Maintaining Real Connections With Virtual Events

Jodi Amendola is CEO of Amendola, an award-winning healthcare and technology public relations and marketing agency based in Scottsdale, AZ.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and virtual events are more popular than ever now that most in-person trade conferences and other marketing-focused events have been canceled.

While you may not have heard much about them in the past, virtual events have actually been around for several years. In the past, they were generally viewed as a cost-effective way to hold an event, especially by organizations that doubted whether they could convince enough people to fly in from all over the country to attend an in-person event.

Then came Covid-19, and suddenly virtual events look a whole lot more attractive, even to the big players.

While there is hope that live events will once again take center stage once mass gatherings are allowed, no one is certain how things will play out. No matter what happens, marketers are discovering that there is a lot to like about virtual events — and a lot of value in doing them well.

Drawing from my experience helping health care and health IT companies with their virtual conferences, here are a few ideas that can help you be more successful with your virtual events.

Virtual Conferences

Most successful live conferences consist of three elements: product exhibits, networking and education. All three can be accomplished virtually.

Savvy marketers can sponsor entire virtual conferences (likely for far less than a live event would have cost), gaining the association with the event. Or they can sponsor official networking events within the conference, often with the ability to keep their corporate identity front and center.

But it doesn’t end there. Organizations can also hold their own networking/education sessions at the same time as a big event. All a participant would have to do is click out of the virtual conference and onto the ancillary event — like holding a cocktail hour in an adjoining hotel.

The only caveat is the main event organizer would probably not be too pleased if you used their name to pull people away. But that is easily solved if you just avoid using the name, the way many companies refer to the Super Bowl as “the Big Game” to avoid trademark infringement.

The exhibition part gets a little trickier. It’s not so bad if you have a software product — you can do an online demo as easily as an in-person demo. It’s perhaps even easier because you’re not fighting the sound of 100 competing music loops, noisy products and actors/spokespeople on the show floor. Just be sure to pay attention to making a personal connection before launching into the technology.

If your product is physical, however, you will need to pay attention to the details to make the proper impression. For example, if you’re selling helicopters and one of the key features is the size or capacity, create a virtual tour that places people or something else recognizable nearby to deliver a size/capacity comparison.

Another idea is to use 3D graphics to give visitors a virtual tour inside the equipment. (You can make this even more impressive if you have the means to deliver the tour via virtual reality.) The key is rather than looking at what you don’t have, take advantage of what you do have at your disposal to make the visit memorable.

Don’t skimp on the booth design because it’s virtual, either. If you have the ability to supply graphics, put some real thought into them. Create a booth that will be impressive online — maybe even more impressive than you could afford in real life. That goes double if you are small and want to look big.

Finally, there is the in-booth meeting aspect. Work on the details here as well. If you will be entering a virtual room, be sure it reflects your overall identity. If it will just be more of a standard videoconference, create a cool background for your employees to use that carries your corporate identity.

Also, be sure to invest in quality equipment and test it out ahead of time. Nothing sinks a virtual meeting faster than audio dropouts, video freezes and other technical glitches.

Webinars

We’ve all been to more “death by PowerPoint” webinars than we’ve ever wanted. Often they are informative but dull, and plagued by technical issues — none of which create a lasting, positive impression.

Why not consider investing a little more to acquire (or at least rent) technology that will allow participant avatars to enter a room and watch a presentation as if it’s on a stage? Or in an outdoor setting? Or in the future? That capability exists, and it has the ability to make webinars much more exciting.

With a little creativity, you can deliver a webinar that makes attendees say “wow” while encouraging them to sign up for the next one — and associate your brand with quality.

Making Your Static Materials Virtual-Friendly

You don’t need a big event to take advantage of virtual capabilities. Much of what you already have can go virtual as well. For example:

• Instead of providing case studies as read-only, you can turn them into audio stories that can be downloaded and listened to while driving, jogging, cleaning the house, etc. You might even have the customer profiled contribute a couple of sound bites.

• You can also create audio white papers or blog posts using professional announcers. Think of them as short books on tape — only with your stories in them.

• Rather than doing standard, boring videoconference calls, use technology to create an entire virtual environment (similar to what is mentioned in the webinars section).

• Dress up your newsroom with a virtual library where visitors can select an article or press release with an avatar and have it open like a magazine or newspaper. Or use video to have a “news anchor” or two read it in a virtual newsroom.

There is plenty you can do. With a little creativity, you can use the current virtual world to your advantage and ensure that your organization stands out from the competition.


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