While virtual and online events may be the only option in the short term, event organizers can benefit from a virtual mindset when they approach all events going forward. Integrating a plan to host your event virtually if circumstances demand it should be a mandatory part of the overall planning process. Organizers should have the technology in place so they can easily "turn it on" when needed. Even if the event does go off as planned, live and in-person, consider adding online aspects to increase engagement. The option to create streaming video should become an essential event utility like electricity or WiFi.
While social distancing may have accelerated the acceptance of online events, webinars, in particular, are not a new concept in the federal market. Market Connections' Federal Media & Marketing Study (FMMS) found that three-quarters of federal workers reported watching live webinars during the workday and at least one in five were watching recorded webinars on their own time (weeknights and weekends). Webinars tend to be mainly one-way communication - with a speaker presenting and time for questions at the end. Frequently, the Q&A is not done "live," rather questions are gathered via messaging, vetted, and asked by the host. However, as our collective comfort with platforms like Zoom, WebEx, and Skype grow, future webinars could become more interactive, allowing for video participation and interaction between speakers and participants.
Whether you're hosting a webinar or virtual event, don't limit the engagement to a one-off presentation. Create an engaging venue that will serve attendees long after the event wraps. For example, using online forums for people to visit before, during, and after the event fosters a sense of community and have a real impact on engagement. Mobile apps are a great complement to online and in-person events, providing a platform for additional interaction between attendees.
To prepare for virtual events, many of the same planning fundamentals remain. Promotion, content, smooth registration, engagement and interaction, and use of data are equally needed for both types of events. Just as you book a hotel or convention center for an in-person event, you'll need a venue for your online event. There are a number of online platforms to choose from. Choose one that best serves your event's specific needs, just as you would a real-world venue. Make sure the platform you use is not too big (leaving you paying for features you'll never use) or too small (unable to meet the scale and size of your event and its attendees).
Slightly different than an in-person event, you may need to include some training for attendees. Consider setting up a pre-event activity where everyone is able to log on and test their computer audio, video, and general compatibility with the event platform. Video tutorials that walk everyone through the features of the event software are also extremely helpful. These are just two options to help attendees have a great virtual event experience. Plus, they provide additional, valuable opportunities to reach out and engage attendees.
We'd love to hear from you. What do you like about virtual events? Will you be planning and/or attending more of them in the coming year? Share your thoughts in the comments. Be sure to check out GovEvents for our listing of virtual events, webinars and library of on-demand events.