The most successful event professionals have made the shift to virtual meetings and are planning to embrace this new modality of gathering, either fully digital or as a hybrid experience, in 2021. While this may be a new environment for some, others have succeeded quite well in the space – providing a flawless transition between in-person to digital engagements for meeting and event attendees.
Shifting from in-person to digital can feel overwhelming, but it does not have to be. However, simply recreating an in-person event virtually won’t cut it. You need an approach that will ensure your business goals for the specific meeting purpose are met and delivered in such a way that engages your audiences and incorporates multi-sensory components to bring your event to life.
By implementing the following best practices and meeting strategies, you will deliver virtual or hybrid events that will set you up for success.
Lead with Strategy
All too often, tech becomes the primary focus when planning a virtual meeting. But it shouldn’t be. First and foremost, you want to make sure your business goals for a specific meeting purpose are met.
- Identify and articulate the strategic objectives of the event before diving into experience design and technology selection. Strategy should inform design (experience) and delivery (technology).
- Expand the impact of the gathering beyond the single point in time and look at the event as just one of a series of episodic touch points with your audience.
- When designing the holistic engagement experience, consider the pre-event communications and points of engagement, as well as the post-event access to recorded event content.
Make Time Your Friend
Anticipate potential digital programs and begin to engage a digital engagement agency partner before the event specifics are finalized.
- Allow time to execute contracts/agreements that are specific to digital engagements Helpful note: don’t wait until the event specifics are finalized to engage your legal counsel and other related contract/agreement signatories. Work in parallel paths – review and finalize terms and conditions while event specifics are being finalized.
- Once contracts/agreements are executed, anticipate at least one month to plan and deliver a broadcast, and at least three months to plan and deliver a full, multi-faceted virtual environment.
- Develop and carefully follow a detailed production schedule with your digital engagement agency partner and embrace deadlines as absolutes, to avoid rush charges and minimize chance of error and failure.
Measure the Impact
It’s typical and understandable that the in-person event professional will judge the success of a virtual event on the technical difficulties alone – if it went smoothly, it must be a success! But for a true measurement of your results, you need to dive deeper into the important business data that you need to continuously grow and improve.
- Understand the data-tracking capabilities of your digital experience and design your measurement plan accordingly.
- Engage executive sponsors and stakeholders in the measurement plan and agree upon metrics of success and related goals.
- Review data reports within one week following your event and develop post-event recaps that include both quantitative and qualitative feedback and outcomes.
- Continue to measure participation in the weeks and months that follow as your audience accesses recordings and on-demand content.
Embrace the Differences
Try as we might, there are certain areas of in-person gatherings that are hard to replicate in a virtual setting – and that’s okay. Be prepared that the production process for a digital experience is much more linear than that of the typical in-person event. Many stages of planning are contingent upon successful completion of the previous step.
- Visual support for centrally operated presentations, such as PowerPoints, pre-produced videos, polling questions, etc. must be completed day(s) or week(s) in advance.
The opportunity for presenters to hand off a “thumb drive” as they walk to stage doesn’t existing in the virtual meeting world.
- The pace and adrenaline of in-person events typically accelerates right up to and through the live, in-person experience. Digital engagements are different – the pace and excitement of delivering a digital engagement should decrease in the final days leading up to the live online event, as content collection and experience design gives way to behind-the-scenes system and security testing.
Embrace the Similarities
With the need to embrace differences comes familiar ground . . .
- The role of “host” is integral to success.
- Presentation rehearsals are as important as ever. Require presenters to participate in a “tech check” (a five to 15-minute tech check with the broadcast engineer and producer) during which the presenter’s technology is checked, including hardware compatibility, webcam, microphone, speakers, lighting, environment and, of course, internet bandwidth.
- In addition, all presenters should participate in a rehearsal with the broadcast engineer and producer in the same environment in which their tech check occurred. At that time, the presentation flow, visual support content order and presenter performance are mastered.
Prepare for Hybrid
In-person gatherings should now be considered “hybrid” experiences to include a digital engagement. No one knows the pace at which face-to-face events will “return” and where the quickest return is most likely. And, it’s unclear how and to what degree people will re-engage with in-person events.
The hybrid model offers significant benefits:
- Provides a hedge against unknown risks / prevents being caught flat-footed
- Extends event value, content and engagement to a wider audience
- Offers the opportunity to embrace new engagement and monetization paradigms
Your Forward Approach
Event professionals should prepare to think differently about what an event is, how to engage their audiences, and how to create value for their key stakeholders:
- You have ONE audience – let them choose how they prefer to engage
- Be holistic – don’t think of the digital component of your event as a “side of fries”
- Shift from an “episodic” event mindset to an “always on” engagement paradigm
- Transform your business model and embrace new monetization strategies
- Your skills and talents as an artisan of gatherings WILL enable you to succeed in a hybrid world
The time is now to embrace this new digital frontier. With these tips, you are well on your way to digital engagement success. Find the right partner and strategy and, soon enough, you will produce compelling and engaging virtual events that deliver solid results and help your organization move forward.
Ready to start planning now?
The creativity of PRA, combined with the technical and production know-how of One Smooth Stone bring you the expertise of PRA Digital. Together, we are your turn-key resource for impactful design and delivery of digital broadcasts, immersive virtual programs multisensory at-home experience box touchpoints and every hybrid event in between.
Our proven formula has helped hundreds of organizations build beliefs and behaviors critical to achieving their business goals.
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