Events in the time of COVID-19: Revisiting the Virtual Event
Tue, Mar 31 2020 04:06 | Event Industry Talk, Events and the Economy, Meetings Mean Business, Virtual Events
We discovered that the stopgap measure of virtual or hybrid events was better than nothing--but that no one was ready to give up large face-to-face events. As soon as the economy rebounded, people were meeting again (and more than ever).
There were a few reasons for this:
Face-to-face events provided superior engagement and networking experiences.
Video and virtual events didn't replace human connection.
In-person and destination events were highly motivating and produced a significant return on their investment.
But. Virtual events were better than nothing.
Now we find ourselves unable to physically get together to quell the spread of a pandemic. None of us really know how long or short-lived it will be, or when companies will go back to hosting face-to-face events again. (And it isn't an IF, it's a WHEN.)
In the meantime, we revisit virtual events. Videoconferencing. Virtual tradeshows.
The good thing is: we've learned a few things about best-practices for virtual engagement from the 2008-2010 years. In the next few blog posts we'll cover some of the problems you're likely to come across in the virtual event space--and some of the ways you can mitigate those problems.
How do you convey fireworks?
No matter how descriptive you are--how much you try to convey the excitement of the colors bursting in the night sky, the boom and explosion, the oohs-and-aaahs, the moment of waiting; that delicious anticipation between individual fireworks--it's something that can never be captured accurately without being there.
That's sort of how a high-energy live event is, too. You can talk about how amazing and motivating and emotional the experience was, you can show pictures of the staging and the team building and the networking, but you can't quite capture the essence of the event. Even if you do, people will default to their previous experiences and work your description into that picture in their mind.
It's one of the reasons why face-to-face events are here to stay; there's really nothing that compares to physically getting people together in the same space. It's powerful and not easily replaced (even though virtual-and-hybrid events tried to make a go of it for a while and are still seen occasionally).
It's also a reason why it can be hard to get a revolutionary event-industry idea to spread. Sometimes you just have to SEE it.
We hear this frustration with fellow event producers all the time; how do I let a client know what the fireworks are going to be like if they've never seen a firework before? How can I convey how amazing and transformative and delightful the experience is going to be?
We're still trying to figure this out ourselves. Here are a few things we've seen work to the benefit of both potential clients and the future event:
1. Invite prospects to events. This gives a client some familiarity with the concept, idea or event process that you're proposing. This is also good for clients who are literal/logistical thinkers and need to see something to nail down what it looks like in their own process.
This can also be difficult to do both because it takes time and effort to travel to a location for a prospective client, and because a current client may be dealing with proprietary information at the event that they can't let out of their inner circle. There's also nothing quite like participation--so observing an event can provide a completely different experience.
2. Testimonials. How do you know which movie to see on the weekend if you haven't seen any of the previews? Probably by looking at the reviews. Or a combination of looking at things you like and matching them with the experiences/reviews of others. You'll go if the reviews are good, you'll go if it's a genre you like and your friends gave it praise. This is why testimonials from clients who have been there and experienced that can be so powerful. They still may not be able to describe the fireworks, but they can generate enough interest and trust so that the prospective client is willing to try seeing them.
3. Building trust. Some people, above all, crave certainty. Introducing seemingly-radical elements into an event is only possible once you've already established a level of trust. With one client, we kept pushing their comfort zone and pushing their comfort zone--but after the experience of the event they said, "We'll never NOT trust you again." Having a history of providing great solutions can go a long way in getting a client to follow your vision or in getting your client to see what a shared vision might look like.
4. Videos/samples/pictures. If you have a concept that is at all visual, try to have as many (good) visuals as possible. This does, however, fall into the firework trap; a video/picture of fireworks just doesn't convey the energy of fireworks. Be careful that poor media doesn't backfire and zap any building excitement you had with underwhelming visuals.