As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, many large events and conferences have been cancelled for 2020. The unprecedented crisis has led to new innovations in the virtual event space and a spotlight on existing virtual event platforms. These online conference and meeting programs change the way we connect, learn and network with each other from the comfort of our own homes.
Many of our clients have shifted gears and are holding events online instead of in person. Event teams are working overtime to learn the ins and outs of online platforms, as it’s so important to understand the attendee experience, platform functionality, and pricing in order to develop an impactful online strategy.
What is it like to attend a virtual event?
If you’ve attended conferences in person in the past, you’re likely familiar with conference apps, which allow you to view event schedules, speaker profiles, and exhibitor lists.
Virtual event platforms like Whova, PheedLoop and Hopin include those more familiar features and more. You can log onto many of these platforms to access live sessions, Q&A and community boards that allow for interactive engagement. These virtual meet up spaces can use integrations with partner platforms like RingCentral, Zoom, and GoogleHangouts to allow you to break out into smaller groups, have one-on-one networking events and more. Plus, live polls can boost participation before an event begins and collect feedback during and after.
Many event platforms also have a matchmaking technology based on common backgrounds and interests, so you can see who you might be interested in talking to and set up one-on-ones with them. You can also organize virtual meet ups by topic and others can choose to join the conversation if they’d like. Check out Whova’s 15 Tips on Networking During a Virtual Event to learn how you can maximize your time during an online conference.
Our team has attended conferences on three different platforms and we’re gaining insights on what’s been working and what could use improvements. We’re right there with you, learning what we can about the virtual event space so that we can serve you better.
What is it like to be an exhibitor at a virtual event?
The virtual conference experience for exhibitors is very different from in person events. Rather than having people stop by your booth to pick up your product and chat with you, people will browse your online profile to see what you offer. They can choose to message you if they’d like to learn more, and from there you can connect on a video chat, or you can carry on messaging back and forth using networking functions. You can also see who’s looking at your exhibitor profile in real time and initiate conversations yourself. You can then view all leads who have expressed interest in your booth and follow up with them after the event. Check out Whova’s 12 Ideas to Help Exhibitors Get Great ROI at Virtual Events.
Our co-founder, Denise Taschereau, recently presented in a ‘virtual’ break out at the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council’s recent conference, which shifted from an in–person event to a virtual one as a result of COVID-19. The organizers pre-recorded a 10-minute presentation and attendees could visit the session, watch the video and ask questions or follow up. We reconnected with existing clients and came out with a few well qualified leads.
Benefits of virtual conferences
While some will still prefer the in–person experience, there are many reasons for hosting events online. There are obvious benefits like reduced travel costs and carbon emissions, and technology allows for deeper analysis to help with improvements for future agendas. Some online event platforms can monitor audience engagement by reporting how many attendees have opened another web browser, which can help guide future content creation. For example, if attendees are losing interest after 15-20 minutes, planners know they need to adjust that content accordingly. This information can also help guide strategies for future in-person events.
Challenges of virtual conferences
While it may be easy to learn new things at a virtual conference, making real connections with people can be tough. If you’re attending a virtual conference, make sure you do your homework ahead of time to find out who else will be there and set up some meetings to chat one-on-one with the people or companies you’re interested in learning more about.
As a host or exhibitor, you may find it challenging to maximize your brand impact at a virtual conference. If you’re used to having your logo plastered all over the event hall or booth space, and engaging with attendees as they physically pass by you, you’ll now have to learn how to engage with people in a meaningful way on a virtual platform. One way to do this is through your branded merchandise.
How to use promotional products to maximize your brand impact at a virtual conference
It can be tough to leave a meaningful impression on your audience in a virtual space. In this moment, branded merchandise plays an even bigger role than usual, as it’s a tangible way for attendees to interact with your brand. We have a few tips for how you can use your merchandise to add a personal touch, maximizing your brand impact at a virtual conference.
Attendee Registration Gifts
If you’re planning a virtual conference, you’re likely going to be saving a lot of money on the event space, staff, travel and catering costs. Consider using some of this budget to have your branded merchandise shipped to each attendee in advance of the conference. It will help build anticipation for the event, and ensure attendees are prepared to get the most out of it. Consider gifting things like journal and pen sets, bluetooth earbuds, name tags, or white boards that people can use during live on-screen events. A recent favorite has been branded drinkware so attendees can share a morning coffee or a virtual happy hour with a sense of connection. Our co-founders recently spoke at an industry event called SKUCON at Home and the first attendees to sign up received an awesome gift pack in advance of the event.
Make sure your speakers know how much you value their time. Send them a nice thank you gift that will be useful in their daily life to help ensure your brand is always top of mind for them. Think reusable coffee mugs, webcam covers or snack bags. It’s a simple way to say thanks and connect them to your event or brand.
Contests are a great way to boost engagement during keynotes and at exhibitor booths. Build a contest that gets people involved in the content, choose a winner and ship them a prize post-conference! Encourage them to use the gift and tag you on social media amplify your brand.
Follow Up Gifts
If you’re an exhibitor, many platforms will create lead lists for you based on who showed interest in your profile during the conference. Follow up by mailing everyone a small gift to say thanks for their interest, with a call to action. If you don’t have the budget to gift everyone, sift through the list and segment your leads, prioritizing those who you’d most like to do business with.