Richard Etchison October 21, 2020 | 04:14:09
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Making The Most Of Virtual Event Experiences

As we move into the fourth quarter of this interminable year, many of us in PR are eager to turn the page. But at least we’re not conference organizers! The pandemic has imposed real challenges on B2B tech companies who rely on conferences and event marketing for branding, lead generation, and customer retention.

By the same token, many business executives rely on attending, speaking, or sponsoring in-person trade shows for their own visibility and thought leadership, and to stay on top of trends. We’re all longing to return to real live meetings, but conference producers are only tentatively planning physical events for 2021. Most are holding off setting dates for their conferences, moving forward with fully virtual ones, or planning tentative in-person events with virtual backups at the ready. So, it looks like we’re all going to have to sharpen our virtual event producing, presenting, and attendance skills for the foreseeable future.

Virtual events don’t mean you can’t network

There’s good news here, however. In spring 2020, event producers raced to convince attendees and sponsors of the value of online experiences. Event technology providers like Bizzabo built robust solutions that allow online attendees to simulate in-person human engagement with networking tools for chats, socializing, meet-ups, and direct messages. If you plan to attend a virtual event any time soon, you’ll be able to participate in happy hours, join Slack channels chats, linger in virtual lobbies, and indulge in fun activities like yoga practice. Delegates can still enjoy stimulating interactions with industry leaders even if their video sessions are pre-recorded, since most conferences offer live online Q&A sessions that follow recorded presentations – known as the hybrid event model.

Executives, what if you have to record a keynote speech?

For executive spokespersons accustomed to presenting to live audiences from behind a podium at tech conferences, things have changed. Delivering a keynote address to a laptop screen instead of an eager crowd presents a new set of technical and psychological challenges. I’ve seen seasoned thought leaders shrink at the prospect of recording a video session. Yet they shouldn’t feel that way, because recorded sessions have many advantages, including a long life span. Video keynotes are often made available on-demand, so it pays to get it right. A poorly framed presentation with dim lighting and tinny sound will detract from any keynote. To deliver the best possible self-recorded presentation, speakers should adhere to a few fundamentals to maximize production value. First, the speaker should position herself in the center of the camera frame, leaving a little head room at the top. The laptop camera should be propped to eye level, and the background should be lightly colored, simple and uncluttered. The best lighting is natural daylight that faces the speaker directly, but if that’s not possible, a ring light can be a sound investment. Ring lights go for $60 and up and are useful not only for recorded presentations but for frequent Zoom meetings.

Event attitude adjustment: Act as if in Vegas

For those registering for their first hybrid or virtual conference, it might be tempting to approach the event as a throwaway. But it’s a mistake to plan to be half engaged while doing other work. Savvy event producers have put all the technology tools in place to approximate a live conference experience. If attendees approach the virtual convention with the same attitude as they would a glitzy conference in Las Vegas, they can reap many more benefits.

Virtual delegates should clear their daily calendars, eliminate possible homebound distractions (always tough but worth a try), and above all make a detailed plan for a day of active listening, asking questions, and networking. Well-conceived tech conferences will have an event app and custom agenda builder to help plan the day to the minute. Prepare some questions ahead of time for key session live Q&As, and engage as much as possible with live polls, quizzes, or Slack chats. Sharing favorite sessions on social media is another worthwhile way to engage with fellow attendees and network with VIP speakers. Finally, a quick test-run with a new event app and the meeting’s video technology will prevent any last-second hiccups or wonky interactions.

The year 2020 forced many event programmers to embrace the kind of technologies that used to intimidate them. Experts forecast that virtual sessions will become at least part of most in-person conferences, even as the pandemic ultimately subsides. As the hybrid event model becomes the norm, event producers have become more skilled and extremely inventive. Meanwhile, those of us on both sides of the podium can get real enjoyment from events and conferences even as we maximize the business benefits.

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