The final session of our event series discussing 'How The Events World Is Responding To COVID-19', addressed the considerations events organisers should be making when deciding whether to switch to virtual events, as well as what organisers and venues can expect the "new normal" events landscape to look like.
We thought Emily Owen, Events Manager at Version 1 and Gerd De Bruycker, EMEA Marketing Director at CISCO, would be the perfect event professionals to discuss this topic. Moderating this session was Jennifer Jenkins, Director at Worldspan.
You can watch the video below, or read on for our key takeaways of the session.
Table of Contents
The technology isn't new, the way we use it is
Gerd reminds us that CISCO have been creating hybrid events for years - combining virtual events with live elements through technology. The company has a lot of experience in making their virtual events interactive through live streaming, and he notes that CISCO events almost always involve an online component, so this isn't a brand new concept in the events industry.
Gerd advises it's important to think about the people at the physical event, and what you can do digitally for them, but also the experience of those who are attending virtually, as these experiences are very different. As we've been forced to move everything to virtual during this pandemic, he notes that we will use the same interactive technology, such as live streaming or online polls, just in a different way.
Objectives are key
Gerd tells us that whether you're switching to virtual events or not, you always need to ask yourself 2 questions: who is your audience, and what do you want to achieve. No matter what event or marketing tactic you adopt, you always need to have those objectives in mind. For example, it may be that a virtual event is not the right approach for achieving your objectives, so how else can you approach those goals?
The good thing is that everyone is at home and has more time on their hands to work out these kinds of things. We are going to be seeing lots of initiatives coming out during this crisis, but it's crucial to look at your own business objectives and work out what will be best for you.
Consider the pros and cons
Emily points out that whilst you can take a lot of live events virtual, you should consider what you will sacrifice by doing so. It's important to weigh up whether you will get the same (or close enough!) benefits from pushing it as a virtual event, and if it adds value to your audience. For example, back in February and March, some sporting events were live streamed, and were no doubt still enjoyed by many. However, it's important to consider if it's worth sacrificing the atmosphere and experiential component of your own events.
Emily also notes that people underestimate the process of moving an event to a virtual setting. Whilst it involves similar planning, there are a range of different considerations that need to be taken into account. The key concern being, for some event professionals, that it's wholly reliant on technology, which some are not comfortable with. Gerd notes that, often, virtual events may even require more planning than live events!
Gerd reminds us that at one point in time, virtual events were simply all about live streaming. The format of these events is now evolving rapidly into a more interactive experience - we're seeing interactive polls, multiple speakers and more social elements such as Brella's networking tool. This evolution is driven by the demand for bringing in those live elements into a virtual setting. Gerd also predicts that the current 80:20 physical to virtual event ratio will change, and we will be seeing a lot more innovation off the back of this pandemic.
If event organisers are moving to a more virtual world, what impact does this have on venues and how can venues respond to it?
Gerd reassures venues that physical events are not disappearing anytime soon. As soon as isolation is lifted, people will be happy to get out and there will be lots of physical events going on. He believes the answer lies in a combination of the physical and online world, and venues should be prepared for this. Emily suggests they do this by making sure their technology is high-end in terms of their live streaming capabilities, a strong internet connection and wifi capabilities, and other considerations such as the sound quality in the room: is the speaker audible online too? Venues will need to be much more technology-driven going forward.
Other than providing online content, how can we emulate the same networking experience through a virtual event?
Emily believes that we need to be more innovative and creative when it comes to networking during virtual events, as it's not possible to just 'lift and shift' your physical event networking elements. She suggests engaging the audience continuously using interactive polls, Q&A sessions, brainstorming sessions in small groups or even fun activities such as scavenger hunts. On top of this, virtual breakout rooms are vital to allow people to continue discussions and network with each other.
How can we continue running commercially driven events virtually?
Emily informs us that this is, again, why breakout areas are so important, because you then have a variety of target groups that you could get a company to ‘sponsor’. This could take the form of showing delegates a short video of the company's offering that is specific to that group. You could also open up a sponsorship opportunity in the interactive games you provide, such as a scavenger hunt. Thirdly, the software or platform you’re using for the event could be sponsored by a company, which would entail them having their logo on the main landing page for example.
Emily Owen, Event Manager, Version 1
Emily Owen is an experienced Events Manager working in a rapidly paced role for IT Solutions Provider Version 1. With five years’ experience in the Events Industry Emily’s experience includes developing and managing a diverse annual programme of events ranging from small personal workshops to large conferences, social networking events, virtual events and webinars. Having previous experience of running virtual events and given the current challenges to hosting face to face events, the result of Emily’s interest and experience with virtual events have made for a smooth transition to adapting to the current limitations for events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gerd De Bruycker, EMEA Marketing Director, CISCO
Gerd De Bruycker is a marketing director at Cisco Systems, responsible as the CMO for Northern Europe and leading the EMEA events team. He is specialised in how event marketing is integrated into the overall marketing mix as part of customer journeys and audience touchpoint strategies. He and his team are responsible for Cisco’s top events in the region, like Cisco Live, Cisco’s trade show participation, event strategy and country event enablement services. Before joining Cisco over eight years ago, he worked for almost a decade at Microsoft mainly in event marketing roles on a country, regional and worldwide level. He is also a guest lecturer at a high school in Belgium and speaker at conferences.
We hope you enjoyed reading the key points from the final session of our virtual event. You can read about the other sessions here.
If you're interested in holding a virtual event of your own, please fill out this enquiry form with your brief and we will get back to you to turn your vision into a reality.
We've also created a platform to keep you up-to-date with all the latest Coronavirus news, as well as the latest useful industry responses to the ongoing pandemic.
Izzie brings a deep understanding of the events world to Hire Space, and keeps busy by writing lots of Hire Space and EventLAB content and managing the Hire Space social media presence.