Virtual events are becoming the new business conference standard. Virtual events have the ability to connect the global business community like never before. Just as companies used to meet in person for conferences and trade shows, virtual events allow companies to come together to network, share ideas, and develop relationships in a business environment.
In this blog post, you’ll learn about the most common types of virtual business events, along with some tips on making yours successful.
The days of the 90-minute webinar where you whip people into a frenzy with overly long monologues and flashy PowerPoint slides are over!
Take the audience’s attention away from multitasking by hosting an interactive webinar that keeps their attention focused on the subject at hand–through real-time interaction with you and other attendees.
Interactive webinars engage while demonstrating your expertise and most importantly, they inspire action.
The most common webinar format is one or two hosts who explain who they are and their best clients, proudest moments or highest accolades before moving on to highlight how they’ve helped household names or brands, then they give a high-level overview of their work, before switching to lesser-known or unknown client successes (to relate to the majority of the audience while building social proof and trust).
Then they give their high-level overview of what they are about to pitch – with just enough value that you stick around but no secrets that will only be available in the offer they are about to make. And then they transition to the close – how you can use this thing they are pitching in your life.
There is usually a component of here’s what we could be charging but don’t worry we’re not.
Then there are more reminders of the value, then a lower price, another round of value and a more realistic price, and finally a limited time offer price.
I’ve seen this formula used for years and it still works – even for someone, like myself, who knows the webinar format.
The secret lies in the ability to keep the same presentation style throughout. If you approach your webinar from a perspective of sharing and caring and teaching – serving your audience – don’t let your fear of selling (or objections or rejection) come through as you present the offer that you have so effectively set-up during the first 90% of the webinar because a percentage of your audience has already decided to buy.
How does this webinar formula work for other industries?
Success leaves clues, regardless of the industry, audience or company size – and many of those clues and practices are transferable to your business.
Virtual conferences are the next evolution of conferences and one which makes it possible for you to reach your customers, partners and employees anywhere in the world.
A virtual conference is a complex event – as complex as a live conference but with a more technical component, rather than a room block, meeting room, and F&B component.
Approximately 80% of the planning and execution are shared between an in-person and virtual conference.
You STILL need to build the business case, map out all the various components, have great audio and visual sources, find and work with speakers and entertainment to deliver the message you intend to deliver in your overall theme, attract attendees find sponsors (if appropriate), had a strong marketing/communications campaign before, during and after the conference.
The difference lies in the execution, primarily the technology used to host the event and how the speakers deliver their message.
Attention spans are short, especially online, so presentation length and style must be changed.
Shorter, more interactive sessions are necessary to keep engagement high.
Furthermore, people tend to treat virtual events as something they’ll attend if nothing else comes up.
They often forget or they only tentatively commit to going.
This contrasts with a high level of commitment for an in-person conference, where you book off the dates and travel dates in your calendar, you arrange your transportation (often buying a plane ticket), you book a hotel, arrange for someone to look after your children or your pets and so on.
An in-person event is a commitment, whereas a virtual event typically doesn’t.
To counteract this negative aspect, communication, surprise, delight, and creativity is necessary.
If you have door prizes at your live event, have door prizes at your virtual event (must be present to win).
If you randomly give prizes for interaction, do that virtually. Obviously, it is easier to give virtually-delivered prizes, such as a ticket to your next event or a virtual gift card but be sure to include it.
If you have a silent auction with desirable items, have an auction at your event.
If your event includes a gala dinner (and it’s logistically possible to do so), arrange for dinner to be delivered to your attendees and have a virtual dinner – of course, this only works if attendees are local or from a few cities.)
Alternatively, you can still have dinner and attendees can join a table from home or you could incorporate a cooking segment after sending a package of ingredients to them.
You can also include — and this is where most planners go wrong — a swag bag, sent to the homes of the attendees, with a workbook, sponsor flyers and some promotional products and anything else that fits the theme you’ve chosen for your event.
The bottom line is – many of the ways you recognize and reward your attendees at a live event can be done at a virtual event. The logistics are simply different.
But the effect is worth it!
The virtual tradeshow is a great way to produce your socially distanced tradeshow.
Most tradeshows have an educational component, which consists of keynotes and breakout sessions (essentially they are the same as a conference but they focus on the booths first, with the education second.)
The difference is getting people to the exhibitors’ booths…. especially qualified prospects and preferably eager buyers!
All of this is possible virtually.
Naturally, it’s not the same but it’s perhaps even better in some ways, especially if you truly embrace technology such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality… and then add in a dash of surprise sent to the home.
Your attendees can watch your keynote speakers on the main stage and even interact with them by raising their hands to ask a question.
They can also participate in breakout sessions and networking events.
And of course, a virtual tradeshow includes booths and opportunities for your exhibitors and sponsors to interact with attendees, collect leads, send them promotional materials or even sell from their booth…. All without the need to even leave the couch!
Many of the suggestions to improve attendance and engagement at a virtual conference, apply to a virtual tradeshow since tradeshows often include a conference.
Here are some of my favourite virtual vs in-person benefits of a virtual tradeshow.
First, you do not have to order your physical booth, banners and posters, backdrops, carpet etc.
Nor do you have to ship and set-up your products, brochures, and promotional products.
And perhaps best of all, you do not need to send your sales team across the region, country (or the world) and pay their travel expenses.
Instead, you set up your booth virtually.
Many virtual event platforms have a tradeshow component where you can upload a demo video, brochures, price sheets etc. and the attendee can visit on demand.
You can also book a time to meet with individuals to showcase your product and discuss their needs and if you are busy when someone stops by they can express their interest by clicking on a link for more information.
Best practices would include having that “more information” link connected to your CRM or SFA tools with an automated workflow.
And depending on the features of the virtual event platform, your marketing team could even create a mini-website, specifically for the event, with sales pages, lead generation and integration with your CRM or SFA tool with an automated workflow.
Imagine, not having to input all the data from the business cards you collect or having to pay for scanners to scan badges and then integrating that data into your various systems.
And as an attendee, imagine having the information you need instantly delivered digitally.
No more waiting to talk to a sales rep.
No more lugging a bag full of brochures back to your room, sorting through them, recycling most of it, and then taking the rest back to your home or office.
And no more wandering up and down aisles trying to avoid overly aggressive booth representatives desperate to meet their targets.
Virtual Roundtables allow people to virtually connect face-to-face with thought-leaders from other organizations.
They are also a way to bring together colleagues from different sections of a business, build bridges to other divisions, and explore new strategies.
Virtual Roundtables makes it easy to make new connections, learn, collaborate, brainstorm and expand your networks globally.
The main benefit of a virtual roundtable includes the ease of connection to others.
A virtual roundtable would typically be a desirable event to attend because you already share an interest in the topics to be discussed and you have a specific outcome in mind.
Therefore, the challenges that can be experienced with engagement and interaction of other virtual events would be much lower.
And who wouldn’t appreciate getting what they need without the need to leave their office or their home!
Virtual Job Fair
A Virtual Job Fair or Career Fair is a cost-effective way to attract high-quality job applicants for your company.
It’s great for finding new employees, but it’s even better for increasing applications.
A virtual career fair will provide your company with a chance to find new talent at scale with thousands of potential candidates selected for the event online.
And you can get to know the job seekers by hosting a group meeting for each opening and interacting with them to get a sense of their abilities.
Then you can pop into a private meeting with each person who makes your shortlist.
There are two types of virtual job fairs.
The first is a single company, multiple position recruitment drive.
This type of job fair can be handled in the same way as a virtual webinar with general information about the company and then a call to action to submit their resume or a call to action to sign-up for a second session that is specific to the job they are applying for, along with any filters you may have.
The second is the multi-company recruitment drive with a theme such as “work from home positions”, or “Vancouver jobs”, or “software engineer jobs”, or “nursing positions with relocation allowance”.
In this type of job fair, you’d treat it more like a virtual tradeshow, perhaps with an education component or perhaps with a sponsor.
Virtual Job Fairs are excellent ways to attract and recruit candidates, especially in a tight labour market or a highly competitive industry.
Not only does the recruiter have a chance to meet and speed network with candidates but the candidates can decide quickly whether the company itself is going to be a good fit.
Virtual Sales Kick-Off
Your Sales Kick-Off event is a great way to bring your entire sales team together, to share best practices, product updates, new sales strategies, hear customer success stories, and get everyone inspired to do what it takes to meet and exceed their sales targets.
Add in some virtual team activities and entertainment and it is a fun way to get people together and make some new connections.
Even though a virtual sales kick-off is primarily aimed at your internal sales team, you may include your channel partners such as strategic partners, JV alliance partners, affiliates or value-added resellers.
A virtual sales kick-off shares many similarities to a virtual conference.
There will be presentations and announcements from the main stage.
There may be breakout sessions for different sales teams.
There will be prizes and other ways to keep attendees engaged and there will be networking opportunities and roundtable discussions.
As with the virtual conference, many elements of your in-person sales kick-off events can be transitioned to a virtual environment with creativity.
If you typically included a rewards and recognition component, it can be done virtually.
You can even take a page from the 2020 Emmy’s and have someone deliver the physical awards “live” to recipients’ homes.
Likewise, if you had a gala dinner, you could have a virtual gala dinner by arranging with restaurant(s) to deliver the meals to the attendees or a subset of attendees (perhaps the award winners).
This could be challenging but with enough time for planning, it can be done.
Discovering new prospects is not getting any easier.
Virtual networking events are filling the gap, giving introverts and extroverts a chance to meet face-to-face – all without having to find a parking spot.
Online or virtual events that meet the criteria of true social networking are the modern-day equivalent of real-world gatherings – where people can freely join and leave tables and have a “stage” to stand on.
People go to events to collaborate, connect and to learn (the content).
Virtual networking is a safe and simple way to connect, maybe even learn something and decide whether to continue the relationship with other conversations.
Most virtual networking will occur in other types of events but you can set up a virtual networking event solely for the purposes of networking.
You should keep your networking groups small so that each person has a chance to speak.
If the platform you are using enables you to limit group size, great.
You’ll be able to invite more people and have them break into smaller groups.
If you cannot limit the networking group using the app, then you’ll need to limit the size manually through your invites.
As with other networking events, find ways to break the ice and make it a fun experience.
If your networking event is purely networking – not part of another event like a virtual tradeshow or virtual conference – keep your event’s length to 60 to 90 minutes to enable people to chat with multiple people.
Some virtual event apps allow for speed networking, which can be a fun way to meet people while also giving you an easy reason to end the conversation if it’s not going anywhere.
If your event app doesn’t include a registration card with names, company name, position etc. be sure to get this information (along with their LinkedIn profile, if it’s a business networking event) ahead of time.
Ensure attendees know the technical requirements for the app you are using.
Do they need to download it? How do they enter? What are the features? How will things work?
Have a structure and agenda, e.g. we’ll start at 6 pm and I will introduce you to the others, then I have 3 thought-provoking questions that I’d like each of you to respond to within 60 seconds and then I encourage each of you to get to know each other. At 7:15 I will share some exciting news with you and then we’ll wrap at 7:30.
And in the same way, you would greet people as they enter your in-person event, greet people as they join your virtual event too.
Transform online education and training events from one-way webcasts to multi-modal events that engage learners through immersive video, audio and content sharing, idea exchanges, Q&A and polling.
If you’ve read about the other types of virtual events in this blog post, and how important it is to engage your audience, this won’t be a surprise to you – wow your students, interact with them, give them what they are expecting (to learn) and so much more.
Replicate the in-person learning experience as best as you can by being creative and using different ways to deliver that experience.
Make e-learning fun by changing your teaching style to be more inclusive, more entertaining, more interactive. Encourage collaboration and group discussions.
What can you do to differentiate your virtual event from all the others?
There are many ideas in this blog post but perhaps the biggest takeaway will be – treat your virtual event as if it were an in-person event, with all the elements you would include in your live event, adjusted accordingly.
Certainly, not everything can be replicated but you might be surprised just how much can be done, just differently.
This approach can be more challenging, initially, from a logistical perspective – but what even doesn’t have logistical challenges?
However, it will be worth it in the long run as you will have wowed your audience by being creative and showing them that you care about them as a person, rather than as an anonymous attendee.
The more you wow them, the more likely they are to return and take the desired action that you want them to take.