COVID-19: Are Virtual Conferences the Way Forward?

COVID-19: Are Virtual Conferences the Way Forward?

The Coronavirus epidemic has forced people the world over to rethink everything - from our work and school to entertainment. In response to school closures, working from home policies, travel bans and restrictions on group gatherings, it is no surprise that most people have turned to digital tools to help them to go about their daily lives more effectively.
It's a rough time for everyone, and conference planners are no exception. The COVID-19 virus has made cancellation of or delaying of conferences, trade shows and any public gatherings essential - so what can you do when meeting in person is not an option? Well, there are four things you need to think about before you decide:

One: Your audience's expectations

Not only do you have financial and logistical issues to contend with, but you also have to think carefully about whether you can create a memorable conference online that will not only meet your attendee's expectations, but hopefully exceed them to.

When you are weighing up the pros and cons of moving your physical conference or event online, you need to consider the following:

- What do attendees really value about your event? Don't make the mistake of making your online conference just a virtual version of your event in a bid to salvage costs, instead spend a bit of time and effort on making it a digital event that is not only worthy of their time and attention but their money as well.

- Can you pare your conference content back? Your physical conference might have been three days, but there is no way anyone is going to spend three days in front of their computer for a conference, so you need to pare your material back to half a day at the most. You could look at asking your speakers to reduce their sessions by half, or offer your juiciest content live and let attendees consume your more standard content as and when they want to.

- How can you deliver an exciting and unexpected experience? People tend to attend events as they believe they are going to learn something new or meet someone they perhaps wouldn't have the chance to learn from otherwise. Is there a way your online event can provide attendees with these same community experiences? Can you offer them something creative that they can't find anywhere else?

Two: A Virtual Event or an Event Online?

If you have already sold space at your conference, then speakers and attendees have already put the time aside - so you need to quickly decide whether you are just going to duplicate it online, or use other ways and means to deliver the content and experience.
There are many virtual events platforms available which will allow you to replicate your physical event - although this may come at considerable cost and a steep learning curve for you. Virtual events can work well for some types of events, such as a product launch, certification deadlines mandated by law, or a difficult to book speaker - but they are not the only option available to you. If your event is on the small side or less complex then you could look at livestreaming it or using a dedicated online conferences platform.

Three: Keeping your Attendees Attention

As we have touched on above, moving your conference online can mean cutting back on your content and working to build an agenda that will keep your attendees engaged. Great content is the lynchpin of this - but audience engagement is also key. Some ways of engaging your audience online are: gamification, raffles, and recognition. You may also want to consider teaming this with some direct mail, and using a specialist platform to deliver your attendees a promotional giveaway which not only reinforces event themes, but also highlights key sessions.

However, not everything has to be interactive to have an impact on your attendees, for example, you could broadcast your key speaker through a video platform which would allow for your attendees to ask questions, if you make it more of a chat show format than a monotone presentation.

Four: Increase Engagement Before and After the Event

Taking your conference online means you may have to increase the amount of communication you have with your attendees before the event to ensure they are comfortable with the change, and after the event to ensure they stay committed. You can use social media, send emails highlighting the speakers, and even "what to expect" emails to show how the virtual conference is going to work and let attendees have a sneak preview of some of the features. Show them what value attending your virtual conference will give them, and they will be more likely to attend.

One key advantage that online conferences give you is that all of your content will be prepared to be shown online - and so you can use it online in a variety of different ways afterwards. You can even use it to show those who didn't attend what they missed, and encourage them to sign up for your next event!

How will Coronavirus affect Conferences moving forward?

Coronavirus has had a terrible impact on our lives, there is no doubt about it, and it is forcing many businesses to look more closely at how they do things and take a long-term view of their plans - conferences included. In person attendance at conferences is bound to recover once the current crisis has passed, and when it does the team here at Conferences Group will be ready to help you find just the right venue. In the meantime, those companies who take a digital approach to help them to personalise their attendee's experiences will earn a better return on their investment.

Author: Gladys Requina

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