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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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.