Two Event Pros Have Done the Virtual Trial and Error to Help You Succeed

On an American Society of Business Publication Editors webinar last week focusing on virtual events, Christine Weiser, content/brand director, Tech & Learning, a Future plc division, posted a sample agenda from one of the first virtual events they hosted this year. The agenda makes a chemical engineering flow chart look simple.

“I share this to say we did this, we survived, but don’t do this.” And she laughed.

The “conference had 7 tracks [and went] for 10 hours—exactly 10 hours, you can ask my colleagues—and it was very well-received. We had over 1,300 attendees. But this is not the place to start. This is where you learn your lessons.”

After learning their lessons, their events have been worthwhile. Since launching a series of virtual events in March, they’ve had over 4,100 registrants. “Events have been great to introduce our content and brand to a whole new audience,” Weiser said.
Components of the events hub they ended up building included sponsor booths, live chats, video, and a registrant directory—“networking is such a missing piece right now,” she said.
The other speaker was Stephanie Martinez, general manager of ASU GSV Summit. They launched a series of webinars with over 17,000 registrants and are now planning a virtual event at the end of September with over 5,000 attendees. She also pointed to the opportunities now to build a bigger audience.
“A ticket to the event I’m working on now was $3,300 last year; [this will be much less], but we’ll have a chance to extend to a new audience, especially globally,” Martinez said.
“I had googled Zoom fatigue and there are 143,000,000 results, so now we’re competing with the attention of our audience” with so many things… “We should respect the limited attention of our attendees and think about not only the form but the function. We want to connect with them and not demand that they sit for hours on end in a chair watching a screen. They won’t be happy with us and will disengage.”
She also laughed briefly—just at the enormity of the challenge I think.
Here are some of their recommendations:

Start simple. Or you’ll end up with the engineering flow chart agenda.

“Always have some opportunity for interaction with your audience,” Weiser said. “So if it’s a passive” event may not be outwardly compelling, “we always add some live element. If it’s a pre-recorded keynote, we’ll end with a live Q&A. Also, if you can see the chat, that’s fun, it gets the audience interested and engaged through the Q&A.”

Keep individual sessions short, said Martinez. A larger panel can extend it a little bit. Something I noticed very quickly is you can’t allow individuals to dominate. It’s tough enough in person, but virtual you’re watching other people get disengaged. We’ve seen people looking at their phones and turning off their cameras. You just don’t want to be in that situation. The moderator has to keep things moving along especially in a panel discussion, making sure they’re giving equal time to the presenters.”
Repurpose. Even if you do live events, you should repurpose for podcasting. With Zoom, it’s very easy to push out an audio after the event. “We put a podcast out every week and gotten really good response,” Martinez said. “It’s really good to meet your audience where they are.”
Be willing to learn new skills, said Weiser. And apply them to the virtual world, though it’s all fairly similar. It’s a big misconception that virtual events don’t require the same skills sets.
Target your audience to meet their needs. They said half-day afternoons are the best for them, Weiser said. “They’re teachers. The nice thing about access on demand is that people know they can pop in and out during the day.”
Market to a global audience. They don’t have to pay for flights.
Give some choices if possible. This is good because people like to have some control over their experience.
Choose your platform with attention to what your audience wants. It’s a misconception that if I just get this cool platform it will happen. Martinez said she got matched with six people she didn’t know for 5-minute conversations. “And if you like someone, then 5 minutes isn’t enough. (The platform was Run the World.)
Experiment with pricing. Weiser said they charged just $25 but the got over 1,300 people. “We had no idea,” she said. “Will they pay more? For education they do have professional development budgets.” She said if you do price low be ready for late signups.
An engaging speaker is an engaging speaker. Asked about the difference between presenting in-person and virtually, both did say that yes, there are differences—such as more speaker prep—but if they are a good speaker then it shouldn’t matter. Just ask how they prefer to present and check your contracts so the on-demand is included.

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