With everything going on, planning for the future can feel incredibly overwhelming—if not impossible. You may have some wonderful ideas for future events, conferences, and meetings, but will you be allowed to host them? How will things look in six to eight months when the event is supposed to take place? Will your attendees be able to travel for it?
When it comes to the event industry, there are many unknowns. However, there is one big known: hybrid and virtual events are the future.
Whether it’s a temporary fix or a long-term alternative, we have to be ready to embrace this futuristic medium and, more importantly, adapt to the newfound demands of a hybrid or virtual event.
Brainstorming Your Next Big Event
AV was never a priority but now it has to be the first thing you’re thinking about. Now that the success of an event relies heavily on technology to run smoothly, it’s important to put AV at the top of your list (consider us at Vario, a virtual event production company, to be your go-to partner). Aspects like bandwidth, sound, video, and streaming will be more present than ever in 2021 and cannot afford to be an afterthought. When it comes to producing hybrid events, you may need double the AV staff than you would have for a fully live event to ensure broadcasting is executed well and just as strong as the in-person experience.
As we take a look back to when the country first experienced sudden closures and cancellations back in March, many companies rushed to create virtual alternatives to already-planned events. Presentations were hosted over Zoom, seminars (now “webinars”) were live-streamed, and discussions took place between a dozen tiny faces on your computer screen. At the time, these substitution events were successful enough. Now, we have the time, resources, and foresight to do better with virtual and hybrid events. Think of the virtual platform like the venue and source the one that properly aligns with your goals.
A hybrid event is not just an in-person event that is also viewable online —it’s an entirely new experience.
In the new year, it’s all about conceptualizing your event as a hybrid event. Focus on what you gain with technology, and factor in the in-person component—use this shift to your advantage. How do you guarantee that people want to come to your event when there are so many to choose from and zero limitations? What should you take into consideration?
- Length – Once upon a time, an attendee would sign up for a three-day, jam-packed, in-person conference without a second thought. Nowadays, with so many people working, learning, and connecting with friends exclusively online, that same attendee might not be willing to stare at a screen for three days straight, let alone a single full-day event.
- Interactivity – The longer the hybrid event, the harder it is to maintain everyone’s attention. If shortening your event isn’t in the cards, then you’ll need another way to keep people engaged. One great way to do that is with periodic interactive activities:
- Breakout discussion sessions to talk about new ideas
- Question-and-answer periods
- One-on-one built-in networking opportunities
- A tutorial for a hands-on project related to the topic—for example, “follow along as we show you how to code this page yourself,” or “learn from these tools to create a 3D rendering of a room in your home”
- Originality – With such an overload of virtual stimuli, you’ll need to curate an event worth logging on for. Is there something you can offer beyond speakers and presentations? Does your event boast exclusive content, a unique learning experience, or special guests who are usually too busy to travel for conventions and talks?
For a little virtual inspiration, here are some unique ideas that have already made an impression that you can incorporate in your hybrid event:
- Quintessa’s Virtual Estate Experience – In place of in-person vineyard tours and wine tastings, Quintessa invites guests on a virtual guided tour, followed by an immersive tasting with wine sent right to their doorsteps.
- Great American 5000 – Sports Backers created a virtual run from San Francisco to New York to bring people together and stay active. Participants form teams of 12 to 24 and walk, run, or hike for at least 24 cumulative hours a day, as they “travel” from one coast to the other on their team’s virtual map.
- Tomorrowland Around The World– This popular Belgian music festival took its live event to the virtual sphere, adding workshops, games, interactive activities, and impressive special effects to their already-exciting lineup of musical artists.
The Planning Process: Changes & Trends
Events can only change so much, even as they pivot into online spaces. A conference, for example, will still have guest speakers, perhaps discussions, some networking opportunities, meal breaks, and maybe a few bonus perks.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when you can simply reimagine it.
So what trends are we already noticing within virtual events? And how can you continue to improve upon these innovative ideas for your next event?
A Virtual Event Space
There are plenty of ways to host a conference, meeting, or series, but how do you go above and beyond to make your virtual event exactly that—an event?
A couple of notable online events created full-blown virtual “venues” to enhance the event experience:
- SBC Digital Summit – Attending this virtual betting and gaming industry event was not unlike arriving at the convention center for an in-person conference. Event attendees entered through the “Lobby,” where they could then explore the entire venue: the “Exhibition Hall” to check out the various booths and presenters, the “Conference Auditorium” to listen to engaging speakers, and the “Networking Lounge” to make professional connections.
- Tomorrowland Around the World – Again, this event was unique, not just because of what it offered, but how it was offered. Participants experienced the festival through an interactive “magical 3D map” where they could discover hidden stages, special surprises, and interact with other festival-goers.
Some conferences have even started hiring virtual emcees to lead attendees through the day and provide a more meaningful real-time experience. A celebrity emcee, or keynote speaker, can build excitement around your event and increase your reach.
Simulating the “Real Thing” Where You Can
A virtual event will never be the same as an in-person one, nor should it try to be. Sure, you can’t catch up with colleagues during your lunch break. You won’t take home a free t-shirt, drink holder, and keychain. You can’t walk over to a respected peer and strike up a conversation about the recent advancements in computer security, or digital marketing.
But that doesn’t mean you have to nix those aspects altogether.
If attendees can’t go to the conference, maybe the conference can come to them:
- Lunch vouchers – Some virtual events have already started providing free coupons for food delivery services, like GrubHub or Postmates. This added benefit to attendees helps recreate a live experience, while supporting local restaurants in their communities.
- Virtual sponsors – What’s more exciting than free swag? Free swag delivered right to your door, of course! Corporate sponsors would receive built-in publicity and opportunities to advertise at the event, while attendees could get delivery swag bags or discounted subscriptions like they would at a live convention.
- Networking opportunities – In-person professional events are like networking gold mines, but that doesn’t mean you can’t manufacture a similar experience online. You can achieve this through an informal, free-for-all “Networking Lounge,” like the SBC Digital Summit, or by organizing a “speed dating” style networking event in individual video conference “rooms.”
Virtual sales kickoff meetings and events have newfound benefits, but they also have unique challenges that event planners may overlook:
- Time zone considerations – On one hand, it’s amazing to welcome attendees from all across the country and even the world. But how do you accommodate everyone? For a national event, shoot for a middle ground timeline that pleases both East and West-coasters. For an international audience, record and distribute the seminars and talks; you can even create networking and discussion groups based on time zones so that all participants can engage in your event’s interactive components during their daylight hours.
- Accessibility – All events, virtual or otherwise, should be inclusive to all. It’s essential to plan ahead for any accommodations that need to be made, including:
- Sign language interpreters or closed-captioning
- Easy-to-read presentation material with large text and high color contrast, in an accessible file format
- Hosting technology that is compatible with screen readers or assistive listening devices
- Security – It’s easy enough to say you’ll host your event online, but finding a platform with the bandwidth to handle all of your various needs is easier said than done. Remember to factor in cybersecurity measures and advertise them to your attendees. After all, 65% of consumers think sharing their personal information with a company is risky—this could make or break your event for some people.
Technological Demands of Virtual Event Planning
For a professional event planner, this transition will be a walk in the park—or, perhaps more accurately, a virtual walking tour of the park. For many, however, the high-tech aspects of such large-scale events will require new strategies, software, and specialists.
Introducing: The Event Technologist
Only 20% of respondents in a recent survey consider themselves “tech-savvy.” Up until now, that was okay for event planning—digital experience was a bonus, but certainly not a prerequisite.
That’s now changing.
If your event planner doesn’t have the necessary tech skills and confidence, it’s time to add someone to your team who does. Cvent recommends hiring an event technologist, in addition to your AV partner, to handle all of your tech needs—which are now plentiful:
- Registering with an event software
- Analyzing and selecting the perfect hosting platform for your event
- Enhancing user experience
- Troubleshooting any event technology outside of the AV partner’s scope
- Monitoring and accounting for changing trends
- Collecting data to provide meaningful feedback
Finding the right person (or people) is a tall order, but a necessary one.
The Digital Space As Your Event Venue
Virtual tools and platforms aren’t just resources at your disposal—they are the event now. And you need a virtual event platform that can match your vision, whatever it may be.
That’s where Vario comes in.
We’ve internally developed a robust, full-featured virtual event platform– by event professionals, for event professionals. Have confidence in our capabilities:
- Maintain the elements of a physical event – A Virtual Exhibit Hall with appointment scheduling functionality, sponsor opportunities, one-on-one networking capabilities, and delivering high-value content.
- Technological bandwidth – Share multiple simultaneous video streams through almost any video conferencing software to more than 10,000 people; utilize Q&A, polling, breakout rooms, and live chat functionality; option for real-time captioning using either AI or human resources.
- Customizable event space – It’s not one size fits all. Personalize your event platform with everything you need to make this your perfect event.
- Hybrid events on the horizon – Easily transition into and out of entirely virtual events, so you’ll always be ready for the next shift in event planning. The platform is accessible on all devices and the team behind it is– you guessed it– available as onsite production as well. When you pivot, so will we.
Forging A New Path for Event Planning
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to event planning—its possibilities are both intimidating and exciting. Think of virtual and hybrid events as an opportunity for innovation rather than a roadblock on an already well-defined path. After all, some of the best ideas come when we’re forced outside of our comfort zone.
The future of event planning is here—talk to Vario Productions today to make the adjustment easier.
- Quintessa. Tasting Experiences. https://www.quintessa.com/the-experience
- Sports Backers. Great American 5000. https://www.sportsbackers.org/events/great-american-5000/
- Tomorrowland. What is Tomorrowland Around The World – The Digital Festival? https://faq.aroundtheworld.tomorrowland.com/hc/en-us/articles/360044073671-What-is-Tomorrowland-Around-The-World-The-Digital-Festival-
- Forbes. Four Emerging Trends To Consider For Your Next Virtual Event. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2020/08/24/four-emerging-trends-to-consider-for-your-next-virtual-event/#3cb8ddec18ff
- Rooted in Rights. How to Make Your Virtual Meetings and Events Accessible to the Disability Community.
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. What are Accessible Formats? https://aoda.ca/what-are-accessible-formats/
- Agility PR Solutions. Data security is the new table stakes for a positive brand experience—is yours protected? https://www.agilitypr.com/pr-news/public-relations/data-security-is-the-new-table-stakes-for-a-positive-brand-experience-is-yours-protected/
- SBC Digital Summit. About the SBC Digital Summit. https://sbcevents.com/sbc-digital-summit/
- Cvent. Rise of the Event Technologist. https://www.cvent.com/en/resource/event-cloud/rise-of-the-event-technologist
- Cvent. The Rise of the Event Technologist: Crucial For your Event’s Success?