Virtual Events Take Center Stage During COVID-19

April 14, 2020

Peter Gillett

Peter Gillett is CEO of Zuant where he’s responsible for driving product development and client roll-outs of the company’s award-winning Mobile Lead Capture app across U.S. corporations. An entrepreneur and innovator, Peter created the world’s first web-based CRM system funded by Lucent Technologies in the 1990s.

COVID-19 has had an enormous effect on business, with the live events industry one of the first to be hit. While some predict the pandemic will reduce or even eliminate the number of live events in the future, I disagree. The general consensus among our clients and event organizers is that trade shows will fiercely reemerge this fall and into next year. It could get frantic as the current events calendar will need to accommodate all those events that have been postponed, so get ready!

While no one would wish for our current climate, there are three positive effects that the pandemic has had on the events industry:

  1. Companies will embrace a remote workforce and realize they don’t need their current amount of office space as employees can work from home effectively with current technology tools like Zoom. 
  2. Trade shows will become even more important in the future because they are one of the few ways to connect with prospects and customers in-person to build trust-based relationships.  
  3. Companies will use what they learn from experimenting with virtual events and apply their learnings to enhance their physical events. For example, event planners will incorporate such tactics to enable delegates with physical limitations to attend their live events.  

Virtual Event Planning Tips

The success of moving from live to virtual events depends on the size of the venue. 

Switching a 100-person live meeting to a webinar is one thing, but moving a 5,000+ attendee conference to a virtual event is another. To engage large audiences, planners must simulate the same experience that attendees get when they attend a large event, which is no small feat.  

There are two key questions to ask. First, what’s the objective? Do you want to showcase new technology, expose new customers to your brand, provide networking for users, generate leads, entertain or all of the above?

Second, what format will you use?  Consider these three options:

  1. Live streaming
  2. Pre-recorded content
  3. Hybrid

Amazon Networking and Personalization

Successful networking is key to any event, virtual or live. The job of the event planner is to enable participants to connect around common interests. Try to recreate the buzz of a live event. Consider visitor match-making where you recommend connections based on company, job function, topic and other interests during and between sessions. Another networking tool is providing virtual guests the ability to set up online appointments just like they would if they were attending an actual trade show.

Just as networking is important, you must provide personalized content to ensure a large event’s success. Allow virtual attendees to create their own personal curriculum, similar to mobile event apps. Then, based on the sessions they attend, make additional session recommendations to keep them engaged. Think Amazon for virtual events!

Virtual Event Sponsors

Your event sponsors are going to be critical to your success. Here’s how to attract and keep them happy:   

  1. The virtual trade show enables visitors to virtually meet with reps from sponsors just as they would in a face-to-face exhibit hall.
  2. Rotating web banners give sponsors additional exposure to their target participants.
  3. Mini-videos of your sponsors’ products and services allow you to promote them before and after featuring your pre-recorded marketing content.

Post Show Lead Follow-up

Companies invest in events for many reasons, with lead generation being one of the most important. Therefore, make sure you have a follow-up mechanism in place to retrieve those leads and follow-up after the event. During a virtual event, make sure to record your visitors’ interests and follow-up requirements. And make sure to ask what their preferred method of post-event follow-up is and respond accordingly. The good news is now is going to be an easier time to reach prospects following a virtual event, whether by phone, text, email or social, since they won’t be traveling!

The events industry is in the midst of a very challenging time. Be open to new ways of connecting and remember, the show will go on, whether live or virtual. Have a great show!


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Overview: The award-winning Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) goes the extra mile to make every day extraordinary by offering customer service excellence and industry-leading partnerships. From their dedicated in-house Rigging team to their robust Exhibitor Services, The Center of Hospitality brings your imagination to life by helping you host unforgettable meetings and events. With more than 2 million square feet of exhibit space, world-class services and a dream destination, we are committed to making even the most ambitious conventions a reality. In October 2023, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted to approve allocating Tourist Development Tax funding for the $560 million Phase 5A completion of the OCCC. The Convention Way Grand Concourse project will include enhancements to the North-South Building, featuring an additional 60,000 square feet of meeting space, an 80,000- square-foot ballroom and new entry to the North-South Building along Convention Way. “We are thrilled to begin work on completing our North-South Building which will allow us to meet the growing needs of our clients,” said OCCC Executive Director Mark Tester. “As an economic driver for the community, this project will provide the Center with connectivity and meeting space to host more events and continue to infuse the local economy with new money and expanding business opportunities.” Amenities: The Center of Hospitality goes above and beyond by offering world-class customer service and industry-leading partnerships. From the largest convention center Wi-Fi network to custom LAN/WAN design, the Center takes pride in enhancing exhibitor and customer experience.  The OCCC is the exclusive provider of electricity (24-hour power at no additional cost), aerial rigging and lighting, water, natural gas and propane, compressed air, and cable TV services. Convenience The Center is at the epicenter of the destination, with an abundance of hotels, restaurants, and attractions within walking distance. Pedestrian bridges connect both buildings to more than 5,200 rooms and is within a 15-minute drive from the Orlando International Airport. The convenience of the location goes hand-in-hand with top notch service to help meet an event’s every need. Gold Key Members The OCCC’s Gold Key Members represent the best of the best when it comes to exceptional service and exclusive benefits for clients, exhibitors and guests. The Center’s Gold Key memberships with Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World greatly enhance meeting planner and attendee experiences offering world-renowned venues, immersive experiences and creative resources for their events. OCCC Events: This fiscal year, the OCCC is projected to host 168 events, 1.7 million attendees, and $2.9 billion in economic impact.  The Center’s top five events during their 2022-2023 fiscal year included:  AAU Jr. National Volleyball Championships 2023 200,000 Attendees $257 Million in Economic Impact MEGACON 2023 160,000 Attendees $205 Million in Economic Impact Open Championship Series 2023 69,500 Attendees $89 Million in Economic Impact Sunshine Classic 2023 42,000 Attendees $54 Million in Economic Impact Premiere Orlando 2023 42,000 Attendees $108 Million in Economic Impact