The COVID-19 pandemic changed how people gather. We lost in-person experiences in our industry, but we found a virtual world. Now since regions and locales have opened back up, for the most part, we have a new hybrid event format that combines the best of both worlds. This hybrid approach to conferences and meetings is here to stay.
I recently attended the American Marketing Association’s 2021 Digital Marketing Virtual Conference, during which the marketing team from Cvent—a meetings, events and hospitality technology provider—shared insights on current trends. Below are a few key takeaways from the learning session that can help you decide which direction to take your next event, large or small.
Events are becoming increasingly digital. If you are planning a meeting, conference, training session (webinar) or other type of event, your marketing, sales and information technology (IT) staff need to partner and work more collaboratively to create multi-audience, multiformat events.
For the purpose of this blog, “multi-audience” simply refers to in-person and online attendees. The three event formats are in-person, virtual and hybrid. While all three formats have staying power, we will focus on virtual and hybrid events.
Virtual. In-person events are bound by point of time and place. The virtual environment, however, can be used to extend the life of the event to further engage your audience. It can be a nearly endless event that condenses content and experiences together in an interactive setting. You can provide live sessions and later archive them for on-demand access so people can attend as their schedules allow.
Hybrid. These types of events combine in-person and online audiences along with audiences who could not attend in real time. Formatting for different audience types adds more complexity to planning—you are essentially executing two events at the same time—but there is a high payoff in that you can reach a broader audience.
How to Execute Events Going Forward
Be more agile. The pandemic is ongoing, and at any time, an in-person event may have to change to virtual or vice versa. Organizations must have:
Flexibility: Change budgets and contracts from annual to quarterly so you can pivot when needed.
Alignment: Break down silos between teams handling in-person meetings and online programs. Marketing, sales and IT staff must work together to drive more engagement. Make sure departments are aligned on goals, key performance indicators and data. Use tech tools to unify data and make it accessible across teams.
Automation: The more processes are automated, the less time is spent on tedious manual tasks—freeing up your time to focus on other opportunities.
How to Generate Interest/Engagement for Virtual Events
Open registration early and provide access to the event a couple of weeks before it takes place. In other words, provide the schedule, keynote speakers and summaries of sessions, training and networking events. Allow people to make appointments and give them a virtual destination (i.e., webpage or mobile app) to build their schedules.
Provide apps to extend the conversation through chat options, etc. A good example is World of Concrete’s mobile app, which allows users to look up exhibitors, floor plans and education sessions, add them to their schedules, connect with other attendees and even access social media.
Also, don’t make your webinar or virtual event a static presentation with a talking head next to it. Vary layouts and graphics. Make it feel more like TV—high production, high value.
Tech to Invest in for 2022: Video Production Tools
This technology has advanced over the past 18 months to provide increased broadcast (TV-like) quality. You’ll also need the staff to execute video production.
Trending Challenge: Technology Explosion
Marketing technology tools are exploding, from registration to platforms delivering virtual experiences, such as webinars. Trying to harness the data from various tools can be overwhelming.
Your “tech stack” (technology choices) can either accelerate your program or drag it down. Try to get all the features you need in one program—or choose tools that can easily communicate with each other. Select tech tools that can give you the data and insights you need to always improve.
Questions to Ask Going Forward:
1. What event types do we have planned?
2. What are we trying to accomplish with these events?
3. What needs to be in person?
4. What needs to be virtual to extend their reach?
5. What can we make hybrid?