The New Realities of Virtual Events
BY CHRISTINE TORRES
Published February 04, 2021
Virtual events are not a new thing, but there is a new demand for them since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Businesses had to change up their lead-generation and marketing strategies at a moment’s notice. Christopher Nesbit, an event marketing professional and co-founder of REPS Events, hosts #USAMfgHour on Twitter, talking about virtual networking and how manufacturers and others in industry can easily reap the benefits.
Business and Distancing
Businesses might not know where to go to find virtual events that hit their core market. A 2020 study by Bizzabo polled hundreds of event marketers and shows:
- 97% believe we will see more hybrid events in 2021.
- 93% plan to invest in virtual events moving forward.
- 89% of businesses using event technology save roughly 200 hours per year.
In 2020, trade shows, one-on-ones, and other physical events were canceled or pivoted using virtual. What steps has your company taken over the last year to replace physical events?
“We’ve started to really rev-up on social media, virtual events, and staying in contact with customers via personalized emails,” said 360 Outcome.
“We’ve always have had virtual events, like our educational webinars,” said Graphic Products. “We've been offering more virtual project assistance and product demos.”
“We've switched all our events and in-person meetings over to Zoom events,” said Paul Kiesche of Aviate Creative.
“That is the challenge,” said Dar-Tech. “No more lead-gen from tradeshows. We tripled our advertising budget in trade pubs, are doing presentations with trade associations, and ramped-up our contributed content and PR.”
“We've missed working in person with our staff but online video conferences, seminars, and even holiday parties have been a big hit,” said Striven Software. “We reworked old traditions, made some new ones, and because we've been able to work from home, even more people have participated.”
“Embraced the change with a positive outlook (to start) - we relied heavily on in-person events to drive conversations + pipelie,” said John Buglino of Optessa. “This has since been replaced with a multitude of activities like Twitter chats, guest appearances on podcasts, and sponsorships.”
“Lots of Teams meetings, including a global sales team meeting,” said Radwell International.
“Everything is on Zoom,” said Sharon Landis of Landis Consulting (SLC).
According to Nesbit, many steps could be taken to virtually replace physical events:
- Virtual Networking
- Live Video Parties
- Round Table Events
- Virtual Skill Workshops
- Panel Discussions
The tip, he said, is to keep attendees engaged with focused audio/video conversations.
“Panel Discussions are a great way to draw attendees in,” he said.
It’s hard to make an abrupt change. What advantages do virtual events have over physical events?
“Environment saver. I don't have to drive or to fly to anywhere to attend,” said Ruby Rusine of Social Success Marketing. “I have fewer clothes to wash, LOL. It is also a stress saver... imagine rushing off and dealing with traffic. Now we don't have to deal with it.”
“Costs are lower, attendance can be global, you can save your feet from walking too much, virtual events can be more focused, you could literally be part of them in your PJs,” said Drive Source International-Dynamatic.
“Not to mention, the fact that you can coordinate them faster, means that you can do them more frequently,” said Nesbit.
“Safety is a big plus,” said Striven. “But virtual events provide flexibility to people who were already working remotely, new parents or caregivers can join in the fun without stressing about it being a time commitment. AND less money spent on renting a venue!”
“Unlimited seating, home environment, no dress code, (please dress) access to more online resources, more personable engagement,” said 360 Outcome.
Kiesche then pointed out additional advantages of virtual events:
- Access to international audience and contributors
- Better for Introverts
“Cost savings from T&E- not to mention the time in booking flights, cars, hotels, dinners, etc.,” said Buglino.
The cost-savings alone factor was a huge plus for several manufacturers and other businesses during the chat – especially the idea of cost-savings for international events.
“The opportunity to meet people in distant markets that would be prohibitively expensive to attend normally,” said Nigel Packer of Pelatis, a consultancy company in the United Kingdom. “Learning how to use the platforms and having a strategy and process to get the best from virtual events is a benefit.”
“I think they are way easier and cheaper to attend with less downtime before and after the event,” said Radwell.
“Exactly,” Nesbit said. “You no longer lose a whole day to travel, to talk to the same people, and learn the same things!”
“Lower costs, no need to worry about travel restrictions, no need to worry about health concerns,” said Rico Equipment.
Nesbit said there are many advantages to virtual events. They are:
- Speed: Quick turnover, more events in less time
- Cost: Fraction of the cost of a physical event
- Fewer Logistics: Elimination of travel, shipping, housing, etc.
- Customization: Events can be deeply customized
A few reasons why virtual events are less expensive:
- Zero staff travel cost
- No physical space rental
- No labor unions (tradeshows)
- Many self-serve options
- Less “swag” needed
- Better low-cost entertainment options
- No furniture rental
One example of the ways events can be customized, Nesbit said, is through virtual event platforms and software. He says he uses a platform known as Remo to host, plan, and promote remote events.
Plan, Do, Act
What are some of the things you should consider when planning a virtual event?
“Attendance. Virtual events make it easier to register for & commit to events because people don't have to travel, however, the day off it's easier for them to skip the event,” said NJMEP.org. “Increase in-person registration goals to reflect those that will not show up virtually.”
Some things to consider for planning a virtual event, Kiesche said, are:
- Your presentation
- Activities, Q&A time, interaction with the audience
- Encourage social sharing
- Perception of cost
- Value of event
“Aside from engaging presentations, having something onscreen for breaks was something we added on to the normal items we prepared for our global sales meeting,” said Radwell. “It isn't needed for all meetings, but it's good for meetings that have breaks.”
“Great point,” said NJMEP.org. “Any content to keep people engaged, especially during a break is vital. This is a fantastic addition to any virtual event with breaks!”
“Content for what Audience, Goals, TIME ZONE!, Value for the Audience,” said Rico.
“Time zones, technology, length of the event,” said DSI.
“The Time zone is so important! Value for the audience is king,” said Nesbit. “Hashtags and QR codes are great tools!”
Things to consider when planning a virtual event: How many will attend? What do you wish to accomplish? Will you do it yourself or contract? Which platform will you use? How will you customize it to be unique? Will you collect data? How? Have you attended a virtual event that made a major impression on you or your team?
“We had the pleasure of attending some of @IMTSchicago SPARK event back in June,” said 360 Outcome. “Huge bi-annual industry show normally held at McCormick Place, Chicago was reduced to virtual for the first time, they rose to the occasion!”
“Hmmm, been to some OK events, but can't think of one that made a major positive impression. However, I can think of a couple that left a really bad impression,” said Kiesche.
“We're at that event right now,” said Striven of the #USAMfgHour chat. “For a business software that has helped a lot of manufacturers, getting to talk WITH MANUFACTURERS is invaluable to improving our product. We couldn't connect with all these people at once in person! It's been incredibly helpful.”
“Absolutely. It's one of the best ways to get to know people! I am not big on networking virtually, though,” said DSI.
“Zoom networking (most common) is tough,” said Nesbit. “It is a lot easier when you are not competing with 100 people to talk to one.”
“I have attended a few, but those that were interactive and allowed for engagement and participation from us participants were the best ones,” said DuraTech.
“Engagement is key to making an impact,” said Nesbit. “Attendees should be walking away saying, ‘Wow! I will definitely be back again!’”
“Personally, yes! We have attended some virtual events from our industry organization,” said Rico. “@MHEDAOffice has given great insight and conversation to many different facets of our organization!”
“No, if talking about tradeshows and webinars,” said Dar-Tech. “They all were bombs or told you something you already know. But some online training changed my life.”
“There were some that were poor while others really stood out for me,” said Buglino. “Even with the bad, I learned what NOT to do + ways to improve I absolutely loved the #USABizParty tele summit on the #PowerofCommunity. Format, flow, speakers, insights were all incredible.”
“I think you bring up a really important point here. Planning is key,” said Nesbit. “The better the plan, the better the event will come across to the attendees.”
“Yes! @womeninind hosted a virtual conference last year using Whova, and it was great for interacting and engaging amongst our community of speakers, sponsors, and attendees,” said Rebekah Mechtensimer of Empowering Pumps and Equipment.
“Things that will make an impact on your attendees,” said Nesbit.
- Make it fun! Make it different
- Keep it clean and short (ish)
- Maintain engagement
- Have a plan that everyone understands
- Give your attendees tools for success
- Have several layers for attendees to explore
Do you or your team normally network at your physical events?
“We definitely do but-from my last answer- we've found that virtual events can be just as helpful in this department,” said Striven.
“Absolutely. That's often the main objective for the events we attend,” said Kiesche.
“Networking is important at any tradeshow we at @EmpoweringPumps goes to! #USAMfgHour I know our team is looking forward to when we get to do that again,” said Mechtensimer.
“It's what it's all about! Make connections, educate (without selling too much), & find ways to help,” said Buglino.
“Networking is one of the key goals of an event,” said Nesbit. “That is where the work really takes place. Selling or just connecting.”
“YES! That's a prime source of lead gen,” said Dar-Tech.
Networking is an important part of physical events, Nesbit said. Why should virtual events be any different? “Remo (for example) offers an excellent platform for networking! Remo gives attendees the ability to move from table to table, to participate in smaller (2-8 person) conversations.”
What is the future of virtual events after the pandemic?
“It's tricky,” said Striven. “Virtual events have made it so easy for more people to participate, connect and do it in a way that offers a better work/home balance. Perhaps there could be future hybrid events so we can still offer a well-executed virtual option for attendees.”
“There were around before the pandemic and will be here long after,” said Kiesche. “They may slow down, and some will stop, but I think we'll continue to see many do well. It'll be interesting how they evolve. They are really still in an infancy stage.”
“I do not see them going away + predict an increase in frequency as new software, tools, & providers enter the space,” said Buglino. “I would even put chats just like this as a virtual event with more brands embracing & engaging sooner than later.”
“That's the question,” said Dar-Tech. “The paradigm has shifted. Will it shift back to what is normal and comfortable? Will there be a new hybrid? Same thing with working remotely. It works, but how many will go back to butts in seats?”
Virtual events are on the rise and likely are here to stay, in one form or another. Many companies are realizing the major advantages and minimal disadvantages of virtual events. Either way, now businesses have new opportunities and strategies to explore than ever before as change continues.
Anyone who champions U.S. manufacturing can join in on a new conversation each week on Twitter using the hashtag #USAMfgHour. The chat starts at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time/2 p.m. Eastern. Share positive blog posts, helpful articles, news, important information, accomplishments, events, and more with other manufacturers and supporters from throughout the country.