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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