What is Event Experience and How to Optimize it for Virtual?

Cassy Aite
February 24, 2021
What is Event Experience and How to Optimize it for Virtual?

The event experience has undergone a fundamental shift in 2020. With in-person events no longer a possibility, brands are increasingly opting for virtual events to reach and engage their audiences.

As we head into 2021, designing immersive virtual event experiences will become a crucial element of brands’ customer and employee engagement strategy.   

Once perceived as a novel idea, virtual events are steadily growing, with the number of organizations planning virtual events doubling in 2020.  A survey by Bizzabo reported that over 90% of event marketers want to include virtual events into their strategy.

Two donut charts representing marketers' attitudes towards virtual events
Image source: Bizzabo
How marketers plan on adapting their event strategy for digital platforms

While virtual events seem to be the way forward, marketers and organizations are having trouble replicating the in-person event experience digitally. However, this experience is fundamental to creating new opportunities, strengthening relationships, and making a lasting impact. That’s why we’re looking at the basics of event experience and ways to adapt and optimize events for digital or virtual platforms to deliver a memorable event experience.

Adapting Your Event Experience for Virtual Platforms

The event experience is the product of an interaction between an attendee/participant and the event organizer over the duration of the event lifecycle – right from the pre-event promotion to the post-event thank you emails and beyond.

Designing a memorable event experience starts with identifying the needs of your buyer personas, i.e. not just the attendees, but the sponsors, exhibitors, and media partners as well. On identifying these needs, you need to create an elaborate event plan to cater to those needs in the best way possible. Create a buzz and build anticipation for the event through pre-event activities. The next step is to build and maintain an emotional connection with your audience and deliver on the promised value (which is meeting the needs or pain points of your attendees).

Delivering a memorable event experience for physical events is relatively straightforward as they offer multiple touchpoints – from the registration desk to post-event dinners and fireside chats. Exhibitors and sponsors also get the opportunity to interact with customers in an environment where they enjoy customers’ undivided attention. This becomes a challenge when the same experience is adapted for the virtual context. For instance, a customer who walks up to a sponsor or exhibitor at an in-person event can look and feel the product. In the virtual setting, they can see the product, but the experiential elements associated with holding or feeling or even having a friendly chat with exhibitors is missing.

Event experiences optimized for digital platforms help organizations build their event as a brand, improve attendee engagement and advocacy, and provide not just memorable but immersive experiences.

A screenshot of the Open Data Science Conference 2020 which depicts a virtual event lobby
Scenes from Open Data Science Conference (ODSC) 2020

6 Ways to Optimize Your Virtual Event Experience

Some of the biggest virtual event challenges include building awareness, audience engagement, technical difficulties, and managing presentations or speaking sessions. We share six ways you can build an event experience optimized for digital platforms to realize better event outcomes.

1. Define the Event Plan

Define your event plan in line with your goal, opportunities, available resources, and restrictions at the time of your virtual event. While considerations such as the number of attendees, pricing, sponsorships, KPIs, date and time, etc. are essential, here are some virtual event-specific questions to ask yourself:

  • Which conference platform should we choose?
  • How should we approach event promotion?
  • What digital channels should we choose for promotion?
  • Will attendees have access to conference content after the event?
  • How do we minimize the risk of technical errors?

These questions will help you determine the infrastructure you need to deliver a great event experience.

Next, you must define your event strategy. Start with the basics – what are you trying to achieve through your event? Is it customer education? Are you looking to engage employees? Or ramp up participation for your partner program? Decide how your event will be different than all the other virtual events out there. What will make your event unique and memorable? It could be a product launch, a marquee speaker lineup, a fireside chat with the former President, or a killer opening act.

Finally, think of the packaging. The experience. What kind of experience do you want your attendees to have? What kind of experience do you want to provide your sponsors. Think virtual breakfast roundtables or VIP dinners. How will you add unique experiential elements that will elevate the event experience for attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, and speakers?

2. Choose Your Digital Properties Carefully

One crucial dimension you must include in your buyer personas is their tech-savviness. Understanding how comfortable your attendees are with technology will help you decide on aspects like the website interface, the registration process, the event platform, social media channels, video player, and audience interaction apps.

When it comes to the event website, one essential aspect you must consider is accessibility. Design the event website in a way that lets everyone engage with the experience you’re providing. It is important to optimize digital experiences for people with disabilities and different needs.

Also, when choosing an event management or hosting solution, it is always a good idea to thoroughly research the features and benefits that each tool offers. For example, if you’re hosting a B2B conference, live sessions, spaces (demo rooms, virtual booths, networking lounge, etc.), 1:1 sessions, and engagement tools are some of the must-haves.

3. Build Pre-Event Buzz

An interactive website, clear and consistent messaging, appealing visuals, and a multi-channel marketing plan are prerequisites for successful pre-event promotions. Along with these, you can also implement these unique strategies for your virtual event:

  • Content: With virtual events relying heavily on learning, doubling down on the content strategy makes a lot of sense. Apart from blog posts, infographics, and text interviews, videos, and podcasts are crucial to your event branding strategy. While you can adapt your content production to the event timeline, it must remain a year-round strategy.
  • Social Media: Use social media platforms’ native features to boost your reach. Ephemeral content/stories, live streams, ask me anything (AMA) sessions, tweet chats, tweetstorms, influencer tie-ups, and account takeovers should be a part of your pre-event buzz.
  • Advertising: As you team up with sponsors and partners to widen your reach, use social media ads, search engine marketing, programmatic ads, and other digital advertising channels to connect with new and existing prospects.

4. Don’t Compromise on the Event Production Value

According to a Markletic survey, bad internet connectivity, unstable audio, messy backgrounds, and pixelated video quality are the main annoyances of virtual event attendees.

A histogram representing the op frustrations for attendees in a virtual event
The top four frustrations in a virtual event

Ensure that everyone on the speaker list has the right equipment. A conference room camera, a basic streaming mic, a simple lighting setup, high-quality headphones, and a clean background or green screen will dramatically improve your conferences' production value.

It’s also helpful if you can recommend a minimum internet speed requirement in the FAQ section of the website for an optimal event experience. Before the conference, perform a dry run with speakers to check whether all equipment works well. Prepare a simple troubleshooting guide that helps speakers and attendees resolve any technical errors they could run into.

5. Gamify the Attendee Event Experience

A recent study by event hosting platform, Intrado, found that there was a 472% increase in audience engagement at virtual events – specifically at booths. This provides you with more opportunities for lead nurturing as well as monetization and sponsorships. Brands that deploy gamification on virtual event platforms can drive more traffic to sponsor booths, increase session attendance, improve networking, and more.  

You can use badges to recognize, drive, and award attendees for engaging in pre-defined activities throughout the virtual environment. Intrado found that attendees on its platform played over 1.3 million games in 2020, which is a 995% increase over last year.

6. Provide Ample Networking Opportunities

One of the biggest gripes about virtual events is the lack of networking opportunities. Unlike physical events, people can’t go around the conference venue, strike up conversations with fellow attendees, visit booths, exchange cards, and make new connections.

Whether you are conceptualizing a standard conference or an expo, ensure that you can facilitate meetings, individual streams, multitrack agendas, fireside chats, trade shows, and virtual booths. You can further enrich this experience by sending attendees credit to enjoy lunch, coffee, or drinks together using Hoppier.

Closing Thoughts

In today’s remote work environment, Zoom burnout is real, so, when planning an event, ensure that it’s not just another workshop or webinar. This can set you apart and ensure your event experience isn’t ruined by burnout.

Introducing elements of in-person conferences will help you produce a blended event experience; include elements like lunches, happy hour, cheese tasting, or other physical experiences that attendees can engage with from their homes while attending the event.  

Finally, measure, analyze, rinse, and repeat. Attendee behavior and their engagement with exhibitors, sessions, and sponsors will tell you a lot about their preferences. Collect attendees’ feedback through surveys and polls to analyze how you can address the gaps in their event experience with physical or virtual elements. Remember, your event isn’t just being compared to others, it’s being compared to the quality of entertainment provided by consumer experiences like Netflix.

So, here’s to a successful year of virtual events in 2021!

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