The COVID-19 Pandemic and the safety protocols surrounding events and social interaction have changed the nature of events and engagements. The shift that has taken place has led to events becoming digital and conferences becoming virtual. Although we have made significant progress in combatting COVID-19 these past couple of years, the trend of virtual events and conferences is likely to continue into the near future.
Whilst at face value it may seem that members attending virtual events may be less focused when attending an event from behind a screen, strategies do exist to keep the virtual audience captivated.
The first and major benefit of virtual events is as follows. In the past corporations spent a great deal of time coordinating the logistics of large-scale events and in-person conventions. By eliminating this logistical burden industry leaders can focus their time and energy into planning effective and compelling content rather than wasting time organising accommodation and venue planning.
By making events interactive and staying organized you will be able to optimize your engagement thereby demonstrating to members that just because you’re changing the nature of your events doesn’t mean the quality will diminish.
This guide will take you through the advantages of and obstacles to virtual events and offer some pointers in how to really elevate your vritual event to the next level.
Below are some advantages of virtual events
- Efficiency: Meeting remotely and virtually can save up to 40 minutes of commute time, therefore all time can be used productively for problem solving, developing new ideas and the completion of tasks. This then results in concise and productive events.
- Convenience: Holding an event virtually means events become easily accessible and flexible. Attendees can connect at anytime from anywhere provided they have a stable internet connection. This becomes greatly convenient for members that will save time and money by simply logging on instead of commuting.
- Greater Reach: Previously attendance at events depended on each attendee’s ability to travel to the location, budget for accomodation and take time off work. However Virtual events cuts out a lot of these costs and due to its concise nature doesn’t require extended periods of leave. Virtual events can be attended by anyone regardless of geographical location and financial capability. This means that there is greater diversity of attendee’s resulting in more diverse ideas and contributions.
Although virtual events have man benefits there are some obstacles that may present themselves. The focus of eventholders should be retaining as much engagement of its attendees as possible.
With that in mind eventholders should prepare themselves for:
- Lack of focus: there is a lack of focus with virtual events because body language between hosts and attendees is not always apparent, when attendee’s video cameras are on, they may become distracted by looking at themselves as well as their surroundings.
- Secondly with virtual events there is great technological dependence on the functionality of laptops, apps such as Zoom and electricity to keep the event going. In South Africa load shedding is an everyday occurrence that companies must factor into their virtual events. Load shedding can be hugely detrimental to virtual events not only for attendees but for the hosts themselves.
- Lastly there may be a lack of social interaction among attendees weakens work relationships between them as there Is no real room for small talk, socialisation or grabbing a coffee together during event breaks
3 Virtual Event Tips
Although you may have some reservations about continuing virtual events post-Covid there are many ways to overcome the above obstacles and make the most out of virtual events. Lets consider three ways to fully reap the benefits of virtual events:
1. Ensure Events are as Interactive as possible
It is clear that your association’s main challenge would be maintaining a high level of virtual member engagement. However this can be easily achieved, by adding interactive components to your virtual events.
This will help your attendees feel like they are contributing to your discussions and therefore feel like they have more of a say in your events. Below are some interactive features you could integrate into your virtual events
- Chat functions: This is a great way to stimulate a continuous stream of conversation and motivate attendees to share their thoughts in real time whilst the presentations at the event are taking place.
- Acknowledgement of individual members: The speaker or leader of the discussion could identify and call on specific attendees. By doing so you as event leader show that their input is valuable whilst simultaneously encouraging participation by other members.
- Breakout Rooms: By dividing members into smaller groups meant for discussion it can facilitate more in-depth conversations and encourage active speakers. Whilst some attendees may feel intimidated to speak on their ideas in a large group, a more intimate breakout room can aid in getting the initial conversation flowing on specific topics.
- Polls: A useful virtual conferencing tool is incorporating a poll function so event leaders and members can swiftly vote on an issue. Sending out a poll is an easy and enjoyable way for attendees to contribute and make decisions quickly.
These interactive elements are really beneficial if an association is organising a major, multi-day event such as a virtual conference. This is because a conference requires continuous focus and continuous opportunities for interaction can aid in sustaining your attendees level of engagement throughout the conference.
2. Organisation is key
If you’re directing a large corporation monitoring all finer details may be quite overwhelming. This is why adequate planning and organisation is a necessity as it is one of the best ways to ensure a high quality virtual experience. This is true whether you’re planning a large conference or a small-scale meet-and-greet, being intentional about organisation can ensure all events run smoothly.
When it comes to virtual events attendees may not know how the event will run and what exactly is expected of them. This is why outlining a clear set of expectations before an event goes a long way in to helping your members feel more prepared and enthusiastic.
Here are some tips to keep your virtual events organized:
- Distribute relevant Information ahead of time: This should include an agenda and any other appropriate information that will aid your members in their preparation
- Create a clear agenda: As part of the agenda, outline the contents of the event, the type of activities lined up for members and how the event will flow. Attendees should have the opportunity to review it and ask questions before the event begins.
- Test all technology in advance: A test run should be performed on any technological components to the event before the start of the event. This is done to avoid troubleshooting while the audience waits.
3. Create Additional Opportunities post-Virtual Event
To maximise participation among your attendees, consider creating additional opportunities for virtual events. If you are running a large corporation, it might not be feasible for regular virtual meetings, so an option would be to give the attendees an opportunity to keep in touch with your company post-Event.
Members may even prefer these more remote and independent events so that they can interact on their own time and engage to their preferred extent. Here are some examples of what these post-Virtual Event Opportunities look like:
- Pre-recorded Webinars: these can be sent to members so that they may still enjoy the event if they couldn’t attend it in real time.
- Book and Podcast recommendations: circulate additional recommended learning material among members and provide a discussion forum on them.
- E-learning courses: Giving members access to relevant e-learning courses that could enhance their participation in future events.
- Continued Community involvement: Encourage your attendees to join their personal networks with your corporation, by joining your enterprise’s volunteer program, applying for other opportunities offered by your organisation, or by merely spreading the word.
Even in the absence of direct communication with your attendee’s types of opportunities will keep them engaged with your association and might even inspire new ideas for them to share at the next virtual event.
Although virtual events do pose logistical and engagement challenges, they can be a great tool in bringing together communities across local and international borders. With the right tools at your disposal and paying particular attention on maintaining the focus of your attendees, you can ensure that reap all the benefits of virtual events.