Engagement + Marketing

Start With the End in Mind

If you’re like many in the event industry, 2011 will be the year you go virtual. And you’ll likely call someone like me to ask 'how,' when what I wish you’d ask is 'why.'

Do I think you should produce a virtual or hybrid event? Maybe. OK, probably. But for the right reasons – not because it’s trendy.

What I want to know is what you hope to accomplish with a virtual event. Are you trying to “tease” potential attendees to come to next year’s event? Or is your goal to make those who couldn’t attend physically still feel a part of the event? Are you hoping to position yourself as an education resource for your industry? Or is revenue your ultimate objective?

These are all legitimate goals, but each requires a different approach in terms of content and production for a virtual event.

If you’re going with the “tease” to try and give the 70 percent of your potential audience that never comes to your event a taste of what it’s like, then consider simply livecasting your keynotes and a few of the stronger breakout sessions. Maybe include a few video interviews with attendees talking about key takeaways from the meeting.

If the immersion of your home audience is what you want, then I’d suggest a robust offering of sessions and networking opportunities, with plenty of two-way communication. Add a streaming studio with “color commentators” who fill dead air between sessions and during food functions. And consider some product announcements and demos from exhibitors or sponsors so the home audience feels like they, too, got the latest news from the show floor.

If revenue is your goal, I’d up the ante on the above hybrid event and offer all the education sessions. Make it an on-demand event for at least six months, and include scheduled Q&A sessions with key speakers throughout the six months. Consider certification and accreditation for the online audience. Marketing will be key here to continue to drive attendees.

If positioning your organization as an education resource for your industry is what you really need, what could be better than a year of well-planned, well-executed Webinars? Not everything has to be a full-blown virtual event with an exhibit hall and a networking lounge. Add a link to a well-stocked resource room to your Webinars and you can become the go-to source for industry education.

For even more insights into the right kind of virtual event for your organization, I really recommend you attend the Virtual Edge Summit in Las Vegas, January 12-13, co-located with PCMA’s Annual Meeting: Convening Leaders. There are 36 great sessions on every topic you need. It’s a full-blown hybrid event, too, so if you can’t make it in person, plan to attend from your office!

If you’ve got virtual questions, start sending them my way, and I’ll be sure to get them to the right VES speakers and get you some answers. I look forward to a discussion here or on Twitter at @virtualedge and #VES11.

Donna Sanford

Donna Sanford is the founder and former publisher of Expo magazine.