More live events have transitioned online. This post explores how to host an online conference.
Massive events like SXSW, Adobe Summit, and TED were forced to cancel their in-person events this year due to concerns over COVID-19. Other conferences, like Google Cloud Next, opted to move live events online. Organizers seeking alternatives to live events are learning more about their options. This article discusses some ways brands can create events online.
Before planning your online event, it is important to understand the distinction between in-person and online events.
There are many reasons people choose to attend conferences in real life. A conference is a great opportunity to mingle with experts and meet potential business partners. Plus, it can be inspiring listening to famous influencers and industry experts speak. Real-life networking is easy when mingling in the hallways of a conference hall, or while viewing booths for new technologies. Conferences can also be a great time to present projects and work to others, marking big milestones in a career. Finally, the nature of events like these allows attendees to learn beyond one’s field of interest.
In-person events come at great expense and take a lot of time to plan in advance. External contractors like caterers, cleaners, and event spaces need to be found and paid for. The additional technological aspects of lighting and sound need to be met. And travel arrangements have to be prepared for speakers and event organizers.
The challenge of transitioning events online is fulfilling all of the same needs that are met by live events. Event networking can be challenging in an online environment. However, the cost-saving benefits are huge. The lack of a physical space relieves many of the needs of a live event. Money saved can be used in part to cater to each speaker’s setup. Pop filters, webcams, microphones and other technology can be sent to speakers in advance to mitigate any risks. Event organizers can pull bigger speakers Without the need for excessive spending.
Now that you’ve announced that the conference will be moved, you’ll need to make some adjustments for the format of your event. A regular conference will usually have main-stage speakers and smaller programs for panels and Q&A’s. There can even be some personalized training sessions, and booths to display new technology. To explore solutions for these challenges we spoke to Yieldify’s VP of marketing, Hannah Stewart.
The best way to capture the feeling of a live event is to use a mix of technologies for your online events. At Yieldify, they concentrated on recreating the networking experience with a dedicated slack workspace for their guests. The workspace, Tomorrow Society, housed multiple channels where guests could interact with speakers, share opinions and meet. “we had nearly 1,000 messages exchanged during the course of the event and the community continues to grow strong.”
In addition, it’s possible to blend webinar software and video conferencing software in your strategy. If the sessions are one-to-many, meaning there are few presenters broadcasting to many attendees, webinars are the way to go. Webinars can be used for product showcases, keynote addresses, and even live panels.
For breakout sessions, one-on-one training and workshops, a video conferencing solution like Meet would work great. Meeting rooms can act as virtual “booths” for vendors presenting new products. Plus, smaller sessions allow for a free-flowing discussion. They can also stand in as an opportunity to network during the conference.
Online conferences often struggle with maintaining an audience’s interest. Their format makes it less engaging for participants who can attend only specific sessions or even just watch the recording. The interactive nature of webinar software means that it’s possible for attendees to ask questions during and after the presentation. Time can be allotted for question and answer sessions, and webinars allow a huge amount of visibility for large audiences.
As Hannah notes, “For the content of the event, we changed tack from our usual webinar set-up. We had a lot of speakers willing to join us, and we wanted to offer up a longer, more in-depth program than the usual 45 minutes. To allow us to go up to our 2-hour program without losing our audience to their other tasks and priorities, we made it so that most of our content was conversational, dispensing with the visuals to give our audience an audio-driven, podcast-like experience so that they could carry on listening while they got through other tasks. This worked well, as did short-and-sweet sessions and giving a break in the middle of the content.”
Yieldify went the extra mile to make their virtual event engaging. To recreate the event experience they offered UberEats gift cards as an alternative to catering. They also invited guests to fill out forms in order to get swag boxes sent to their homes via Reachdesk, an online gifting platform.
If you wish for the online conferences to be accessed only by ticket holders, you can create gated webinars. The registration for gated webinars can’t be accessed unless participants input some information, or pay the ticket price. The registration page acts as a gate for most webinars.
The benefit of hosting online conferences is that you have new methods to share your content. Videos can be recorded in advance and distributed on-demand for event attendees who can’t watch two talks at once. And the ability to add videos and media to webinars open the floor to engaging material.
Promoting an online conference is very similar to promoting a physical event. In the communications surrounding the online event, make sure to express value. For Yieldify’s summit, they wanted to make sure they were bringing the same benefits that live summits have to the table. Says Hannah, “we wanted to recreate the 'real-life' event experience as much as possible, rather than holding 'a webinar by another name'.” Attendees and registrants will be more likely to attend if they know they can access the same benefits of a live event.
Each webinar will come with a registration page that will help attendees know what to expect during the webinar. Any registration page can be linked to a banner on your website, or embedded in your communications.
Email campaigns coinciding with social media communications will help spread the word to those who already know about your events to those who do not. You can even add an auto-response to your customer support chat for those asking if the event was changed.
Yieldify was able to use email marketing and social media to get over 600 registrants to their events. They also capitalized on the value of their guest speakers. “We also engaged several partners as speakers in order to increase reach into new audiences. With hundreds of messages exchanged and a Slack community going strong, we're now starting a brand new series of virtual events called 20/20 Vision, where e-commerce thought leaders will take their peers' questions.”
So, the final tip for promotion is to use the networks that belong to the guests and speakers. You can plan communications that highlight each speaker, which can then be shared to larger audiences.