By: Jordan Schwartz, President and Co-founder of Pathable
When it comes to moving forward with your planned event in this time of uncertainty during a worldwide pandemic, transitioning to a virtual event is one of the safest and most cost-effective options your nonprofit can consider.
Many nonprofit workers are pivoting to remote work as a coping strategy; therefore, transitioning to virtual is not a new concept. However, events require a strategic, thoughtful approach. You should plan and execute in a way that gives all stakeholders—planners, speakers, attendees, and sponsors— an enjoyable virtual experience.
In this article, we will cover the essential steps for a successful pivot to virtual events without missing out on the critical aspects of the event. Here are some steps to consider:
- Decide Which Event Logistics to Keep
- Identify New Requirements for the Virtual Event
- Bring Everyone on Board for Transition
- Create Value for Sponsors and Exhibitors
- Make the Most of Your Transition
1. Decide Which Event Logistics to Keep
When transitioning to virtual, there are some event logistics that no longer apply, like the venue selection and onsite accommodations. But, other elements can be transitioned or slightly modified to fit into the virtual context. Some of these include:
Registration Data and Credentials
You can migrate registration data to the virtual platform if the platform has an open API, which allows for data migration from third-party event registration platforms. If you require additional information from participants, they can provide that information directly on the event platform.
You can retain all or some of your event speakers, depending on the new event schedule. However, when transitioning, note that the attention span of online audiences is limited, you may consider reducing the number of sessions and feature only the most impactful content or engaging ones. For a multi-track event, you can provide as many tracks as possible to allow attendees to choose their own experience.
When done correctly, transitioning from an in-person to a virtual event does not have to lead to a loss of attendees. Instead, it should lead to increased participation because of the convenience it creates. If you still have some time to market your event, you can reach out to capture a wider audience.
Sponsors and Exhibitors
Persuade your sponsors and exhibitors to transition with you to virtual and provide equivalent value to encourage that move. What changes, though, is the logistics behind providing that value. For example, instead of having exhibitor booths and physical signage, they will now have virtual booths, digital banner ads, logo displays, and sponsored pages.
If you planned on having entertainment elements at your live event, you can still feature it in the virtual space. Artists can connect via both video and audio from their end, while the virtual event platform provides enhancements that increase the engagement, interactivity, and fun of the experience.
2. Identify New Requirements for the Virtual Event
After sorting the logistics of transitioning live elements to virtual, the next step is to identify additional requirements for hosting a virtual event. Here are some such elements:
Virtual Event Platform
Your choice of virtual event platform, such as Pathable, determines the success of your event. You should ensure that the platform can provide the needed features for the event’s success. The checklist of what to consider in a platform should include:
- Customization to suit specific event needs
- Interactive communication and feedback tools
- Channels for sponsor and exhibitor showcase
- Real-time event analytics and reporting
- Intuitive mobile event app
- Standby technical support, etc
If you have other requirements that are specific to your event type, discuss them with platform providers before making your decision.
There are three ways to present content during a virtual event; content can be pre-recorded, presented live, or a mix of both. When planning content delivery, consider your audience’s preference. Some attendees might prefer to interact with speakers while the presentation is ongoing, and a prerecorded presentation can afford this opportunity. The speaker can also contribute additional comments to the presentation. However, to most closely replicate the in-person experience, you should also feature live sessions where the speaker can pause intermittently to take questions.
For pre-recorded content, you can arrange with your speakers to record high-quality videos and then upload them on the platform before the event. The material can also serve as additional resources that attendees can view or download for their benefit.
Virtual Studio/Technical Production
Depending on your event budget and the audiovisual quality that you require, you may need a virtual studio where a technical crew assists with visual mixing, sound engineering, and motion graphics to enhance the quality of streaming on the virtual platform.
A New Event Schedule
You will have to draw up a new schedule for your virtual event to consider online realities. Be mindful not to overcrowd the timeline if you want maximum participation from your audience.
Virtual Event Planner/Facilitator
If you have little understanding of how to plan a virtual event, you might require the service of a planner to organize event logistics. Apart from that, you will also need an event host to anchor the event coordination.
3. Bring Everyone on Board for Transition
For a successful transition, it's important to communicate with all event stakeholders at every stage of the shift. If possible, set a timeline for receiving input so that feedback can be incorporated promptly.
Open up the platform to attendees in advance to allow participants to provide additional information once you have migrated user data to the event platform. Also, enable speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors to update their profiles and test the platform.
You can also recruit online volunteers as participants and do a mock event to test the functionality of your event platform. You can have a standby team to attend to any bug relating to user experience to reduce incidences during the actual event.
4. Create Value for Sponsors and Exhibitors
Sponsors and exhibitors are event partners that are seeking maximum opportunities for marketing and brand exposure to attendees. Therefore, when transitioning, you will have to create multiple layers of exposure for them.
When pivoting, request branded materials from sponsors such as logos, banners, messages, ads and commercials, video showcases, and any other content they want to use for brand awareness. Place such content in strategic places on the platform.
For example, you can feature sponsored content in your pre-recorded content, and you can play ads from sponsors in-between sessions. You can also feature special sessions that are facilitated by sponsors.
Pages on the virtual platform can also be used for brand awareness. This includes the event home screen, poll result pages, games pages, and more. You can also create virtual booths for sponsors to have one-on-one meetings with attendees.
5. Make the Most of Your Transition
When you have put everything in place, you need to make the most of the virtual space. You can maximize the digital real estate by implementing the following:
Create Opportunities for Networking
Allow attendees to interact and network with other participants on your platform. Attendees participate more in an event when there are opportunities to interact. You can facilitate interaction and networking through live chats, 1:1 video calls, “birds of a feather” chat rooms, and more.
Increase attendees’ participation and engagement with Q&A, live polls, public forums, gamification, and more. Also, encourage participants to share their event experience on social media using branded event hashtags.
Harness Useful Data
Take advantage of your event to harness useful event data. Virtual events offer an excellent opportunity to track user data, behavior, and preferences. Such data includes attendee demography, career information, questions asked during Q&A, feedback given, presentation views, content downloads, sponsor page visits, meetings scheduled, etc.
Such data can be useful when planning your next event and determining event content direction, speaker preferences, and products, services, and causes to showcase.
A successful transition from an in-person event to virtual is not difficult to achieve with the right tools and thoughtful approach. Start by identifying the parts of your program that need to stay and what new aspects are needed to host your event in the virtual sphere. The most important task is to identify a reliable virtual event platform. In most cases, the platform provider will assist and advise you on any additional requirements.
About the Author
Jordan Schwartz is president and co-founder of Pathable, an event app and website platform for conferences and tradeshows. He left academic psychology for the lure of software building, and spent 10 years at Microsoft leading the development of consumer-facing software. Frustrated with the conferences he attended there, he left Microsoft in 2007 with the goal of delivering more value and better networking opportunities through a next-generation conference app. Jordan moonlights as a digital nomad, returning often to his hometown of Seattle to tend his bee hives.