Virtual events are still a relatively new phenomenon. A recent study found that only 33% of event planners have hosted a virtual event. However, 70% of those who have hosted virtual events said they plan to host more. In addition, live streaming in-person events have grown exponentially. It has been estimated that 81% of digital audiences watched more live video in 2016 than in 2015. And this number is expected to grow into the 2020s.
But what is a virtual event? It’s more than just live streaming. Virtual events are any occasion at which an attendee can join and participate from anywhere in the world via the Internet. The event could be a pre-recorded lecture or panel discussion. It could be a webinar or a completely online conference that includes interaction on message boards and social media. Or, it could be a live video streaming of an in-person event. Each type of virtual event has tremendous merit and should be included in your event planning skills toolbox. The possibilities really depend on your goals and the audience for which you are planning an event.
If you are planning an in-person conference, meeting or educational event, a live virtual event can be a lucrative value add. It creates another revenue stream as well as a way to promote your event to a new group of prospective attendees, those that can’t travel to your event location. Of course, you should make sure your virtual experience doesn’t distract attention during the in-person event or cannibalize the in-person event group in terms of ticket sales. But if you implement an effective marketing strategy, both in-person and virtual events can peacefully coexist.
So, how do you pull this off? First and foremost, plan your strategy. Who is your target audience? Where are they? How will they view your event? What will they find valuable in a virtual event? Create a marketing persona for this new prospective attendee so you can make good planning decisions that will attract them to attend your virtual event.
Next, choose parts of your in-person event agenda to host virtually. You don’t necessarily have to stream the whole event if it’s not conducive to do so. Choose speakers, panel discussions, or performers that are visual and interactive. Preview all of their materials to ensure that they will exhibit well online. Your presenters should be interesting, engaging, and comfortable interacting with audiences both in person and virtually. It is always a good idea to include your keynote or most well-known speaker in your virtual event plan because they are your best marketing draw.
Take time to research the equipment and digital platform you will use to live stream your event. It’s imperative in order to avoid technical glitches on the event day. If the budget is tight, you could use your own smartphone, a closed Facebook account, and a powerful Wi-Fi connection. If you do end up using a free service, make sure that the service will allow you to sell tickets online to view the live stream. With a larger budget, there are paid live streaming services or standalone platforms that could provide the tools you need for a very professional live stream complete with optional interactive chats for Q&A, shared presentation screens, an exhibit area, advertising for sponsors, or live polling.
In addition to the live stream, build a compelling benefits package to offer as a sales pitch for your virtual event. How can you add extra value to compensate for not being there in person? Create special content such as e-books or white papers that virtual attendees are able to download. Schedule special online gatherings such as private Q&A sessions with speakers for virtual attendees. Upload transcripts or speaker notes of the virtual event after it is over for attendees to access. Once you’ve designed your virtual event and its benefits, set a price that covers your costs but is still affordable for your intended audience.
Now you are ready to promote your virtual event to your target audience. Make sure to include your virtual event on your event ticket website and in any other in-person event marketing you’ve got planned, but also deploy separate messaging streams to promote just the virtual event. Social media, SEM, retargeting campaigns, and other digital ads are all very suitable methods if you segment and target the audience correctly. Highlight the virtual accessibility of your event so that attendees understand the benefit of experiencing your event in the comfort of their own location and at a lower cost. That’s your main selling point. Add the extra features that you’ve created to drive the value-add point home and create conversion.
With a little event planning skill and the right digital platform, you can enhance an in-person event with interactive virtual event experience. You’ll set your brand apart from the crowd and add a lucrative revenue stream. That is a win-win!
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