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Mistakes to avoid when planning a virtual event

It's easy to imagine that virtual events are a breeze compared to in-person conferences. Speakers turn their webcams on, delegates click a link and there you have it, your virtual event is complete! Maybe this was the consensus for many pre-pandemic... not so much anymore.


The very fallacy that virtual events are easy is likely a prime contributor to the issues that arise in the planning and delivery of them. The reduction of tangible features for a virtual event can occasionally lull organisers into a false sense of security, leading to a belief that they require less involvement. From our experience, this couldn't be further from the truth.


Virtual events are a thing of the present, and learning how to orchestrate them effectively is a key skill for conference organisers. They do have a lot of things going for them, they’re innovative, accessible, and they typically attract larger audiences than their physical counterparts. They aren’t however without their difficulties; this blog aims to detail some of the pitfalls to avoid in their organisation.



One size does not fit all


The experience of a face-to-face conference for a delegate is often an exciting one, a day away from the usual grind, where after enjoying a morning coffee they take a seat in an auditorium, ready to hear a leader in their field explain exciting new concepts. Transitioning this experience to a virtual event seems doable, but coffee at home on your sofa in front of your laptop is just not the same. The buzz of the environment is absent, there are no long-estranged colleagues to reconnect with, no temporary anxiety that you won't arrive at the venue in time, and no social pressure to sit up and pay attention throughout the lectures. As the event is a different format, you must approach it with an entirely different mindset. What works for a physical conference will not essentially work for a virtual one.


If your normal face-to-face conference runs for around eight hours, you may want to stop and think before copying this format for virtual. Studies have shown that engagement for virtual events significantly drops after the five-hour mark. Pass this point and the majority of your delegates will not be able to take much in. This is understandable when you consider the distractions that modern life holds, when multiple devices and platforms are all clamouring for our attention, eight hours dedicated to one tab is a big commitment. Adapt to this new format by redesigning the programme to be more suitable for an online environment, could the event be split into two, three or even four days? You may want to also consider shortening individual lecture time. Talks that typically last less than fifteen minutes tend to hold delegates attention longest. Breaking down the content into bitesize chunks will foster more engagement throughout the conference.


It may be worth more to you than it is to them


The workload of a convener when organising events of this nature is in large part unaffected by a conference being virtual. There may be less schmoozing to do whilst attending but everything else remains pretty much the same, speakers are still to be selected, content decided upon, and decisions made throughout. This workload is added to by having increased involvement in the technical arena, as you work alongside the virtual platform provider to deliver the event. Unfortunately, the dedication and effort required to create a fantastic virtual event is not always reflected in what you can charge delegates.


An interesting statistic is that 74% of event organisers do not charge for virtual event attendance. This approach is due to what the delegate perceives as value. Value for the delegate is attributed to educational content, but also the complete experience. The tangible elements such as lunch and the environment are key in their mind. Therefore, it is important to first strip away the costs from your virtual registration that are linked to a physical conference. Your educational content does not however have to be free of charge, it may just be worth reducing the cost to a price point that would be attractive to delegates whilst still profitable for organisers.


A shoestring may not be enough


When comparing a potential conference venue to a virtual event platform, the differences seem vast. Venues can be huge in scale, rich in grandeur, packed full of facilities, and often set in desirable locations, whereas a virtual event platform is simply some code put together to display your conference online. It's easy then to imagine that a virtual platform should cost very little compared to a physical venue, but the reality is that this heavily depends on the platform.


Some of the largest all-singing, all-dancing event platforms can have costs that easily grow to in excess of £100,000, and some of their smaller competitors are not too much cheaper. The other end of the spectrum for virtual platforms would be to run a Zoom meeting in webinar format. Zoom is notably more affordable, but requires extreme attention to detail from all faculty for it to appear professional to the delegate (we all know that one person who forgets to mute). From our experience the most well received platforms are one’s that are simple, but effective. Event Management Direct have partnered with their AV supplier, Talking Slides, to offer an affordable solution that still guarantees a high standard of meeting, while not approaching an unsustainable cost.


A virtual exhibition stand is not enough


Exhibition stands at physical events are the places delegate peruse whilst juggling their hastily gathered plate of food and networking with their peers. There's a natural and comfortable feel to the environment, with both delegates and sponsors 'playing the game'. A situation where sponsors are trying to pick up new contacts, where delegates are maybe looking to pick up a new pen or bag. This tried and tested formula unfortunately is incompatible with a virtual event, and just creating a virtual exhibition area will not replicate the face-to-face results.


As delegate fees for a virtual event are typically less, sponsorship can be crucial for its financial viability. Exhibition packages should be created that put virtual first, what can you offer sponsors at a virtual event that you couldn't at a physical one? Promote sponsored sessions, offer video promos, suggest adverts on the event platform, sell lunchtime symposia and anything else you can think of to promote your sponsors through the virtual environment.


Don't leave the marketing to the last minute


Virtual event marketing can sometimes be relegated to an afterthought, with organisers taking an 'if we build it they will come' approach. To some degree this is correct, excellent educational events will more often than not attract a satisfactory amount of delegates, but is satisfactory enough? We don't think so. The effort taken to organise events such as these warrants a committed approach to marketing, that maximises potential delegate attendance.


Attendance figures for virtual events that match face-to-face events can give the impression that the marketing of the event has been successful, although, this depends on your definition of success. Virtual events tend to be much more accessible than their physical counterparts, so attendance should not just be good but be excellent. Marketing the event effectively through social media, journals, hospitals, online advertisements, and event advocates is essential to achieve delegate figures that far exceed expectations. The secondary outcome of attracting bumper attendance for virtual meetings is that it is simultaneously a superb promotion for your face-to-face events.


Summary


When patients have different medical issues, you treat them differently. The same concept holds true for virtual events. We firmly believe that treating them as their own entity, rather than just a copy of an in-person event is key to their success.


For more information or advice on virtual, hybrid or face-to-face events please feel free to get in contact with Event Management Direct, who will be happy to help with any queries.


Tel: 0114 2995922

Email: enquiries@eventmanagementdirect.co.uk

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