Surekha Ragavan
Oct 22, 2020

How to successfully run a virtual event (and mistakes to avoid)

The analogue era of face-to-face events may be coming to an end, and this means that marketers need to ramp up the creativity and engagement virtually.

How to successfully run a virtual event (and mistakes to avoid)

Webinars, product launches, brand campaigns, Zumba classes, earnings calls. Whatever the event may be, the last 10 months has forced marketers and organisations to move their entire agenda online, and suddenly, the industry was thrust with fresh challenges. How can you engage audiences in the same way a physical event does? How can you reduce log-off rates at a virtual event? Can the ‘theatre’ of a physical event be proportionately reproduced?

A new report by Ogilvy on virtual events mentioned that Covid has perpetually changed people’s behaviours towards large-crowd events. This behavioural change has already been leveraged by popular brands such as Fortnite, which recently partnered with rapper Travis Scott to provide an in-game music performance, drawing more than ten million fans.

But there are a few things to consider before slicing away your event production budget and simply depending on Zoom for the entirety of your virtual needs. Just as how you would think of a physical event flow—beginning with pre-event registration right up to post-event follow-ups—a virtual event flow should be conceptualised in a similar way.

Andréanne Leclerc, regional managing partner and Asia’s head of social at Ogilvy, says that the same rules might still apply, except that some elements need to be “dialled up” in a virtual setting.

“Before an event, you would register and receive information about the agenda. What might change a little bit here is, you might need to create a profile that people will be able to see, or in some cases, an avatar for people to use,” says Leclerc.

At a physical event, there could be ‘fringe’ activities or different sections such as side tents, fireside chats, or simultaneous presentations. And those things can very much happen at a virtual event as well, with breakout rooms, for instance, holding different conversations and topics.

Leclerc adds that a huge boon of virtual events is that they serve as a better model for lead generation.

“You really have a full lead gen funnel that you can track from pre- to post-event. Usually, people might visit your booth at an event and you give them a business card, but it might be difficult to follow up,” she says.

“But with virtual events, you can track email information and it’s much easier to follow up with people, so that's been a massive game-changer in monetising events. It really is something amazing for brands, because they get to gather more data to execute better lead gen.”

One area where organisers might not be fully capitalising is the post-event follow-up. Leclerc says that retargeting people with content or a follow-up meeting is much easier now, and there are more ways to do that.

“It’s too short-term at the moment; brands really need to look at how they carry on the conversation after their presentation whether it’s using some of the content on their channels or to engage with journalists. So I think it's really mistaken to look at a virtual event as a one-off thing,” she says.

“It could even be a post-event survey, someone connecting with you on social media to get a conversation going, someone inviting you to join a group if you have similar interests. Anything to start a [post-event] dialogue.”

OUTSTANDING VIRTUAL EVENTS

> European tourism board Visit Faroe Islands (VFI) found itself struggling to retain visitor interest, so it launched twice-daily virtual tours of the archipelago through a camera attached to a tour guide’s head ala a gaming world. The best part is: Viewers get to direct their guides as they ‘walk’ through the tour. Yes, you can even could even get your guide to run or jump.

Faroe Islands' virtual tour

> Due to the pandemic, many schools in Japan were forced to cancel physical graduation ceremonies. But some elementary schools decided to go down a creative route by incorporating Minecraft into their virtual ceremonies. Apparently, students ended up spending the entire day together while playing games and laughing. Just look at the look of pure joy on this little boy’s face. The same concept was used at a graduation ceremony for University of Pennsylvania.

Minecraft graduation ceremony

Engagement is always a challenge with virtual events. Attendees may not be as committed to stay for the full event as they would at a physical event, partly because of a lower barrier to entry when it comes to online events.

“When you go to an event in-person, you make an effort to get there so you're more likely to stay there for the full thing. [For a virtual event], it’s important to think about exclusivity and creating those subspaces for people to convene. And when you build your programme, you want to save some exciting things for the end,” says Leclerc.

One way to do this would be to simulate specific behaviours at a physical event. People attend events for many reasons: to learn, discover, engage with others, create, visualise and experiment. So it’s worth thinking about how these functions are being recreated in a virtual setting beyond a one-way Zoom lecture.

When it comes to new formats to play around with, Leclerc implies that there’s been an overdependence on Zoom and the conservative webinar set-up. She mentions that brands are not yet fully leveraging social media at its capacity, or diversifying audio formats such as podcasting. One area she predicts will boom as a result of the pandemic is AR and VR.

“VR and AR experiences are going to be the ultimate option, and people are looking forward to that. I think that's where you can really gain frame and excite people,” she says. The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), for instance, has partnered up with Microsoft to create a fully virtual show next year complete with attendees being able to ‘walk on the show floor’ and ‘enter different conference rooms’.

And if you do set out to hold a virtual event, Leclerc suggests to never make it free. “The issue when something is free is that people perceive it of less value. Often, we've seen that with free events, the no-show rates are quite high,” she says.

"Of course if you're offering something exclusive like a celebrity, people will tune in. But really think about the value of what you're offering."

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