So many in-person conferences, trade shows, and company gatherings have been cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic. With each new announcement comes the realization it will be even longer before we can meet face-to-face. And on it goes. No chance to network with industry colleagues, or to be galvanised by inspiring speakers on stage. Gone are the opportunities to present or meet in person on trade stands. Sadly, no way of spending some quality social time with colleagues old and new.
Events are turning to the online world
Cancellations don’t completely wipe events off the calendar though. Event organizers have turned to the online world to re-purpose their events. They are now looking to hold them in the virtual world instead. Yet, even amongst the most optimistic, perennial positive thinkers – those whose wine glass is half-full, not half-empty – there can be the sense that going virtual is a second-best option.
That’s only natural. Especially since during these past few months, the events that have been hit were the ones that were already planned and due to go ahead. Venues were booked, tickets were sold, travel was in the diary and so on. Moving online was a necessary adjustment. A stoic compromise. A best-we-can-do-in-the-circumstances approach.
Delivering new online experiences
Now though, people are working on net new virtual events. These are ones that can be designed and planned carefully, specifically as online experiences. Of course, it’s not the same – because being there is the real thing, right? We want to be able to share time and space with normally far-flung colleagues. We want to feel the energy and excitement from being in the same space as other like-minded people. And we want to meet in person with the people we are working with, whether as suppliers, clients, or partners.
Virtual events have many advantages
It’s probably true that only a ‘real world’ event can offer ‘the real thing’. But it doesn’t mean that event organizers can’t deliver worthwhile, memorable, meaningful events by offering online equivalents such as virtual conferences, trade shows and meetings.
Here are some reasons why virtual events are better than in-person ones – either for organizers, or for those who might attend.
1. More people can attend virtual events
Every in-person event takes place somewhere. Thus, until Star Trek-style teleportation becomes widely available, attendance will always be limited to those who can or will travel. Online events mean anyone can attend, irrespective of their location. Great for those who might otherwise miss out, and great for organizers looking to boost event numbers.
2. Attendees save extra expenses
Getting to an event means travelling, and often hotel, food, drink, and entertainment budgets. Whether it’s Barcelona, Las Vegas, London, or Singapore, if the event is not close to your visitor’s home location, they face additional expenses beyond the ticket price. In fact, even free events, may not be affordable, due to these extra costs. Going virtual can remove the financial hurdle.
3. Virtual events are a better use of time
Time is money too. And since you can take part in a purely digital event from anywhere, potential visitors can attend without spending unproductive travel time. What’s more, with virtual trade shows and conferences, people can just log-in for the sessions they really wish to attend.
4. Lower ticket prices are possible
Putting on a quality online event still needs time and money invested. But some of your costs as an organizer can be reduced or even removed from the spreadsheet. Venue hire? Strike that out. Travel and hotel costs? Yep, for you and your keynote speakers too. Other logistical costs will also be redundant depending on your event: staging, lighting, a/v hire, catering, security, and so on. Of course, your virtual event could and should have its own production requirements, but overall, there should be the opportunity – if you want it – to offer tickets at a lower price than previously. Indeed, Microsoft Inspire ran its whole event this year as an entirely free event.
5. Bigger and better schedules
At some in person events, visitors must choose between two or more simultaneous sessions. By attending an online event, they can easily have their cake and eat it, by attending one live, and then catching-up with the other(s) on-demand. Of course, many real-world events can offer this feature, but with an event built solely around virtual attendance, there’s the opportunity to now build a bigger and broader schedule than you may have had physical space for. And maybe you can bring in more and bigger name presenters, who can more easily find time to join you, than if they had needed to travel.
6. Virtual events can be less intense
A real-world conference can be draining. A full-tilt experience for several days. With an online event, you can offer your schedule over a wider timescale, perhaps over a full week but without the need for attendees to dedicate back-to-back hours of screen-time to your gig.
7. Better chances to network
At an in-person event, it can be impossible to meet all the people you want to. Or to know which other delegates are available. You also might not have time to queue to talk to speaker and hold a confidential discussion. It may not be your style to strike up conversations with those you don’t know. You may find it hard to read delegate badges from afar. Virtual events level the playing field and open up opportunities. They can also offer side-channels to keep conversations going after a presentation. And networking slots, focused-topic discussion channels, and one-to-one meetings. Making a connection with industry peers and interesting contacts can be easier than ever.
8. Better leads and a quicker path to new revenue
Just like real trade shows and conferences, virtual events can provide opportunities for generating new business. This can be via profile-raising speaker slots, sponsorship, virtual exhibition stands, speed-meeting sessions, and so on. The beauty of digital events is that they are built on digital data. Rather than worry about scanning badges, collecting business cards, or retyping information from paper forms, a virtual event can deliver all the information in an immediately useful way, enabling you follow-up quicker, build pipeline, and convert business. What’s more, you might have access to better data too – not just name, job title and company, but also which sessions they attended, which materials they accessed, and which topic areas they are interested in.
9. Virtual events can offer more inclusive fun
We spend a lot of time on our screens. But with a little imagination you can offer content that brings people together. And which offers the bonding and community that come from spending quality time together. Virtual events can offer interesting and exciting entertainment for your attendees. This need only be limited by your budget and your imagination. Whether you hire professional entertainers, inspiring speakers, run competitions, quizzes, or auctions, or simply host a virtual cocktail session – there are lots of ways to offer something for everyone. Okay, it may not be quite as mind-blowing as having Drake, U2, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers closing the show, but at least people can hear themselves talk. And when it’s time to turn in for the evening…it’s as simple as closing the lid on the laptop!
10. Virtual events support a sustainable future
Last and by no means least: hosting an online event as an alternative to a physical one is a great way to reduce the environmental impact. As the ‘Business Avenger’ for Sustainable Cities and Communities, (Goal 11 of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development), we believe that technology holds the key to solving some of the world’s greatest problems. By holding your events in the virtual world, you can lower your own carbon footprint, and that of those who would otherwise travel to be there.
Without a doubt, pandemic or otherwise, virtual events will surely have an increasingly pivotal role to play in our lives.