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Hybrid or Virtual Events?

Tips for Keeping Remote Events Engaging and Different Than a Typical Webinar

 

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With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on the minds of people across the globe, quarantines, travel restrictions and gathering limitations are changing by the minute (and vary state by state). The majority of international travel is being postponed or canceled so it comes as little surprise that some meetings and events are following suit. Instead of completely canceling or postponing your event we recommend transforming your event into a hybrid event or a complete remote/virtual event. A hybrid event blends the live, in-person experience with a remote virtual conference and gives attendees who do not want to travel the option to still attend. Both virtual and hybrid conferences or events will ease the fears of attendees who are hesitant about traveling or being around large groups of people, but both present challenges to you as a meeting planner or an event professional. Not only do you have to source and set up the technology needed to conduct an event online (often at the last minute if plans are changing), but how do you offer the same experience and value to attendees as your typical in-person event does?

1. Invest in the right technology

There are many options on the market for virtual events and even though time may be short from when you decide to include virtual options or make the switch entirely it is incredibly valuable for the attendee experience that you take the time to find the technology that works best for your group. Take the time to make sure the software is easy to use and set up and the instructions provided to attendees are straightforward and easy to understand. 

Utilize an event app (or pick a platform) where attendees can not only chat and network with one another but participate in activities. Give them the ability to type in questions for speakers, respond to surveys or live polls and create discussion boards or Q&A’s to keep attendees engaged not only with speakers but with each other. Networking, brainstorming and socializing should still be priorities in virtual meetings and for those attending virtually. 

Consider picking an app or platform that allows you to add a gamification aspect to the event. You can then create rules for various challenges and have a leader board that tracks all the desired actions of the attendees. Award points for participating in networking, engaging with the speakers and community, sharing your event on social media, or give points for visiting sponsors’ websites. This friendly competition will increase exposure for your event and create the networking and engagement your attendees have come to expect from your face to face events. Gain some additional exposure for your brand or sponsors by rewarding the leaderboard with branded prizes (one idea is to give a grand prize to the overall leader and the top 10, 25, or 50 another smaller branded prize or prize pack).  

Offer additional value to your attendees by making the recordings of the presenters available for a number of weeks or even months (are we crazy to suggest a full year?). The ability for them to reference the information will increase what they take away from each speaker and the knowledge they (and their coworkers) feel they gained at your event. 

2. Stick to the brand or feel you developed for your event 

With some or all of your attendees remote it can be a challenge for them to feel like they are attending your event from their desk or couch. Below are some ideas on how to keep remote attendees feeling more like they are attending an event. 

  1. Send remote attendees the same swag they would receive in person, or if the event is fully virtual make sure to send swag as part of the registration packet. In addition to what you might usually source consider headphones, hand sanitizer, Clorox or other sanitizing wipes, travel packets of tissues, self-cleaning water bottles, and smartphone sanitizing cases.
  2. Consider putting together a packet of printed materials or sending a branded folder that they can keep all the event materials in. This will give them something tangible to leave the event with and an easy way for them to locate the materials from the event and showcase the knowledge they gained. Bonus - they won’t be able to say “I can’t remember where I learned (or found) this.”. 
  3. Provide speakers with a branded polo shirt or button with the event logo so when their upper body is on the screen your branding is still visible. 
  4. Offer sponsors the opportunity or display your branding on a step and repeat behind every speaker whether they are a virtual speaker or in person. Step and repeats aren’t limited to your typical 8’x 8’ free-standing displays. For virtual presenters consider wall decals or static decals on the walls directly behind where the speaker is. 
  5. Offer sponsors or exhibitors to sponsor breakouts or speakers (as you usually might) or the chance to invest in pop up ads, banners or push notification on the app.

There are many companies that offer the items above or contact us for assistance from one of our experts. 

3. Personalization

We all know personalization is one of the top ways to make events more engaging but can often struggle with how best to personalize events. One of the most positive by-products to come out of making the switch to hybrid or virtual events is the ease at which you can personalize the attendee experience. No longer does an attendee have to choose between two presenters speaking at the same, time they can simply view the recording of the speaker they weren’t able to “attend” at the scheduled time. You can allow attendees to further personalize their experience by choosing their preferred methods of networking through the app or technology platform you use for your event. Do they prefer to message 1-on-1, interact on social media or brainstorm in group chat forums? 

Just like your in-person events, you can continue to personalize invitations based on past behavior or attendance and recommend sessions based on various demographic factors (are they sales, marketing, tech, etc.) and send session notes they would be most interested in or for sessions they attended. 

With hosting (and housing) all the event’s content online you add the ability to send additional sessions they might be interested in based on what they have viewed (think Amazon, “you might also be interested in”, but for meetings and events). This will give your attendees incredible added value by exposing them to sessions they may not have attended otherwise (or may not have been able to attend based on scheduling). Consider giving them the ability to share a session or two with coworkers, if they love what they see and hear they might be interested in accompanying their coworker in attending next year.  

Conclusion 

Even without the minute-by-minute changes to travel and gathering size restrictions, planning a meeting or event has its challenges. Use some of these tips to create a truly personalized and engaging experience for your virtual attendees and stand out from all the webinars out there.

Pick an app or platform that:

  • Is easy to set up
  • Is easy for attendees to use
  • Promotes engagement (type questions, respond to polls, discussion boards, Q&A, etc.)
  • Has networking (1-on-1 chat, social networking, group chats, brainstorming sessions, etc.)
  • Offers Gamification
  • Hosts materials and recordings for at least a few months
  • Gives you the ability to personalize to each attendee
  • Offers push notifications or other sponsor opportunities

Consider additional branding:

  • Send swag to remote attendees 
  • Send a branded folder or printed materials 
  • Provide each speaker with branding (sticker, button, polo, etc.)
  • Brand the space behind speakers (step-and-repeats or other messaging)
  • Offer sponsors pop up ads, banners or push notifications

If you are able to conduct an in-person or hybrid event check out our Tips for Keeping Your Event Hygienic Amidst Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

If you do have to cancel your event entirely consider sending out handwritten notes or personalized messages with stickers or swag promoting the next event. For example  “I look forward to seeing you at our next event in the fall!” with a sticker, sunglasses (seeing you), or branded item that has your logo or the next event logo and dates.

Courtney Zgraggen
Written by Courtney Zgraggen

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