Event Canceled? How to Make the Switch to a Virtual Event1 min read

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Faced with the spread of COVID-19 and statewide “Stay at Home” orders, many professionals are looking for ways to lessen the impact it could have on them, and those around them for the coming weeks or months. 
Travel is becoming incredibly limited and social distancing is the new normal, so companies are starting to rethink their planned events – both internal and external. With the growing list of events canceling, event organizers are faced with tough decisions to make. 
As 2020 steamrolls ahead, we’re seeing a lot of companies switch to 100% virtual events, and canceling the in-person portion of their conferences.  Adobe Summit and Facebook F8 have done exactly that, and with big success. 
No matter the event you’re looking to host, virtual events can help you stay engaged with your customers and employees, even if you can’t all be together physically.  

Live video truly is the best option, next to face-to-face interaction, to make sure that your people feel like they are ‘in the know’ in an increasingly digital world. 
Audrey Plaskacz
Global Director of Internal Communications, Lululemon 

Making the Move to Virtual Events in 2020

Over the last few weeks, we’ve received calls from event organizers wanting to fire up a virtual event, and fast. 
Right now, everyone’s priority is their staff and community’s safety. Canceling something that is intended to be enjoyable, social, and informative is a major upset. Everyone works so hard to make the event perfect, but it happens and all you can really do is be prepared. 
Virtual events are becoming the go-to Plan B. They can be fairly simple and quick to put together, relatively cheap, and they offer a sense of the event being “live.” 

There’s an interesting dynamic and feedback loop that you can create through live streaming that brings you closer to your audience outside of the room. 
Jamed Falik
Visual Design Team Lead, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)  

Virtual events are valuable alternatives to large and small events

Ensuring the safety of your staff, attendees, and the community is the main reason to go “Virtual” right now, but there are many other reasons that hosting a virtual event can be a valuable addition to your efforts. 
Virtual events are scalable, and allow hosts to reach a much larger audience than a physical event. Location and logistics always play a key role for attendees deciding on what events to attend, but with virtual events, that’s no longer a deciding factor. 
If you’ve made the decision to turn your physical event into a virtual event, but aren’t sure where to start, follow these 5 tips to get going in the right direction. 

Recommended Reading: Virtual Events: A Comprehensive Guide

1. Think About and Change Your Format 

What works for live events will not always work for virtual events. You should first consider your audience, and build your format around their needs. You might want to break up your presentations into smaller pieces, add more breaks, or get different people to take over different, smaller parts of it to allow your audience to take breaks. 
If your event was a multi-day event, you could turn it into a series of smaller virtual events spread out over weeks. That is an easy way to build excitement, and allow your audience to not get overloaded with content. 

2. Choose the Right Technology 

Technology to host virtual events is growing rapidly, especially with the high demand due to COVID-19.  
Programs like Zoom, GoToMeeting, and GetResponse are webinar platforms created to handle large audiences and facilitate audience questions. Out of those platforms, Zoom is the only one with a free (but limited) option. While they all carry a subscription for the unlimited features, they will greatly improve the virtual event experience. 
To increase attendee engagement, you should invest in having an event app developed for your virtual event. Your event app can have polls, attendee chat, and surveys , and they are good place to house all the event material and schedule. It will also allow for push notifications to remind your attendees when the next event is happening. 
Social media is also a powerful tool for any virtual event. Getting your attendees to tweet about the event, or share their thoughts on Facebook will raise awareness of the event and help build your audience. Coming up with an event hashtag is helpful for keeping people engaged while also keeping it easy to find all the social shares related to your virtual event. 

3. Feature Engaging Speakers 

When you have an in-person event, it’s fairly easy to hold people’s attention, but keeping that attention during a virtual event is a huge challenge. This is probably going to be the most difficult part to overcome when transitioning to a virtual event. If you think you’ll be able to keep people engaged by just winging it, you’ll learn quickly that your audience will find other things to do with their time. Using multiple speakers to present your material will keep things fresh and entertaining and will go a long way with keeping your attendees engaged. 

4. Prepare Your Content for Virtual 

Make sure you have rock-solid content to share and try using supporting presentations, graphics, and videos that will help keep your attendees engaged during your event. 
Your audience will likely be following along on a laptop, iPad, or even mobile device, so encourage everyone to view all of your content or supplemental material, but prepare it for smaller-screen viewing vs having it shown on a large screen. It’s also important to allow your attendees to view your content at their own pace. With coronavirus forcing everyone to shelter at home, parents now likely have kids or pets trying to win their time. This is another idea why having a mobile event app is a good idea. You can load the content just ahead of the virtual event, and it will all be in one place for your audience to view at their own speed, and while they watch the meeting. 

5. Promote the Big Day 

You finally have everything ready to go and you’ll need to promote it just like any other event you host. Think of all the ways you reach your attendees for your in-person events, like email, social media, and website campaigns, and tailor them to match the look of your virtual event. Another good idea is to create and include a calendar link so your guests can add it to their calendars and keep it top of mind. If your event requires registration, make sure you get that out prior to the day of the event. Most of the virtual event platforms mentioned above include promotional tools, so get familiar with those and add them to your arsenal.  

6. Prepare for “Murphy’s Law” 

“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” but don’t let that scare you off! If you identify the things that might go wrong, you can create a plan for how to handle them. Go in with a plan, a solid technology platform, and the right support, and you’ll be prepared for anything that comes your way. 

Next Steps 

Are you ready to make the jump and turn your in-person event into a virtual event? We are here and ready to assist you. Let us help re-create the experience your attendees would get from in-person events virtually- and keep your audience engaged. If you would like to see how we handle virtual events, give us a call or send an email. We know this is new to everyone and we are happy to help guide you through this process!  

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