Amanda Greteman Brent Thomsen Scott Holton
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Managing Virtual Events in a Pandemic

As the world ground to a halt at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were left scrambling to find backup plans for their events. Each year, thousands of trade shows and other in-person gatherings take place. These events are vital for businesses, and the pandemic shut them all down.

Guess what. AKC Marketing was one of those companies scrambling to find a plan B. The good news is, we have a lot of tools at our disposal and were quickly able to figure out how to use them just a bit differently in order to keep our clients’ marketing plans on track. Here are a few things we learned in a world without handshakes.

Running a Virtual Event is Not Easy
Initially, one might think a virtual event would be easier to organize than a physical event. Wrong. Not only are virtual events just as complicated as in-person events, they require a completely different plan of action.

Physical, in-person trade shows and events occur each year, which help organizers hone their planning processes to a tight science. Pivoting to virtual platforms wasn’t an easy transition and we learned some hard lessons along the way.

  1. Doing a live event online has a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong. Pre-recording video is the way to go! However, there is a balance because you are still trying to get people engaged in the event, and quite frankly, keep their attention. We have found that pre-recording the meat and potatoes, so to speak, and then allowing for a live Q&A or live polling is a great combination to keep engagement high and minimize technical issues.
  2. As marketers, we are so used to controlling the narrative that we've had to practice letting go a bit and that's good. It's authentic.
  3. Plan.plan.plan. And then plan some more. Virtual event planning should begin four to six weeks in advance of the actual event. Gathering a list of required tasks with clear deadlines will help get all parties up to speed and ready to move on to the next step of the process. Stick to your schedule with regular check-ins to ensure the team is prepared.
  4. Practice really does make perf… almost perfect. If you take one thing away from our experience, it’s that more practice is better. Technology can be unpredictable, and systems can fail. Having alternate plans and being comfortable with your entire event will smooth over bumps and greatly add to your peace of mind. Also, make time to thoroughly prepare all event speakers. We’ve found that a person who is a great speaker in person might not be as engaging or comfortable in a virtual setting. Just as in-person event versus virtual event planning are different skill sets, so can be captivating an audience from a trade-show stage versus a 15-inch computer screen.

Audience Engagement
Engaging the audience can be difficult, but there are some fun ways to do this. One example we did was to invite people to an event with a direct mail campaign that included a bag of coffee. Once they registered, they received a swag box with a coffee mug, a pastry and an engagement booklet. We also encourage live engagement tactics, like polls and questions. There are tons of tools out there to make virtual events interactive. One we have been liking is Mentimeter.

A year into the pandemic, there have been enough virtual events now that we have some data to help guide strategy. That data is showing that most attendees tune in for about 50% of your event. What that means to marketers is that we need to ensure that the most important information gets presented in the first half. Some research also says that most drop offs happen around the 30-minute mark. Initially, you might think that we should make the event 30 minutes, but if you want a Q&A session, that means you are trying to cram your presentation into about 15-20 minutes.

It has also been reported that only about 30% of attendees watch a virtual event on full screen, which means most people are multitasking. After you get over the initial gasp from reading that, tell yourself that it’s ok! People are still going to listen if your content is attention grabbing and you can send out supplemental resources after the fact for further nurturing. Some best practices will tell you that you should also send out the event link after so people can watch on-demand. Honestly, I have never gone back and re-watched an event. But someone might, so why not send it?

Where do virtual events go from here?
I believe that virtual events will remain an effective tool beyond COVID. We are all excited for in-person events to be an option again, but I see live streaming options becoming the norm. There is a huge benefit to human contact and interaction and that is such a big part of doing business for our clients, but as we work to really get in front of the right people at the right time, we have to meet them where they are. With a combination of in-person and virtual events, our ability to get to more people, and the right people, increases.

There have been some really cool ideas that have come out of this pandemic, which is kind of a silver lining. I am blown away that not just marketers and brands have pivoted their plans, but everyone has. Cameos are such a cool and fun concept. More celebrities and artists are sharing their personal lives and space with us. You can take a photography master class with Annie Liebovitz. That’s incredible! COVID has opened up the world. So, while we are disconnected because we can't be in person, we are actually more connected to people and places that were not accessible to us before are now.

How can we as marketers utilize what people are already doing and think outside of the box of traditional events? Look at the role of an influencer. If anyone would have pitched the idea of an influencer to a marketing team like 10 years ago, they would have been laughed out of the office. You are going to pick a random person and make them a star on YouTube? It's never going to happen. Well, it happened. And it’s great. I love to watch what new people are doing. When I finally downloaded TikTok I wasted 3 hours on it. So, while the world is still in a difficult place, it is also a really exciting time to be in marketing.

Taking your Virtual Event to the Next Level
Are you looking for something different for your prospects and customers? Or do you need to organize a virtual event? AKC Marketing and REL Productions want to help. We put together some award-winning virtual events in 2020, and we are looking to try even more in 2021. Let’s get together and talk about what you need.

Click here to view our awards that include 1st place in the Advertorial, Direct Mail, Billboard, Virtual Event, A/V Feature and Social Tactic categories.

Digital Marketing Marketing Events virtual events Event management trade shows

At AKC Marketing we honestly assess the perception of your company. We push to market you above your competition. We do this by igniting your inner brand - focusing on what your true value to the marketplace is. To make it impossible to be ignored in your industry.
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