In 2020, we were all still adjusting to the new world of remote working, virtual meetings, and Zoom. But this year, everyone has settled into their new routines and technology of choice.
For 2021’s conference season, industries have fully integrated their typical programming into a virtual format.
Now, the question is: What can we expect from virtual conferences in 2021?
And: What is the best way to fully engage with conferences and make the most of them?
Of course, some sectors and businesses miraculously managed to put together online events last year. But they weren’t necessarily well-attended or robust with presenters and content. In that case, the challenge is more about scaling for a much more confident and engaged audience. You’re also contending with greater competition and higher expectations. So your programming has really got to be top-notch. No more applause just for getting off the ground.
Below are 3 Top Tips for Attending Virtual Conferences this year:
1) Think About What’s Missing…
Everyone’s had a year to think about all the things they miss from real-world, in-person events. They’re already looking forward to getting back to normal soon. It’s at the top of everyone’s mind. So it’s important that these details are also at the forefront of your planning.
Here’s a great example: Networking. Isn’t part of the allure of conferences to meet new contacts? Whether it’s wandering by interesting booths or striking a conversation at happy hour, networking is an important part of business events. You can replicate this benefit with your virtual event by integrating an online happy hour or networking session. You can even make this part of an upgraded ticket. Be sure to personally invite some top names and promote the heck out of these special, elevated sessions, so that people really know they’ll have the chance to potentially chat with and get facetime with some influential people in their field if they upgrade.
Additionally, people want to get a lead on the latest news of their industry. People don’t necessarily want to see last year’s presentations, just because they got nixed from the roster due to the pandemic. Make sure to promote the fact that you’re offering brand new, relevant content in all of your sessions, so people will truly benefit from showing up.
2) Don’t Overlook Any Marketing Opportunities!
OK, so this event is digital. You’re going to focus on a digital marketing strategy. Obviously, that’s smart. But don’t overlook some of your traditional marketing opportunities, either.
For example, you’ll stand out by calling or texting certain participants and sponsors. This is especially wise if you leap-frogged your event last year, and they might not be sure if they should expect to hear from you or not this season. Re-establishing your personal relationships is best done through personal channels. But when it comes to attracting attendees, you can also mail physical promotional flyers or brochures. There’s less chance that you’ll get lost in a cluttered inbox that way.
Additionally, be sure to think about things like signage. Making sure that your hosts have consistent signage behind them in their virtual presentations (whether that’s a real-life sign or a custom Zoom background) will make the event seem more professional and branded.
3) You’ve Got to Stand Out!
At an in-person conference, you have a multitude of opportunities to make an impact on attendees. You might have booked an incredible location, maybe you have excellent “refresh and recharge” stations, or perhaps you had flying-off-the-booth swag bag goodies.
But that’s trickier with virtual conferences. Now, you’ve really got to attract top talent for keynotes, so that people want to show up and hear from them (and have the chance to ask questions directly). This might be a good year to lure amazing people in your field, if you don’t need to ask them to travel and they might be less busy than usual.
You also don’t want to overlook those giveaway goodies. Mailing freebies to attendees ahead of the event is a great way to build up excitement. Integrating them into the event is even better (“Show your X on the screen to win Y”). Food and beverages are almost always welcome gifts, and a favorite part of attending excellent conferences (or the post-conference happy hour).
If you’re presenting at a virtual conference, attending a virtual conference, or perhaps even thinking about hosting your own virtual conference in the months ahead, feel free to reach out for ideas on how to market your event and how to stand out from the crowd.