes like session changes, lunch, and comfort breaks) or flimsy content (which might kill audience interest).
Virtual conferences have caught the imagination of event planners worldwide, transforming the very concept of meetings, and giving us a fascinating glimpse of how future conclaves would look like. Even when in-person conferences make a comeback, hybrid events with the option of in-person or virtual attendance will rule the roost, offering platform-driven personalized content for discerning viewers.
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