Virtual events have turned into a reality for conferences across the globe as a result of COVID-19, with the trend likely to stay, even post-pandemic. In fact, the global virtual events market size is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.2% from 2020 to 2027.
Online conferences hold a lot of potential–even for those who are brand new to the game. With access to a wider demographic of attendees, the ability to record and reuse content, and newfound data on attendees, speakers and sponsors, it’s vital that you get it right and maximize these benefits. One way to do this is to take from the experiences and lessons learned by other event organizers that have already gone virtual during the pandemic.
Having now held the first fully virtual Mobile Growth Summit (MGS), we’d like to share our top five lessons from running our first online event.
Pre-event education is key
If you’re throwing your first virtual event, you have to remember that this is likely not just a first for you–but also for your sponsors, attendees, and speakers. That’s why it’s vital to channel extra efforts into educating each of these stakeholders.
For example, with most sponsors, setting up a virtual booth is a much more complex process than managing a physical one. This means sponsors might require more pre-event handholding and instruction on how to get everything set up on the backend.
When it comes to virtual event attendees, it’s crucial that they’re prepared too. Creating content that gives them an idea of what to expect and things to consider ahead of the event will help guide their experience and make them feel more confident about navigating the conference when it happens. At least a few weeks ahead of the event, share blogs and “How-to” explainers on using the platform and the best ways to optimize time during the conference.
We adapted our ads strategy to be more educational for potential attendees, as well as confirmed ones. We realized that people viewing ads often couldn’t visualize what a virtual event would be like, so we displayed clips of the platform in action within ads to demonstrate that it’s much more than a simple webinar.
With your speakers, it’s vital to set up a solid workflow well in advance and deliver the training and information they need ahead of time. We achieved this with our first virtual MGS and it was the reason that the speaker slots ran smoothly and successfully.
Carefully consider your chosen platform
A solid technology infrastructure is foundational to the success of your virtual event. Just imagine–your keynote speaker is giving their speech and the platform crashes. Or your attendees are networking away and they can’t load the profiles of their new industry connections. There’d be nothing worse!
That’s why you must ensure that the tech platform you choose is reliable and fully functional – well ahead of the event. The good news is that there are a number of reputable options out there, and the sector is only expected to grow further off the back of the pandemic.
While making this decision, you should create a detailed list of everything you require for successful execution. For our upcoming virtual MGS events, we’ll ensure we have a more robust agenda widget and that the event platform is fully up-and-running for weeks, if not months, ahead of time.
It’s vital to do your due diligence when it comes to selecting your tech partner–conduct a thorough reference check and gain insights from other people in the industry. Lastly, make sure that the tech platform has an up-to-date demo that they can show you. You don’t want to be anyone’s guinea pig for their first big project!
Prioritize attendee experience
Just as you would go the extra mile to make your physical event space easy and enjoyable to navigate, you need to do the same with your online user experience (UX). Attendees need to feel like they can intuitively get around the platform so they don’t miss out on any important sessions or get frustrated during the experience.
You can ensure this by conducting user-testing the UX ahead of the event to analyze where people get stuck. It could also pay to provide an FAQs sheet to attendees beforehand to clear up any common technical queries.
Providing excellent attendee experience means more than just smooth UX–offering opportunities to network and integrating gamification are also great ways to boost attendee engagement–but these can’t be after-thoughts that are added on at the last minute. You’ll need to ensure your platform can support these different types of audience interactions and make them straightforward to use for attendees.
Consider building out your team
Running a virtual event is a whole different ball game to a physical one, so it’s likely your team will also resemble something different to the usual. There are a few roles that we found to be even more important when running virtual events, so it could pay to direct extra resources towards these positions.
- Technical project manager: You’ll need someone who’s constantly dedicated to managing the tech side of things, while also staying on top of general operations and managing teams.
- Content manager: In order to educate your attendees, sponsors, and speakers with everything they need to get prepped, it’ll pay to have an extra person who heads up your content creating efforts.
- Sponsor relationship manager: With the extra support needed for sponsors, it’s a good idea to dedicate extra resources to managing those relationships and making sure they have everything they need. We like to offer a white glove service to our sponsors, so replicating this while they navigate the online event world was crucial.
Automation and scalability are paramount
Last up is the importance of being able to automate and scale your online conference. Virtual events often have to cater to hundreds or thousands of attendees more than their physical counterparts, which can make manual processes such as sending individual emails laborious at best, and impossible at worst.
Ensuring you have the functionality in place to be able to automate and scale the features and opportunities at attendees’ disposal to cater for widespread interest is vital. We combined three different MGS events in three different time zones all over the same period–anything that wasn’t automated and able to scale became a headache during the virtual event.
Whether they come in hybrid form post-pandemic, or in their entirety to cater to more geographies or simply save on overhead costs, virtual events are here to stay. It’s crucial to recognize the benefits that come from going online, even if it’s an approach you’ve been forced to adopt due to the pandemic. While there are certain elements of in-person conferences that cannot be truly replicated in a virtual setting, you can reach new communities and markets, and support connections that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. By embracing the virtual model and taking on important lessons from others in the industry, you can be sure to maximize these benefits.