It is no secret that the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the resulting restrictions on public gatherings, has created new challenges for the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions) industry. Fortunately, technological advancements have allowed for the majority of these events to be moved online. Nonetheless, virtual events are not a new concept in Hong Kong or worldwide and their popularity prior to and during the current global health crisis has demonstrated that they are a phenomenon that is here to stay.
Since virtual events are not the same as live events, they necessitate a different approach and skill set to plan and execute effectively. As a result, this article will serve as a comprehensive guide to assisting businesses in organizing and hosting a successful virtual event in2021, from understanding the essential steps in virtual event planning to post-event operations, and how a good event management system can help with all of that.
Part II: Planning A Virtual Event
2.1. Advantages of Running A Virtual Event
Although virtual events might be popular now in Hong Kong, many people still see them as a temporary measure to tide over the current situation and those live events will become the norm again once the pandemic has ended. This is probably because they assume virtual events are similar to webinars – an hour or two of content being delivered one way through simple video-conferencing software. The reality is that thanks to event management systems providing automated solutions from pre-event invitations to post-event reports, virtual events have increased in sophistication and scope. In fact, it has made even conferences, exhibitions, and trade shows being held online a possibility. Subsequently, virtual events are able to offer more advantages than live ones. They are:
1. Increase audience reach
One disadvantage of live events is that their physical locations limit the number of attendees. Virtual events, on the other hand, allow anyone from literally anywhere in the world to participate with the click of a button, increasing audience reach. Furthermore, virtual events are an excellent mechanism for the current ‘stay-at-home economy,’ which has arisen as a result of more people working from home and businesses investing in infrastructure that delivers goods and services to people’s homes. As a result, not only do people expect conveniences to be available from the comfort of their own homes, but businesses also require a way to reach customers in decentralized locations. Thankfully, virtual events can easily meet both of these requirements.
Virtual events are cost-effective as attendees save money on travel costs because they do not have to travel to a physical location to attend a virtual event. Participants in international events, in particular, can save money on lodging, air tickets, and food. In addition, for event organizers, virtual events allow them to save money on venue costs, travel and hotel costs for keynote speakers (if any), and logistics such as lighting, catering, and security. This is especially useful for events that must stick to a strict budget.
3. Improve user experience and engagement
Virtual event platforms include a slew of tools that help event organizers improve user experience and engagement throughout the event. Virtual exhibitions, for example, provide participants with a hassle-free experience of perusing interactive booths of their choice, as opposed to live ones where they would have to jostle the crowd just to get a good look at the products. These platforms also include chat rooms, Q&A sessions, and polls, which allow attendees to interact directly with the speakers and prevent the event from becoming a one-way communication experience. Furthermore, online concert-goers will appreciate the on-demand replay of live-streaming videos because it allows them to replay favorite moments or even rewind to the beginning if they happen to ‘arrive’ late.
Just like how virtual events save on travel costs, they also save on travel time for attendees. Instead of taking transportation, an attendee can simply turn on their laptop and click on the event website link to ‘enter’ the event. Furthermore, as there are relatively fewer logistics involved in virtual events, it frees up time for event organizers so that they can focus on planning activities and content that cater to their audience’s needs. This can be creating more interactive experiences or inviting well-known speakers that are sure to attract a crowd.
5. Provide more leads for revenue growth
Virtual event platforms can collect a variety of information about participants and events, which can help event organizers generate more leads for revenue growth. Some of this data includes occupations, ages, the session they attended, the speakers, the actual number of people attending the event, and the speakers with the highest engagement rate during the conference. This information allows event organizers to see what their audiences are interested in, how they can improve future virtual events, and how they can continue to expand their reach. The availability of such information also enables them to build stronger sponsor packages and attract more sponsors to their virtual events – thus increasing their revenue.
2.2. 8 Essential Steps In Virtual Event Planning
While an event management system can simplify many aspects of event planning, preparation is still a crucial part of a successful virtual event. In particular, there are certain steps that event planners can take to ensure that they enjoy the benefits of a virtual event and that it is relatively smooth-sailing.
1. Determine the reason for the event
The one big difference between virtual and live events is that the audience can simply log off, switch to another tab in their browser, or even walk away from their laptop whenever they like. In comparison, live events often have a ‘sunk cost fallacy’ working in its favor as the audience probably has had to invest a bit of time and money to attend the event, making them more inclined to stay. Therefore, event organizers must have a clear understanding of the audience’s expectations for an event and provide a strong reason for them to attend the event and remain engaged. This is the most important step and determines the success of the event.
2. Type of event
Event organizers will have to plan their programs and logistics around the type of event they choose to host. This is because a virtual conference in Hong Kong contains different elements to run smoothly as compared to a virtual exhibition or a virtual product launch. In a virtual conference, smoothly transitioning between different video meetings is important while a virtual product launch might benefit from a 3D virtual set that properly showcases the capabilities of the product. As a result, determining the type of event will make it easier for event organizers to structure the programs and decide which features of the event management system that they should utilize.
3. Determine the budget
While live events spend most of the budget on the venue, catering, security, staffing etc, virtual events spend most of the budget on technology such as the right virtual event platform, lighting and staging equipment, microphones, and video editing software. Moreover, event organizers will have to allocate enough budget to find good quality technology as it can really affect the user experience of the event.
4. Time and length
As this step impacts the event’s attendance rate, the event organizer will have to choose the right time and determine the ideal duration of the event runtime to maximize participation. It goes without saying that virtual events on weekdays are better held in the evenings, whereas weekend events often benefit from being held in the late afternoon. The length of an event is important because it determines the level of audience engagement. If it is too long, the audience may switch off; if it is too short, the audience may feel as if they did not experience anything. That’s why 60 minutes is considered a sweet spot for simple virtual events. Large-scale virtual events with multiple programs and speakers, on the other hand, should be spread out over a few days to avoid audience fatigue.
5. Choose the right speakers
A suitable speaker will not only be knowledgeable or even an expert in their field, but they should also be a decent presenter. This way, the audience can remain engaged throughout their session and not be easily distracted by other things. Although having a well-known presenter is a good marketing strategy for attracting and keeping the attention of participants, a speaker with good presentation skills can be just as effective. This also includes finding a good host who can seamlessly transition between different programs and speakers.
6. Source for sponsors and partners
The audience may be the primary focus of a virtual event, and it is recommended that content be created to meet their needs, but this would not be possible without the help of virtual event sponsors and partners. As a result, virtual event organizers in Hong Kong must create robust sponsorship packages that include sponsored sessions, sponsor ads, trade show space, and more in order to attract partners who will fund their event.
7. Stick to a creative theme throughout the event
Never underestimate how important aesthetics are in keeping an audience engaged in a virtual event. As such, it is recommended to choose and maintain a creative theme across all communication mediums such as presentation decks, invitation emails, event posters, and video backgrounds. Something as simple as using the same 2 colours or a single pattern creates a very cohesive look that is pleasing to the eye.
8. Build a promotion plan
A virtual event should be promoted as widely as possible in order to attract as many people as possible. However, instead of using every social media channel available, it is preferable to use a targeted approach to ensure that the event is brought to the attention of the intended audience. Fortunately, there are numerous tools available to uncover the interests and social media habits of the event’s target audience, allowing event organizers to market to them and catch their attention.
Part III: Hosting A Virtual Event
3.1. A Checklist of Things That Ensures A Successful Virtual Event
Although preparation is often the hardest part of a virtual event, hosting it on the actual event day is no easy feat either. As such, here is a checklist of things that will help event organizers ensure a successful virtual event:
- Send periodic email reminders to event participants
Because most virtual events are advertised at least a few weeks in advance, it is recommended that at least one follow-up email be sent to participants closer to the event date, as well as one on the day of the event. They are less likely to forget about the event this way, and audience attendance will be as close to the number of sign-ups as possible. Fortunately, most event management systems include a feature that allows such emails to be sent automatically, saving event organizers from having to do so manually. Run a few dress and technical rehearsals before the event.
- Run dress and technical rehearsals
Dress rehearsals are essential in making sure that everything runs smoothly on an actual day. For virtual events, there is an added layer of making sure that the technical aspects such as Internet connection, video transitions, page load speed, camera equipment etc. are working properly as well. As a result, dress rehearsals are a good opportunity to make sure that speakers know how to navigate the platform and that technical difficulties are discovered and resolved before the event. In addition, it is also important to run a technical rehearsal on the day itself to ensure that there are no last-minute issues.
- Create a contingency plan
Even the most meticulously planned and prepared virtual event can encounter a few glitches during the course of the event. That is why it is critical to develop a contingency plan that includes solutions to any problems that the event organizers can think of that may arise during the event. Such issues may include speakers failing to appear at the last minute, preparing backups of files and presentations in case some go missing, and determining what to do in the event of a technical failure/difficulty. Armed with a contingency plan, event organizers will be fully prepared if an issue actually arises on the day of the event.
- Prepare an event guide
While most people are used to technology, participants of virtual events might still need some guidance in navigating the virtual event platform so that they can make the most out of their time. Even if the system has a simple interface, there might be less tech-savvy participants who might still have difficulty. Therefore, it is recommended that event organizers send participants an event guide a few days before the event that details how participants can effectively maneuver around the virtual event space, whether they need to download any software, and they can enter various sessions and activities during the event. Not only does this show that the event organizers have the audience’s needs in mind, but it also reduces the chances of people leaving the event before it ends due to technical issues. Typically, event management systems provide their own guides, if not, event organizers will need to create their own.
- Decide if the content will be made public or restricted
There are advantages and disadvantages to making the content of a virtual event public versus keeping it restricted to the attendees only. Public content makes it more accessible to a broader audience and can even generate buzz long after the event has ended. Restricted content, on the other hand, maybe appropriate for events in which confidential or proprietary information is shared.
- Create a code of conduct
Live events typically include a code of conduct that establishes expectations of acceptable behavior for participants, and virtual events are no exception. It is important to remember, however, that a code of conduct for a live event cannot be used in its entirety for a virtual event, and some of it will need to be changed to suit the virtual environment. Nevertheless, having a code of conduct ensures that the event is inclusive for all participants and makes moderating online discussions much easier.
3.2. Things To Do After The End of A Virtual Event
The work for a virtual event does not end when the event ends. In fact, post-event follow-up and engagement also play an important role in increasing the success of the event and achieving a higher ROI. As such, here are a few things that event organizers should do after the virtual event has ended:
1. Send feedback surveys to participants and speakers
Feedback surveys are an excellent way to assess audience and speaker satisfaction, uncover pain points, and identify areas for improvement. Furthermore, such surveys should be sent within 12 hours of the event’s conclusion so that participants’ and speakers’ memories of the event are fresh and they can answer the questions honestly. It should be noted that feedback forms should be kept brief so that participants are more likely to complete them.
Most event management systems have feedback survey templates that event organizers can automatically send after the virtual event, which the system will collate once participants respond. As a result, event organizers can easily plan for their next event as they have actionable feedback at their fingertips.
2. Express gratitude to everyone involved in the virtual event
As the hard work of many people went into the success of the virtual event, like the speakers, vendors, sponsors, and participants, it is good to acknowledge their efforts either through a thank you email or a social media post. This maintains a good relationship after the event and might make participants more willing to attend the next event.
3. Post-event debrief
Virtual event organizers in Hong Kong should sit down with their team to discuss how their event went. This includes gathering both positive and negative opinions about the event, analyzing the data collected by the event management system, and thinking of new ideas for the next event. The post-event debrief can be structured around 3 points: whether the event met the internal goals set by the event planning team, what worked/didn’t work and why, and how the event could have been improved. Even if the event did not go according to plan, the post-event debrief will give event organizers a chance to garner a lot of new ideas to test in the future.
4. Follow up on social media
The chances are that chatter and buzz around the virtual event will not immediately die down following the end of the event. Since most people are social-media savvy, many event organizers often come up with hashtags or create a social media page just for the virtual event so that participants have a space to interact with each other and the hype of the event continues even after the event’s conclusion. This is particularly beneficial for product launches, as it keeps the conversation going and people interested in the product. Moreover, following up on social media helps event organizers build a loyal audience base for their next event.
5. Balance the books
Checking the finances is an important part of the post-event review because it reveals whether the event made a profit, broke even, or lost money. Paying vendors, tallying ticket sales proceeds, comparing final revenue and costs to those in the initial budget, and sharing figures with sponsors and key stakeholders are all part of this process (if any). Once event organizers have a complete picture of their profits and losses, they can decide how to allocate the budget for their next virtual event in Hong Kong.
Part IV: Conclusion
The growing popularity of virtual events has demonstrated how technology can improve and provide new methods of planning and running events. As a result, it is highly likely that future events will include virtual elements as well, such as hybrid events or the use of event management systems to streamline the event planning process. Therefore, businesses will benefit from investing in an event management system that can assist them in all aspects of virtual events, from planning to post-event follow-up.
Thinking of hosting a virtual event? Evention is a one-stop virtual event company for all your event needs. Contact us today for more information.