When the coronavirus pandemic struck, the event industry refused to give up. Instead, planners dove headfirst into the virtual deep-end, with simply no time to dip their toes in. The industry adapted, and boy has it made a splash! But, just as we started to dry ourselves off, summer slipped away and it became clear live events would not come with fall.
So, event professionals set out to master it all (and we aren't just talking about the standing desk orders). Human experience was rethought, and virtual happy hours, conferences, and award shows came alongside, breaking through the two-dimensional blue-light barrier. And while good news has seemed far and few between this year, success stories do exist. BizBash caught up with planners in hopes of sharing them, and even add a few pro's to the "new normal" list. Here's our list of nine reasons why virtual events aren't actually so bad.
1. Virtual events allow for more inclusivity, allowing almost anyone to be an eventgoer.
While it may sound contradictory, online options can actually enhance relationships valuable for the organizer, employees, and attendees alike.
"One positive that I've seen come out of the shift to virtual events is that many guests are able to include their families. Previously, internal company events were often limited to just employees as venue capacities and per-person costs dictated the guest list." But now, attendees no longer have all the concerns of child care or the financial restraints of travel. When the event is over, they're already home.
says Jennifer Leibow, director of Glow Events.
Heather Pilcher, CEO and executive producer of Blue Spark Event Design, adds,
"One of the obvious benefits of virtual events, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the ability to capture an audience that cannot or would not travel."
2. Virtual events offer valuable data and analytics capabilities, which can be tailored and applied to any future events.
Feedback is no new tool to improvement. However, real-time analytics and engagement data provide planners with even more insight, some of which can be shared with advertisers and sponsors. "With a live conference, surveys are sent to attendees after presentations and after the conference in an effort to gain feedback and improve future conferences, products, services, etc.," says Pilcher. "Virtual environments, however, tend to offer more in-depth analysis including how long an attendee stayed on the platform, their level of engagement, what questions they asked, and which segments they participated in."
3. Virtual events introduce new meaning to max capacity, aiding in audience expansion not possible before.
"Virtual events can have a much greater reach and open up the opportunity for more people from all around the world to attend, or gather in celebration. Instead of thinking about the number of guests and what size tables we need, and how we are going to move them through a live event, we are able to move them around and increase the room size with the size of the platform and click of a few keys on our keyboard."
says Heidi Hiller, owner and creative director of Innovative Party Planners. Overhead costs, such as travel and hotel fees, are eliminated when hosting virtually. In turn, attendance has the freedom to flourish.
4. Virtual events don't necessarily have a scheduled end time and can morph into new content concepts.
It's a simple lesson many have learned—what goes online, stays online for good. And in this case, it's a plus! With virtual events, planners now have the ability to record and reuse content. "The content can live on and gain new attention even after the event is over, allowing for additional revenue stream," says Hiller. Produced material can be transcribed to form a blog post, shared effortlessly, or even go viral—possibilities are endless with content generation driven across channels and occasions.
"Virtual events are best described as broadcasting orchestrated live and prerecorded TV moments, while live events are akin to being at the theater and stage performances,"
Hiller adds. (And who hasn't watched their favorite TV episode more than a few times?)
5. Virtual events increase access to high-level options for influencers, celebrities, and guest speakers.
"Access to speakers and talent is also a huge benefit, both in terms of actual access to people, as well as savings in terms of travel and rider requirements. For an in-person event, we have to ensure that the date is available, which is often a feat unto itself when booking a popular speaker or entertainment act. For an online event, we can often have a speaker record their remarks in advance, so the calendar no longer becomes an issue."
says Sarah Cissna, owner of The Side Lobby.
High-profile appearances have proven to be invaluable at events of all kinds—virtual options make it easier for the answer to be "yes," cutting time commitment and costs.
6. Virtual events support earmarking expenditures.
Many live event costs are eliminated when going virtual—no more centerpieces, onsite housing, staffing, etc. Going virtual allows these expenses to be used elsewhere, enhancing the online experience. For example, splurge on platform purchase and swag that increases engagement. "There are also less vendors and less variables to account for," notes Hiller. "The overhead costs are much lower to operate virtual events and we can in turn pass these on to our client." And for attendees, she adds, "All you need to attend is a decent internet connection and a device."
7. Virtual events allow for audience-craved authenticity.
Audiences and consumers are on the hunt for authenticity—and virtual events can satisfy that craving, and may even provide a lasting impression. With celebrities and CEOs tuning in from home, for example, walls are broken down. A personal, real feel is established, one which can't be created when looking up at the stage.
8. Virtual events execute eco-friendly initiatives.
In a time when all-things disposable are encouraged, some may wonder where we are in terms of sustainability. Well, kudos to the virtual event for the eco-friendly facets. "Virtual events have a much lower impact on our environment," says Hiller, noting that handouts and signs are now shared digitally, the carbon footprint is lessened with lack of travel, and even water usage is diminished with the absence of linens or utensils needing a wash.
9. Virtual events demonstrate commitment and resiliency to employees, clients, and even attendees.
The coronavirus pandemic brings bouts of anxiety, uncertainty, and stress.
"Just like in PR, if you don't communicate in crisis (or ongoing pandemic), you will lose exposure and connection to your clients, customers, and employees,"
says Valerie Bihet, director at VIBE Agency. Hosting a virtual event is a proud moment speaking to the industry's resiliency and reliability.
"Internal company events signal to your employees that you are committed to weathering tough times and finding creative ways to stick around," notes principal of DCM Communications Channing Muller.
"External events tell consumers (and your competition) that you are still doing business now, and fully intend to continue doing such because you're actively showcasing your agility to the current circumstances."