The world of events has shifted. For the foreseeable future, large gatherings are going to be on hold, which means the online world is how we will connect, meet, celebrate and continue to do business. While hybrid and virtual events provide a variety of benefits to businesses, including potential cost savings, many of the same skill sets and vendors needed for in-person events are still going to be needed in this new format.
To do it this new format well, you’ll still need staging (though probably on a smaller scale), rentals, A/V, social media promotions, email campaigns, and sponsors. You can forego the catering, though doing a door delivery to attendees will really set you apart, and cut the printed materials budget down to just cover signage. (Hooray for no more name tags!)
But after attending a couple of these virtual event myself, there are three things you cannot afford to cut:
- An engagement platform for virtual attendees to interact with the speakers and each other
- Clear communications about how the virtual component works
- A monitor for the virtual program’s chatbox
Why You Need an Engagement Platform
Even though your virtual attendees may not be paying a ticket price (or at least a less expensive one) to go to your event, they are still taking time out of their day to hear what you have to say, learn something and/or help promote your event.
Give them a way to actually do that! Without polling, a Q&A with speakers, or a chatbox that the speakers can see and respond to, they are really just viewers to whatever is happening in person. And let me tell you from experience, nothing feels less awesome than signing up to attend a hybrid event, only to get there and find out the organizers didn't care enough about you showing up to provide any content directly for you. Instead, they simply provided you with a window into what the in-person attendees got to actually experience.
Guess what? That sucks. That is not the feeling you want your virtual attendees to have--at least not one any of my clients would allow. We all want to feel included, from the playground to the virtual event sphere, so be sure you do that.
Want to really up the ante for your hybrid event? Create some content that’s exclusively tailored to each type of audience: in-person and virtual.
Why You Need Clear Pre-Event Email Communications
I honestly cannot say this loudly or boldly enough. Would you point a speaker in the direction of their breakout room and say, “OK, there it is! Good luck!”
Clearly not. That same logic extends to the virtual side of the event. A single comment in that chatbox can be all it takes to light the conversation on fire--in a good or very negative way. Ensure you are on the former side of that by sending clear pre-event email communications to the virtual attendees outlining:
- The link for accessing the general session
- The schedule of panels, speakers and their social handles
- How to access breakout rooms (if applicable)
- How the polling and/or Q&A function with the speakers works during presentations
- What they can expect between panels? Do they go to another room? Have custom content? Sit and twiddle their thumbs?
- Where to go for questions
- How you want them to use the chatbox
By providing this up front, you will be reducing the potential for any logistical questions in your chatbox or on social media, which can turn from a simple inquiry into a firestorm of “I’m confused!” “I don’t know what’s next,” “These people don’t know what they are doing,” and “This is a mess. I’m leaving.”
These are not the type of comments you want dominating that chatbox. But, without clear email communications up front, that is precisely what will happen. (I know because I lived it.)
Why You Should Monitor That Chatbox
You’ve sent out your email to virtual attendees, they (presumably) know what to expect, and now the event is here. Be sure to remind your speakers how they can engage with the virtual audience (i.e., polling and Q&A function) and that they need to remind online attendees of how to do that before they pop up a poll or question.
Yes you’ve sent an email, but you still need the speaker to make the announcement. The panel or session begins and, if you’ve done your job as a planner well, conversation in that chatbox starts.
Now comes the imperative role of the monitor. This person should be there to answer questions quickly (someone will inevitably forget what you emailed them), prompt questions if the chat is lagging, and watch the conversation. Yes, I said, “Watch the conversation”--not participate in it.
Their role is monitor, not commenter. They are there to make sure the convection flows and stays positive and productive. Sure, attendees can offer dissent and debate about what the speaker is saying, but the monitor should quickly address any technical or logistical issues attendees bring up in the chat.
The chatbox is gold for any event planner or marketer. Forget post-event surveys you hope and pray attendees fill out. This live chatbox is direct, real-time feedback on the efficacy of your event. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by!
Plus, monitoring these conversations can also help avoid a potential PR disaster if the conversation goes off the rails, which can happen quickly. It’s always great to have a crisis PR plan, but with some forethought and planning, you shouldn’t have to implement it.
Channing Muller is an award-winning marketing and public relations consultant and the principal of DCM Communications, based in Chattanooga, Tenn. She works with event professionals and business owners to grow and scale their businesses with refined marketing strategies developed through one-on-one and group consulting, customized marketing programs and public relations. She was included on the 2020 Special Events Magazine list of “Young Event Pros to Watch.”