Professional advice from Michelle Ponto, Content Strategy Director at Eurocom Worldwide's member EMG in Benelux & China
To say that the events world has changed in the first months of 2020 would be an understatement. Just last year, if I had been talking about doing a "virtual event" or a "hybrid event", I would have likely been met with perplexed faces. Fast forward a few months and most 2020 conferences have been postponed or cancelled altogether. With no press conferences or face-to-face customer meetings expected for months, traditional B2B in-person interactions have quickly changed to video conferencing, webinars, phone calls, human chatbots and other means.
An explosion in online events
To see how fast online events were embraced and gaining in momentum, EMG looked at the use of the word "webinar" and "virtual event" in global media (January 1 - May 15, 2020). Growth over this time frame has been almost explosive (note: the troughs are weekends), with significantly more webinars and virtual events being held and promoted than in previous months.
It's unlikely that events will shift back to being "in person" for the foreseeable future. But even then, according to a McKinsey report that came out the end of April 2020, 50% of B2B companies believe that the new virtual models are just as effective as their more traditional sales counterparts. Furthermore, 78% of B2B customers who began using digital media (social media, websites, etc.) to help them in making purchasing decisions, reported that they will continue to use them going forward – even when face-to-face interactions return.
I’ve noticed how quickly clients are warming to new online models in my own role. Just this month, I conducted a seamless virtual training session with 30 sales professionals from across Europe and the APAC region. I could see them and they could see me. I could switch between live demonstrations to a static presentation throughout. All the while, the attendees could ask questions to make for a truly interactive experience.
Just a few months ago, this training session would undoubtedly have taken place on location at several offices and been done multiple times. I would have had to fly to the Shanghai location to reach one team and perhaps several different European offices to train the rest of the group. Now instead, a virtual session could be held, which – based on the reviews and the request to do another specialized session for their team – turned out to be just as effective for the attendees themselves, while also helping the client to save time and travel expenses. It was a true win-win.
Going beyond the Power Point presentation
We are fortunate nowadays to have widely available tools at our disposal to create memorable virtual events. However, after months of using online platforms to connect, your audience is now used to chats, seeing who they are talking to and having a way to immediately connect. In other words, a conventional webinar with a static slideshow where they only hear a voice may no longer be enough to keep them from losing interest and start checking their emails – or worse, leaving the event.
Opt for a presentation style live host
One option to remedy this is to opt for a presentation style live host, who is on video during the entire broadcast so the audience can relate to them. The host could take live questions throughout, to stimulate true involvement. Furthermore, you could pair them with one of your subject matter experts (SMEs). That will allow your SME to focus on the information, while the engaging host can manage the flow.
The same concept can be used for a virtual invitation-only press conference where key editors are invited to hear about a new product or partnership and giving the opportunity to ask your spokespersons questions during the session.
Making something visually stimulating will also help your event stand out from the crowd. If you feel more comfortable with a pre-recorded presentation, you could opt for a video using a green screen that can transform into (virtually) anything. For example, your spokesperson could be in front of the screen, but behind them you could have the factory in full operation, as production is explained, and the product is subsequently demoed.
Or go for a panel discussion
Another popular option is to go for a panel discussion that brings together SMEs, third party speakers or analysts for a roundtable discussion on a pre-defined set of subjects. For an informal spin, you could opt for a “Coffee Talk,” where SMEs and influencers talk about their area of expertise and offer practical advice. This can be done in a room if safe distancing is possible or it can be done by video connecting each of your guests into the live online chat.
Last but not least, you could use your event to demonstrate why your company or product succeeds for those in the know. Why not invite some of your best customers to alive case study and let them talk about your product from their perspective? You can even integrate videos that highlight your customer relationships and discuss them with your guests as a part of the conversation.
One of the greatest advantages of virtual events is that we are almost at a stage where the only limit is your imagination.
Virtual strategies for lead generation
With the growing popularity of online training sessions, seminars and virtual demos, it’s never been more important to ensure that your message is getting out while collecting leads along the way. Plus, just like in-person events, it’s important to get the right people attending – even if the event or press conference is happening online.
This is where EMG’s expertise can support you. Not only can we assist you with the content and the production of your next online event, we can help make sure the right audience is attending by putting together a promotion plan that targets the attendees you really want through multiple channels all the while collecting possible leads along the way. Post-event, EMG can support you with follow ups and promoting downloadable materials, as well as drawing attention to the most engaged attendees of the webinar or virtual presentation.