Limited contact, social distancing, strict hygiene rules – not at all ideal conditions for events of any kind. In order to be able to hold trade fairs, conferences, or training events, it makes sense to develop digital solutions and go virtual. Digital events are not only more environmentally friendly and cost-effective, but also offer the opportunity to reach a much larger target group. Nevertheless, there are some factors which distinguish organizing an online event from planning an in-person one which should be given special attention in advance.
Due to the current ban on large events, many companies are forced to consider digital alternatives for meetings, trade shows, and other events. But the organizational effort that goes into virtual events should not be underestimated. Instead of worrying about location, seating, or catering, we must now worry about server capacity, the right streaming software, and the operation of new digital tools – a major challenge for both organizers and participants. No wonder some companies are still hesitant to take this step. But with a little patience, detailed planning, and a lot of experimentation, digital events can be a complete success.
CHALLENGING, BUT DOABLE
An online event represents an administrative challenge in every respect, and especially for large events, all schedules should be gone through several times to ensure that everything runs smoothly during the actual event. The most important factor here is the technology. In the beginning is the decision for the appropriate streaming provider. Above all, the organizers must be able to estimate the rush in order to ensure sufficient server capacity. Also, technical issues and downtime should be avoided at all costs. With the right provider and direct communication channels, however, most requirements and wishes can be realized.
In-person events cannot be fully transferred into virtual space — certain areas are omitted while others are added. Classic event management may lack the necessary know-how to deal with the latter. While in-person events usually involve a spatial separation of different agenda items, these must now be divided into virtual rooms. Exhibition stands can be displayed in a virtual exhibition hall, and separate rooms for talks and discussions should also be included in the digital concept. In order to provide the participants with the necessary orientation, it is advisable to list all agenda items, time slots, and discussion groups clearly in an agenda booklet. At the same time, there should be instructions on how to use the software utilized in the event. This way, ambiguities and questions during the event can be avoided and there is more room for technical discussions.
Using a screen to attract and retain the attention of a target group is much more difficult than at an in-person event, because the purely visual experience on a laptop is not comparable to the all-round impression when you are actually where the action is. At home there are many distractions, be it the children, the cell phone, the neighbors, or the delivery man. In order to keep the participants engaged, it is therefore important to make the program as versatile and varied as possible. In addition, the event should combine different formats and tools and not just include lectures. The audience must be offered added value, which can be realized through interactive elements such as discussion rounds or even digital whiteboards. Last, but not least, despite the screen barrier, a certain level of humanity must be present. Too many or superfluous features quickly create a digital jungle in which no one can find their way around. Too much gamification should therefore be avoided, because the event should focus on a sense of community.
DISCOVER NEW PATHS
The relocation of major events to virtual space is not only a necessity, but also an opportunity — events with previously limited capacities can now massively expand their target groups and attract interested parties who might not have attended the event under normal circumstances. What is important here is a sensible marketing strategy that focuses on online marketing and can convince in a purely digital way. In addition, successes are much easier to identify — clicks, virtual feedback, and log-ins can be used to determine almost exact numbers of participants and identify popular topics. The digital response is therefore much easier to analyze than that of in-person events.
Many large events have already proven that everything is possible — from simple streams to complex click menus and animated exhibition halls with detailed stands. Interactive elements can be integrated, as well as live broadcasts. In addition, content can be archived and can thus be accessed even after the event has ended, allowing participants to continue to exchange information and network virtually.
Trade shows with social distancing and hygiene rules mean stress for organizers and visitors alike, and are associated with great responsibility that nobody wants to bear. Digital events not only minimize risk, but also make it possible to hold large events in the current situation. Of course, planning requires a certain amount of experimentation, but right now, there is a great deal of understanding when something doesn’t work out right away. It is essential to take go digital, because there are no alternatives.
In a representative inquiry of the opinion polling enterprise Civey on behalf of pressrelations, 74.4% of trade show visitors think that digital events have more disadvantages when compared to in-person ones. However, this shows that real experiences are still preferred to technology, despite the endless digital possibilities. Nothing replaces human encounters, but thanks to technology, events and interactions are still possible in these times, even if only in virtual space.