Masterclass on Virtual EventsSeptember 24, 2020 | By: Daniella Middleton
The year is a virtual wash for business travel – well, for traditional business travel, at least. While convention centers worldwide are looking to the future for in-person events, meeting planners still have a way to gather and exchange, it just requires a little less travel and a few more screens.
Virtual events are not just a quick fix for the MICE industry, they are a new approach that will not only augment in-person meetings, but provide new opportunities as well. It’s exciting, if just a little daunting, to try and adapt to this new world. The good news is that the entire industry is adapting at the same time, so resources and new ideas are freely available.
As we wait to shake hands again at the next in-person event in the future, we wanted to shift focus and get planners and convention bureaus primed to think virtually, if they haven’t yet.
When groups of academics, industry leaders, or cosplay fans gathered before the pandemic, the formula was easy. Book a venue, reserve the accommodations and go from there. With these two major steps now eliminated, virtual conferences have created new steps to take.
First and foremost, decide if it should even be a live event. Make it deliberate, don’t default to a virtual event if a conference call will do for all or part of an event. The temptation with virtual events is that they will be the shiny new toy that every meeting planner wants to use. Don’t abuse it.
Just like traditional meetings, however, you need a team to iron out the logistics carefully and thoughtfully. Just because people are dialing in from all over the world doesn’t mean they won’t expect an organized event, clear goals and seamless execution. Planning will be more important than ever to juggle the moving parts of a virtual event, which are no less complicated than an in-person one.
There are choices to make. A major consideration is whether the event should be live or not, and it’s clear that live is better. By having all speakers and presentations live, the event will allow for the much coveted engagement with audiences. By having live polls during the event or breakout conversation rooms, you can elevate your event to be more than just a glorified Netflix show.
Even if the event is hybrid, you’ll want to stream in-person portions live to keep engagement high. People still want to feel like they are part of the experience, which requires a touch of creativity.
Think outside the box with the organization. For example, find sponsors to help offset costs or innovate the meeting. Consider having a sponsor provide a special offer for a lunch delivery, making the event feel more personal and intimate despite the lack of in-person events. Or send participants a care package ahead of time featuring items from partners or the destination hosting the event. By connecting as participants as much as possible, you’ll create a successful virtual event that will leave people wanting to do it again.
Virtual Events for DMOs
It’s not just business event organizers and planners that can benefit from virtual events. DMOs may not be focused on filling convention halls, but they still can use virtual events in novel ways to achieve their goals. As the new norm settles over us, DMOs more broadly must begin to embrace technology to fill in the gaps hollowed out by COVID-19.
At the beginning of the pandemic, museums and other attractions cycled through a variety of virtual experiences that were less engaging and interactive than desired. Now, however, having mastered the technology, we’re seeing the possibilities opened up by conferencing through tools like Zoom.
Virtual press trips, for example, if done thoughtfully, can work wonders at bringing travel journalists closer to a destination. Instead of just sending a media pitch to say someone is doing something unique or interesting, set up a short virtual event to let that person present it themselves. Journalists can tune in from all over the region, country or even world to learn about events in your destination just by clicking a Zoom link.
The same approach applies to Virtual FAM Trips for travel advisors looking to get ahead of the curve for bookings. They want to sell your destination or maybe train a new colleague to do so, but of course they can’t participate in a traditional FAM trip. Help them out with a few visits through your attractions. We all understand it won’t be the same, but it will be a powerful way to preserve relations with travel advisors hungry to sell. Also, it will require deeper collaboration with partners, and it’s difficult to see how that could be a bad thing!
Leaping Digital Divides
No adaptation comes without some feeling left behind. Virtual events, while attractive and engaging and exciting, are not always accessible. Some partners or speakers who normally present well in person may lack the internet connection or technical savvy to participate effectively.
While virtual events open up conferences to participants who may not have been able to travel to a venue, they may also alienate those who can’t access them. Remember, only 4.57 billion people have access to the internet – that’s just 59% of the world’s population. Those numbers, however, don’t take into account the freedom of users in nations like China where, unfortunately, your event may not be accessible due to government censorship. Just be mindful that there are limits to consider.
While virtual events are a new feather in the meetings industry’s cap, we’re still figuring out how all the parts work. Whether fully virtual, hybrid or (one day) in-person events, it’s undeniable that the meetings industry will be more exciting than ever moving forward.
Seems overwhelming, right? DCI has been experimenting and leading destinations – as it has for 60 years – through these difficult times. We have insight, strategy, guidance and protocols to help you segue into virtual events in your destination. Get in touch with Daniella Middleton at [email protected] to learn more about how DCI can help.