During these pandemic days a lot of physical events are getting cancelled and businesses are trying to host virtual conferences. As a lot of us did not had previous experiences of hosting virtual conferences, to write this article we asked several business managers who already hosted full virtual events. Mary Ellen Dugan, chief marketing officer of WP Engine is one of them who last week hosted his company’s annual forum last week, Alix Hart, the head of digital marketing at NVIDIA recently converted the GPU Technology Conference to a collection of online meetings and live keynotes, and finally, Lisa Riley, the head of events at Forrester company were able to convert annual SD Summit into a fully virtual conference in just 45 days.
Below are 9 tips based on their expertise and experiences to help you plan your virtual conference.
Set clear goals
Riley outlined three clear objectives for the SD Summit: to provide its experts with thought-provoking leadership content, to create a sense of community for its attendees, and to develop a marketplace for connecting customers with sponsoring sellers. She claimed that clear goals helped them to be agile, “We weren’t afraid of failure even though we realized we were moving in the right path. So it was extremely necessary because we needed to be bold to make those choices [quickly].
Determine duration of the event
The SD Summit maintained its contiguous three-day schedule, but restricted the time from 10:00 to 2:00 EST to gain maximum scheduled engagement. NVIDIA has taken a distinct strategy. Hart said, “We have decided to make GTC an expanded conference and to keep it open. Our six-week event did give us time to produce content, collaborate with our sponsors, and work with the panellists to ensure we got the content right. Our keynote and releases were six weeks just after start of the GTC event.
Merge events and digital marketing teams
Digital marketing managers are also responsible for pre-event advertising and post-event follow-ups. Events Teams manage their experiences from registration to rip down. Virtual conferences are very different. Hart said, “For the digital marketing teams, GTC became a ‘during’ activation. There were a lot more emails and social content than we could connect and inform people of what’s accessible and bring them back to the session catalogue to plan the conferences they want to take part in. “Riley agreed,” I believe the greatest learning for us was that we had to advertise a lot more sparkly of what our virtual event was. I wish we should have shared a lot more of the experience.
Align live appointment sessions with on
demand content-Most virtual conferences are organized around key tent presentations that motivate broad audiences and break-out meetings which provide personalized content to smaller groups. Virtual conferences aren’t any different. Riley stated that Forrester “puts our best thinking keynotes at the start of each day, at the start of the week” and then arranged 175 meetings to accompany the keynotes. NVIDIA saved its lectures for the end and yet performed on-demand Deep Learning sessions during its multi-week event. All meetings for both businesses were available on demand after their initial air time.
Optimize session for Virtual Viewers
How do you keep attendees motivated and involved in a virtual world? WP Engine’s Dugan said, “We hosted live music and had DJs from our own team, which was a big hit.” Riley said, “We had a much televised perspective of how we were looking to develop our event,” she concluded, “The TEDx concept is a success for a cause. But we’ve trimmed our meetings down to 20 minutes from 45 minutes. “Just don’t forget to arrange breaks so that the people can get up and walk on a regular basis. They’re going to stay fresher and more focused.
Facilitate audience interaction
One of the advantages of participating in conferences is to communicate with speakers and connect with people in the business. Virtual conferences can achieve the same objectives using a variety of methods. Dugan clarified, “We had the full online streaming of presentations, but we as well had seven chat rooms that individuals could enter, plus the full participant one. We saw a lot of chat traffic for those who wished to network and ask questions. “Forrester initiated chat sessions with each speaker after their lectures, including letting speakers ask questions to their listeners.” It took the participants to go to one or two workshops to grasp the full capacity. It was fantastic once they could get through all that! “Riley said.
Select supporting technologies
Due to the various types of meetings, different technology systems will be required. Main tent live meetings and recorded breakout workshops often can use similar systems. Q&A moderation may have to be a separate tool. On-demand certification classes can utilize your existing infrastructure. Team building and supporting showrooms can involve the creation of entirely new systems. Not confident where to start, here’s a link to G2’s summary of virtual conference platforms.
Make wayfinding easy for participants
Programs and signs help direct attendees to their desired physical event sessions. But the experience of the user is unique for virtual conferences and events. The user experience of the event platform is critical to ensure that the participants can easily find relevant sessions. Hart recognized this in a region that will be improved by NVIDIA in the future. “We’re going to improve and get better on how you transfer from one session to another. That could be user experience design, such as ‘If you like this then, the next thing you need to watch is this.’ We’re thinking about these kinds of recommendation engines with the help of AI, and how you move people from the first session to the next.”
Don’t ignore the sponsors
The business model of most conferences requires sponsorship from companies ready to pay for targeted exposure and the ability to hold a conversations with prospects. Dugan said, “We had different demo rooms for every sponsor. They were around there to talk and show clips to the attendees. It was the best way to engage the sponsors. “Forrester went even further as per Riley,” We knew the lead generation had been a real concern. And we were able to promote the sponsors’ presentations and events. They had forum and chat features to communicate with the participants. And the best thing about the digital world is that we’re rich in data. We were willing to offer almost real-time data not only for who they did meet, and also who came to the session so that they could go back and follow the lead.
Perhaps now is the time to arrange your very first virtual conference. These marketers handled theirs for as little as 5 weeks of time to prepare. With new agility and awareness to delivering great content in a digital environment, you can also be able to interact your potential customers in a new way.