Yes, virtual events are here to stay. You know why? Because they work! For much of 2020, organizations looked at virtual events as simply substitutes for cancelled in-person events until things got back to ‘normal.’ Fast forward to now and marketing and event executives realize that virtual events are an additional digital channel that must be leveraged to effectively engage target audiences, improve customer experiences, generate demand, and close more business. Virtual events are now a part of our ‘normal’ and will continue to be. As you go through the process of finding the virtual event partner that best fits your needs, here are 7 questions to ask:
1. How long have you been in the virtual event space?
In the last 18 months, virtual event providers have seemingly popped up out of nowhere, claiming they have a solution that can fit any event need. When you’re sourcing platform providers, ask them how long they’ve been in the virtual event space. What type of events have been executed on their platform, and how many events like yours have they executed? There have been several in-person event management companies that never had a true virtual option before the pandemic, and now they’re claiming to be virtual event experts. Working with an organization that has experience in dealing with all types of event formats is very important, so be sure to ask for multiple references when speaking with providers. Due diligence is key – it could be the difference between success and a virtual event disaster.
2. Can you show me an example of a virtual event you’ve executed that speaks to what I’m looking for?
Once you have your requirements and know what your virtual event will entail, ask providers to show you their solution in action and provide examples of events they’ve executed that have what you’re looking for. If they say the can do it, make them show you and ask about their process for getting it done. If a vendor is hesitant to back up their claims and demo their platform against your requirements, take them off the list and move on down the road. It’s really that simple.
3. What does project management and support look like before, during, and after the event?
Proper project management and support from registration page creation to event archive are crucial to virtual event success. If you’re going the managed-service route, you’re essentially asking the virtual event provider to be an extension of your team and be a true ‘partner’ (not just another vendor) in your success. Here are some items that need to be covered:
- Understand the makeup of your virtual event partner’s project management team and who will be the main points of contact. How will they be available to you?
- Working backwards from your event eventually going on-demand, you need to see a detailed project plan that highlights everything that will be done, deadlines for when items will be executed, and who’s responsible for what. Stick to the plan.
- You need to understand the process for building the event and when you’ll be able to get into the environment to ensure it’s being built to specifications. Have checkpoints throughout the project plan to go in and experience the environment as it’s being built.
- If your event has sponsors, presenters, exhibitors, etc. – how will your virtual event partner manage and support them throughout the entire process to ensure they’re educated on their responsibilities and everything that needs to be done on their end?
- The day of the event, you need to know how everyone involved with your virtual event will be supported. Your partner of choice should provide you with a rundown of what support entails the day(s) of your event. The same project management team that you’ve worked with from the beginning should be there to support you for the live event. Team continuity is a big plus.
- Once the event is over, what’s the process for getting the event on-demand? How long will it take? How can I continue to drive traffic to the on-demand version to increase event ROI? Obviously, these are things that need to be mapped out as you build the initial project plan. Remember, one of the pros of virtual events is you can extend their shelf-life so they can continue to drive value over a longer period. Have an on-demand plan.
4. What options does your event platform have to drive attendee engagement?
For events, engagement is the name of the game. When organizations first started pivoting to virtual events, the biggest knock against them was that they didn’t drive near the engagement that in-person events did. We have come a long way in a short period of time, and I would argue that virtual events now offer MORE and EASIER ways to engage compared to in-person events. As you map out the engagement strategy for your next event, some things to consider:
- Think about engagement holistically, from the moment you announce the event until it’s archived on-demand. A recent blog of ours – Virtual Event Engagement Tips: Before, During and After the Event – will lead you down the right path.
- How do you want your presenters to engage with your attendees, and vice versa? It should be a two-way street for communication. The same goes with exhibitor and sponsor communications with your attendees.
- What does attendee to attendee engagement look like? Make sure you have a platform that enables your attendees to interact and collaborate with one another multiple ways – through text, audio, and video chat; going into breakout rooms that are ideal for group settings; connecting through various social media platforms; exchanging and downloading of virtual business cards; being able to set meetings and email one another within the platform. Your virtual event platform should offer these capabilities.
- Getting real-time attendee feedback is important, so make sure your virtual event partner has survey and poll features that can provide valuable insight into attendee engagement and satisfaction.
- How many gamification options do I have, and which ones are the best fit for my audience? Some virtual event providers can also customize gamification solutions for your unique needs.
5. What does reporting look like and what’s being tracked within my virtual event?
One of the biggest advantages that virtual events have over in-person events is the ability to track everything that is being done within the environment. I’m talking about complete 360-degree visibility into every movement being made at any time. This type of insight enables businesses to make smarter decisions that can lead to significantly greater event ROI. As you go through the selection process, ask virtual event providers to show you their reporting dashboards and what they entail. They should be straightforward to navigate, the reports/analytics should be easily exportable and/or can integrate with your CRM and Marketing Automation tools (if you’re looking to achieve a CRM/Marketing Automation integration with your event platform, this should be one of the first items on the project plan), and they should provide you with complete visibility into audience engagement and event success.
6. Do you have a solution for Hybrid events?
Just like 100% virtual events, hybrids events are here to stay. In our opinion, any sizeable in-person event would be making a mistake if they didn’t offer a digital extension. Moving forward, there are going to be folks that don’t see the need to travel for in-person events because they believe they can get equal or greater value through virtual events. There are going to be others that won’t go to physical events for various reasons – company travel restrictions, time away from the office, their business can’t justify the expense, etc. However, these people still want to be involved with your event and its content in some way, and offering a virtual component allows them to do that. While you’re dealing with two different audiences in a hybrid environment – in-person and virtual – the key is finding a solution that makes it feel like one seamless experience for everyone involved. In-person and virtual attendees should be able to connect and engage with one another, with both audiences feeling like they got equal value. As you’re looking at vendors, ask them about their approach to hybrid events and how they handle various hybrid scenarios.
7. How do you ensure that my event won’t have any technical mishaps or disruptions?
With technology, things can happen that are out of everyone’s control. There’s not a virtual event provider out there, if they’re being honest, that hasn’t had a technical disruption of some kind. In our opinion, the answer to this question is two-fold:
- To ensure there won’t be any technical issues, everyone involved with the event must be gin clear as to what the technical requirements are and it’s the platform provider’s responsibility to ensure everyone is well educated. This includes meticulously training presenters/speakers on how to use the technology and what technical setup they must have to ensure successful presentations; showing exhibitors and sponsors (if applicable) exactly how they can engage with attendees and the setup they must have on their end to have an optimal virtual event experience; through numerous event ‘reminder’ emails, providing event attendees with access to system tests, performance checks, literature, and tutorials that explain the technical makeup they need to have and how best to navigate the virtual event. Repeat after me – training and education, training and education, training and education!
- Let’s say you do everything outlined in Part 1 and you STILL have a technical disruption…what do you do now? Well for starters, you need to ensure you’re working with a virtual event partner that puts the customer first and will do everything possible to troubleshoot the technical mishap as quickly as possible. We’ve all heard horror stories where things went wrong and then only got worse because the virtual event provider was nowhere to be found. At Elastic, we take a multi-pronged approach to support and our clients know that we’re supporting them, their presenters, sponsors, exhibitors and attendees multiple ways. Whether it be through email, chat, text or phone call, your virtual event partner should have a ‘real-time’ support policy. Anything less than that should not be acceptable. As you go through the selection process, ask vendors to provide you with documentation on their support policies and their approach to troubleshooting technical issues should they arise.
Jason Stegent is the Founder & President of Elastic Solutions. Email him @ firstname.lastname@example.org