12 ways for your business to succeed with virtual conventions in 2021

Cassy Aite
August 18, 2021
12 ways for your business to succeed with virtual conventions in 2021

Conventions bring together individuals with similar interests or working in similar fields. Think of conventions as trade shows on nitro. They host talks, presentations, exhibitions, and networking events with thousands of people in attendance — and that explains both the scale and level of planning that goes into hosting a business convention.

Conventions went virtual after the COVID-19 outbreak, and thanks to robust event technology, the transition has been swift. Although the delivery medium changed, the intricacy of planning and budgeting a virtual convention remains the same. With increasingly distributed business teams, virtual conventions will be a staple for many event strategies. In this article, we'll look at 12 ways you can plan effective virtual conventions.

Why choose virtual conventions over in-person conventions?

Virtual conventions have become popular, with flexibility and convenience standing out as key drivers of growth for the event format. Let’s look at four other reasons that make virtual conventions more effective than in-person conventions.

1. Improved participation

A person raises their hand to participate at a virtual convention

Virtual conventions are location-agnostic. Participants don’t need to travel or spend on accommodations to attend. You can virtually participate in a convention in Los Angeles from the comfort of your home, office, or home office in any part of the world. This convenience and cost-effectiveness make it easy for more attendees to participate in virtual conventions.

Also, as virtual conventions attract speakers from across the globe, attendees benefit from a diverse speaker line-up.

2. Reduced time and budgets

Organizing a large-scale event comes with logistical challenges. Event coordinators must decide on a venue, sound design, videography, catering, accommodations, travel, local commutes, setup, salaries, and vendor payments.

Virtual conventions eliminate these considerations. A well-thought-out event technology stack with a solid virtual event platform at the center allows you to organize a large-scale event consisting of an expo, conference, and networking lounge for a convention. And with this tech, you can do it all efficiently in terms of both time and money.

3. Simpler content creation

The content creation process for in-person conventions is often time-consuming. After recording the event, you invest a big chunk of time into post-production.

Virtual event platforms come with built-in session recording features that significantly reduce post-production effort and make hosting conventions efficient and cost-effective. A more straightforward content creation process also enables marketers to quickly repurpose the content into multiple formats.

4. Richer data

Virtual event platforms simplify data collection for marketers and event planners. Hosting virtual conventions can help you gather data on your attendees, engagement, and conversions in ways that are simply not possible with in-person attendance. For instance, attendee profile data can provide you with granular information on demographic, geographic, psychographic, firmographic, and behavioral affinities, which helps you build a more robust targeting and segmentation strategy.

Additionally, real-time session data such as session attendance and engagement data are crucial to improving the event experience. Finally, the data you collect through polls, surveys, and feedback also serves as a trustworthy primary source for research reports.

13 ways to improve the virtual convention experience in 2021

A band serves as live entertainment for virtual conventions

Here are our top 13 tips to help you succeed with virtual conventions. We'll share a few basics of convention planning here, but if you want to master the foundations of the event planning process, use this Event Planning Checklist.

1. Deliver a cohesive attendee experience with your tech stack

Your virtual convention is only as strong as the weakest tool in your event tech stack. Considering the scope of virtual conventions, it's essential to invest in a robust virtual event platform that offers features to cover the entire event lifecycle. Here are the key features an event platform should offer:

  • Session Management: Multi-track, live, and on-demand sessions
  • Breakout Rooms: Breakout sessions, demo rooms, networking lounges, and 1:1 meeting rooms
  • Engagement Tools: Polls, live chat, feedback, Q&A session, and gamification
  • Virtual Booths: Live chat, customizable layouts, host and sponsor marketing collateral
  • Analytics: Insights, statistics, and tips

Include the following applications to create a cohesive user experience:

  • Website and landing page builder
  • Registration platform
  • Social media management tool
  • Marketing automation or email marketing platform
  • CRM
  • Collaboration apps

2. Promote inclusivity and mindfulness

Focus on the following two areas to support your inclusivity efforts:

Accessibility

Web accessibility enables everyone to access websites, apps, tools, and platforms regardless of their disabilities. When evaluating tech tools, ensure that they offer accessibility features. Design event identity elements, webpages, and other user touch points using dyslexia-friendly font types, sizes, and colors for optimal user experience. Many website builders also offer the option for visitors to customize the font type, size, and colors to fit their needs.

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)

Marketers and event producers agree that events with a diverse speaker lineup enjoy better engagement. Participants are increasingly taking note of organizations and events that “walk the talk” when it comes to showcasing and celebrating diversity in the industry.

Create diversity from the ground up. You can build a carefully curated list of speakers and panelists that reflect the diversity you want to project, but if your event production team and volunteers are a homogenous group of people, it sends a subtle message to attendees that your event isn’t that inclusive after all. While your event format may be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, if your event production team isn’t reflective of your audience, you risk isolating your guests.

Begin by building a diverse event team that reflects your D&I values. A diverse team will bring more diverse ideas to your planning process. They can help you build on your D&I initiatives by onboarding a diverse speaker line-up, creating content that appeals to a diverse audience, and using inclusive language in your communications.

3. Create an omnichannel experience

If you've browsed any e-commerce store, you've probably noticed that you start to see their ads in your social media feed and on other websites. That’s remarketing in practice, an example of omnichannel marketing.

Omnichannel marketing provides a coherent experience for your target audience. Implementing it subtly in your event marketing strategy makes your campaigns consistent and memorable.

For example, at the beginning of the event marketing lifecycle, a visitor may download an ebook from your website by filling out a lead generation form. After a week, try to make a soft sell via email. They might then visit the registration page but not complete the process. To provide the necessary nudge, reconnect with them on social media and offer an exclusive discount coupon or group discount to compel them to register.

You can create a similar strategy for each target segment and deliver an omnichannel marketing experience to all event attendees.

4. Build anticipation beforehand

There can be a gap of 3-4 months during the registration and the convention. However, you can use this time to engage registrants and attract new participants and partners.

Organize a pre-convention virtual get-together — a small-scale event that showcases critical features and benefits of the virtual convention for existing participants. In this session, you can host short talks, workshops, and Q&As on the platform. You could also provide a glimpse of the convention by releasing exclusive speaker interview snippets and sponsored content to keep attendees engaged.

Simultaneously, free webinars can generate new leads, which you can use to upsell the virtual convention.

5. Collaborate with other organizations

You might want to think about co-marketing if you are looking to take your virtual convention to the next level. Co-marketing is beneficial as you will collaborate with a brand targeting a similar audience. This way, you can complement each other’s strengths, tap into a larger user segment, onboard an eclectic speaker line-up, and provide more value to sponsors, attendees, and everyone involved.

You can also partner with industry associations instead of businesses.

6. Leverage influencers and communities

For virtual conventions, speakers, panelists, and trainers are the key influencers. Invite them for an interview, webinar, or podcast to create pre-event buzz. You can also create customized text content, social media visuals, interview snippets, and email signatures that they can use in their social communications. You can do the same when working with sponsors on content creation.

A community is like an online street team that will create buzz for you. You can use social media groups to bring together your most loyal attendees. It helps to put together a social media toolkit of sorts with guidelines and hashtags to share content online. Incentivizing the community by offering exclusive coupons and group discounts can motivate them further.

7. Minimize information overload

Conventions are knowledge-dense events, and once virtual, they get even more intense as remote attendees need to focus on grasping every word the speaker is saying. This could become tiring to the degree where attendees eventually zone out.

Here are a few ways you can reduce information overload during the convention:

  • Diversify session formats. Plan sessions in a way that reinforces learning without tiring the attendees. For instance, a speaker session can be followed by a hands-on workshop or interview.
  • Use built-in interactive elements such as polls and questions to encourage active engagement.
  • Use breakout rooms for speaker meet-and-greet sessions.
  • Provide the option of on-demand content to allow attendees to watch sessions at their leisure.

8. Make relaxation part of the program

A person participates in a guided meditation session at a virtual convention

Staying glued to the screen for an extended period of time can be exhausting. It's hard on the eyes and can involve hunching over the computer. Counteract this with activities that actively de-stress participants.

Introducing a 5-minute desk yoga session can be a great start. These exercises focus on the neck, shoulders, back, wrists, and elbows to release tension.

Guided meditations are effective for calming the mind. These meditations are instructor-led sessions that help you relax the mind and body. A simple 10-minute guided meditation can do wonders to increase event participation and minimize drop off.

9. Schedule live entertainment

Live entertainment can play a big role in boosting engagement and enhancing the event experience. It’s best to schedule it for the second half or the end of the day to keep the excitement building throughout your sessions.

Live concerts are certainly a showstopper. Depending on the scale of the convention, you can hire local or international artists to perform. While live-stream concerts have upped their production value in the last few years, consider the limitations of your virtual event platform and hire technical help if needed to provide a seamless viewing experience.

Similarly, an improv night can provide much-needed laughter therapy at the end of the day. Improv acts create contextual humor to end the event day on a light-hearted note.

10. Gamify the convention experience

Most virtual event platforms offer gamification features to boost engagement during learning sessions. You can extend this activity throughout your virtual convention.

Here are two simple ways to gamify the convention:

  • Leaderboard: As conventions have various activities, you can gamify them to encourage attendees to participate in as many of them as possible. Start by assigning points for each activity (such as attending a keynote session, visiting the trade show, and completing a workshop). Based on the points, you can publish the leaderboard and award prizes to the highest scorers.
  • Badges: Introduce virtual completion badges or certificates that can be shared on their profile and on social media. If the convention has multiple learning tracks, offer the respective badge after completing a track and award a “master” badge when an attendee completes all the tracks.

11. Add hybrid elements

Hybrid elements such as virtual lunches with actual food or wine tastings with the bottles provided create a personalized experience for the attendees. Introducing a hybrid aspect to your virtual convention can significantly boost engagement. One way to organize this is by giving out virtual credit cards to your attendees.

A virtual credit card that can be used to provide hybrid elements at virtual conventions

You can customize these cards by selecting vendors (restaurants, cafes, delivery partners, etc.), setting spending limits, and setting a card deactivation date so meeting attendees know where, how much, and when they can spend their funds. This way, everyone can order food, beverages, and supplies from their favorite places and enjoy an experience together.

Vendors that convention attendees can purchase from with their virtual credit card

The unspent money is deposited back into your account, so you save money compared to traditional gift cards or catering options.

12. Provide value-added benefits to sponsors

Offering value to event sponsors all-year-round ensures that they will return for the next edition of your virtual convention. You can create strategies to offer unique benefits to each sponsor tier.

Creating digital activation plans that drive awareness and sales is immensely helpful here. For example, for platinum or diamond tier sponsors, offer monthly newsletter features, a co-branded research report, quarterly interviews, and dedicated sales campaigns. You can then track the impact of each activity through analytics tools and tweak the strategy accordingly. For lower tiers, organize contests and offer access to the online community.

You can improvise on these ideas to improve your digital activation campaigns.

13. Improve the learning experience

Your virtual conventions could attract professionals from different industries, backgrounds, and levels of seniority. Similarly, the presentations, panel discussions, and workshops need to be aimed at different levels.

One of the most impactful things you can do to improve the learning experience is to mention the session's level clearly. This way, when attendees decide which sessions to attend, they can pick the most relevant ones for them. You can also ask them for suggestions to widen the scope of sessions based on demand.

Ready to launch?

Organizing conventions, whether in-person or virtual, takes a lot of planning and strategizing. We hope these tips help you plan your next virtual convention effectively. To further understand and ace the virtual convention planning process, check out our other articles on event planning and management.

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