How to not screw up your virtual B2B event!

I’ve been running online events for many years – although the current crisis has forced an unprecedented shift in how large crowds interact for business, virtual events are not entirely new. In this article I’ll share some essential tips on how not to screw up your virtual B2B events in particular your first one. Even after this crisis passes, virtual events will have a much more important place in our lives than before Shelter-in-Place directives and social distancing.  The ROI of a well thought through and executed virtual event is going to be too compelling for most B2B CMOs to ignore.

In a previous life I spent almost 10 years building what eventually became the leading collaboration platform for online education centered around our flagship product, a virtual classroom. Those were early days for SaaS companies and we learned many lessons, all of which I have applied as we build Tocca.

Online is different from in person events, and there are certain things that are better in one or the other setting. Don’t mix them. They are different settings and use the best of each one.

Go live or record in advance and stream?

If you have to make a presentation of any kind with or without slides, with one or several people you can either record the presentation ahead of time or deliver it live. These are very different delivery methods and need different approaches. There is no one that is better than the other; it all depends on what you are trying to achieve.

Recording a presentation has a number of benefits, including the fact that you can make sure you do it with a great setting, with the right light, and with superior local recording, you’ll stay on time and your delivery will be  high quality as you can edit the presentation to make it as perfect as you can. Your audience will certainly appreciate it. Think about adding live Q&A with the session speaker immediately after the presentation streams, dress the same way just in case…..

Another major advantage of recording in advance is that you can immediately provide the recording on demand, a live session requires time to edit and upload.

Speakers and attendees tell me that they miss the interaction when a session is pre-recorded as attendees will be muted and likely with no camera  –  but when you have hundreds of people it is difficult. And at least you have the Q&A. But if you do decide to deliver your content live, take advantage of some ways you can engage your audience:

  1. Use polls to gather intelligence about your audience, either yes or no, or multiple choices. You should give the results and you can then refer back to those points in your presentation. Generally audiences like to know how they compare to other attendees and their attention to the subject increases substantially when you get them involved.
  2. Provide a way to give feedback during your presentation, by encouraging use of emoticons in the platform.

In both delivery methods if you are using slides, make sure there is a place on the screen for people to see you in a video. Listening to someone talking over slides only is not as effective as seeing an individual speaking even in a small box.

How long should a virtual event last?

Virtual events are exhausting for the attendee. How would you feel if you watched TV for 7/8  hours per day for 2 or 3 days? The attention span on a virtual event is reduced. In an in person event you have plenty of time to recharge, move around, see and interact with other people, not so when you’re consuming the content digitally. 

Experience has taught us that limiting any session to 45 minutes maximum. If you need longer for a keynote or a launch, add  a break, even a 5 or 10 minute will keep your audience more engaged. 

Do not do a virtual event for more than 4 hours in a day, spread it over more days if needed. Given that these are virtual events, you can have your virtual event 4 half days over a two week period. People do not need to travel to your place, and you can split it up and still keep the momentum. Take a moment to think about how your audience will best consume your content – executives vs practitioners – internal vs external – tailor your event to the profile of your intended audience.

Build a number of virtual events over time centered around interest verticals to make them smaller. You can re-use some of the material pre-recorded (a CEO talk etc.) and if needed you can ask the person to just come for Q&A. 

Structure 

All great event venues have a lobby – first impressions count!  The lobby is central to the event. You start in the lobby and from there you can go to different places. You should have a help desk there and be available to answer any questions.

In the lobby list a full agenda where your guests can at a glance see all activities. Make it very clear how to navigate the different aspects of the event.

The centerpiece should be your keynote address. Or anything you would have to welcome attendees. Around the keynote you can place the different live rooms, such as other sessions, training rooms, or sponsors booths. 

Another set of tools that are a must have are games, trivia or something funny to add some fun to the event. 

The top reason people attend events is to meet others and build their professional network, including an area where people can meet other attendees, in small groups, or individually on a one to one. Make sure they know who they can talk to, like you the badges we had at our live events. As attendees are authenticated there are ways to filter and group people by location origin, seniority, fields etc. If there are hundreds of people attending, filters are good to put cohorts together that have or have expressed certain interests or subjects to discuss.

Another very good way for an event longer than a day (4 hours) you can, through an initial survey suggest to certain people to join groups (tribes) or let people create and list tribes of whatever common denominator they choose to be. Maybe alumni of certain schools, people from Broolkyn, LGBT etc. so during the event you can always go back to your tribe to exchange information and relax a bit.

If you do training, never have more than 12 people in a room. Let the trainer be able to interact efficiently with the small audience. Either on a one to one, or in groups.

Of course real time analytics of the event are a must, what’s going on, where people go, who is attending what etc..

Hope this helps. Good luck with your events!