No one could have predicted the total 180 in event experiences over the past year.
Event marketers were forced to make a massive pivot from in-person events to virtual platforms in the blink of an eye—and it hasn’t been easy.
But the innovation and creativity of the event industry has come into its own, with 55% of virtual event marketers planning to invest more in virtual events in 2021, and 59% focusing on gamification strategies to boost attendee engagement.
Event marketers these days are more focused on building a great attendee experience than ever before. And that’s something to be proud of.
From interactive fireside chats to dinner-making experiences led by celebrity chefs, the opportunities to wow prospects and turn registrations into closed won opps are HUGE—no matter where your attendees are logging-in from.
In this ultimate guide to event experiences gone virtual, we’ll share real-life experiences from leading event marketing experts, dive into the how-to of creating awesome virtual events, and help you create event experiences your attendees will never forget.
Ready to transform virtual events into real, revenue-producing relationships? Let’s dive in!
Ahh Zoom-fatigue. The inescapable new phenomenon that single-handedly reduces attendee numbers and makes the working day that much harder. 🙄
For event marketers in the 21st century, creating an event experience that overcomes attendee Zoom-aversion is priority #1.
But it isn’t always easy.
Field marketing expert Karen Hartline, Founder at Reinventing Events and Director of Events at Homepoint, shares her top three tips to building a truly memorable event experience (and avoiding virtual-fatigue for good).
With over 15 years’ as a corporate event strategist and 100’s of conferences, summits and meetups under her belt, Karen knows a thing or two about great event experiences.
She believes the answer is to focus on engagement. But not just any type of engagement. For Karen, it’s all about making it personal.
“A lot of planners are missing the mark on what engagement can look like,” she explains, “Everyone thinks chat is a great option, but that gets overwhelming for me as an attendee if there's a lot of chatter. The chat can easily become disorienting since conversations aren't threaded, as well as moving way too fast if there are a lot of people chatting at the same time.”
And it’s not just poorly facilitated chat that gets in the way of proper engagement.
“Polls are usually the next offering but that feels very one-way and anonymous. As an attendee, they select their answer, and someone shares the results with the group—but it's not personal engagement,” she says.
The key for Karen is to focus on engagement that makes attendees feel heard.
“I love the idea of doing Q&A sessions for more than 5 minutes, and allowing virtual attendees to submit questions that are moderated but then the attendee is invited on camera and mic to ask their question. Literally, give them a voice at the event,” she says.
Karen’s next tip is to put yourself in the attendees’ shoes to help them get the most out of the event.
“Field marketers have to be educated and educate attendees,” says Karen.
To get to the awesome position she’s in today, Karen focuses on the brutal truth of what it’s really like to be a virtual event attendee.
“Truth be told, when I'm an attendee at an online event during a workday, I'm at my desk and am usually still working on emails and other things. This means I'm definitely not paying attention to what's happening for the live event,” she laughs.
Karen uses this under-the-fingernails understanding to encourage her own attendees to get the most out of their events. Here’s what she suggests:
“A suggestion is that I leave my desk for the online event, so my physical environment is changed to help me be more present with the event. I can even cast my laptop to my living room TV if I want a larger screen!” she says.
Next time you send out that beautifully branded invitation email, add in a couple of lines to encourage attendees to get the most out of the event by changing their environment and setting up an at-home cinema. Popcorn, anyone? 🍿
Karen’s last tip (but by no means least), is to work as a networking link between your attendees, speakers and sponsors.
“Field marketers and event planners should think about themselves as the connector for each attendee, including speakers and sponsors,” says Karen.
Here’s how to do it:
“Ask the attendees during registration who they'd like to meet up with, and work to make an intro. This can be powerful for your sponsors and speakers. There's huge value in offering to make connections to others,” she explains.
Great attendee engagement is #1 for Karen when it comes to creating unforgettable event experiences, and she regularly takes tips from the powerful events she attends (and you should too).
“Shortly after things shut down, there was an event called Reboot that did a phenomenal job of engagement on multiple levels,” says Karen.
Not only did they get people moving during breaks with yoga and stretching, but they also “offered a Slack channel set up not just for the conference but for each session that could be used before AND after the event.”
And that’s not all.
“There were smaller limited sessions that were really well done. I attended a session with Haute Dokimazo that used Miro, an online whiteboarding app that lets attendees put sticky notes on the page in real-time. We were all on a Zoom meeting with each other for the session where we could be on video and mic if we wanted to. It truly was collaborative, engaging, and fun,” says Karen.
The lesson? Next time you attend an event, check out the engagement tactics they do right (and wrong) for tips on how you can do it too.
For Revenue and Field Marketing Coordinator at Onapsis, Paige Roderick, there’s one extra tip that can give event marketers the edge: a focus on meaningful events.
“There's a misconception that it's ‘impossible’ to make virtual events meaningful. The most successful programs I’ve either participated in or managed in the past year have been focused on creating real engagement and meaningful connections between vendors and their clients/prospects,” says Paige.
She believes a simple change in perspective can boost engagement and create event experiences worth remembering.
“As field marketers, I'd love to see us flip the script from ‘virtual events’ to ‘virtual experiences’. Virtual experiences focus on creating fully immersive, high engagement, personalized programs for clients/prospects to engage in. To resonate our message, event marketers can connect and create experiences that combine the business needs of prospects/clients while incorporating the personal interests, demographics and passions that decision makers care about,” she says.
For Paige, creating that memorable virtual experience is all about connecting with attendees on a personal level.
“Last quarter we ran a Celebrity Chef program where we sent each of the registrants the ingredients to make a dinner for four alongside our featured celebrity. We provided an experience for our prospective clients and their families to remember. In doing so, we were able to build real relationships by connecting to who the person was from a professional and a personal perspective,” she explains.
Virtual events are clearly a hit in the post-pandemic world. But are they here to stay?
Field marketing advisor and thought leader Nick Bennett thinks so.
“As far as events are concerned, I don’t anticipate in-person events coming back until the second half of 2022, and when they do it’ll be more intimate type events to start. Think: C-level dinners and smaller groups (15 and under). It’ll make people feel more comfortable than a 10,000-person trade show. It’ll be a hybrid world but still digital first, I think for at least another 1.5 years,” he says.
But whether events are virtual or hybrid, their success will have one thing in common: creativity.
“It’ll be all about the experience you can provide,” says Nick, “Gamification is becoming huge and gets people to have a bit more fun. It’s all about who can come up with the ‘virtual wine tasting’ next best thing.”
If there’s one thing to take away from this past year, it’s that creativity gets you everywhere (even when you can't physically go anywhere).
From using better virtual event platforms, to focusing on personal touches for those extra ‘Aha!’ moments, the best way to beat Zoom-fatigue and create events your prospects will buzz about is to be genuinely creative in the way you choose to engage with your attendees.
Because while we all miss in-person events, the future is undeniably virtual. And, as Nick puts it: “Those who are creative and capitalize will come out on top.”