How to turn your next big event into a virtual showstopper


Turning a traditional conference into a virtual event can be nerve-wracking, but it shouldn't be. Here's how to plan and brief in your next brand experience to guarantee game-changing results. 

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Let’s start with the truth: while we all miss the face-to-face interaction of real-life conferences, we’ve quickly discovered this year that virtual events offer advantages that traditional events can’t touch. Our team has found that virtual solutions, if done right, can provide higher levels of engagement (before, during and after the event), a better user experience, and data insights which offer more sponsor-partnering power and impressive ROI. Hybrid solutions and multidimensional marketing are what we’re betting on for the future – but we’re getting ahead of ourselves, here’s how to banish your fears about creating a virtual event.

Our latest brand example: we were proud to partner with the prestigious Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) to launch their innovative AFA VISION 2020 Conference. This was a radical overhaul of their traditional three-day live event that took place in a capital city, and which routinely brought in over 600-700 delegates from around the country. The AFA is the longest-standing association that represents financial advisers and their clients, and they needed a sophisticated, effective way to connect... without being face-to-face. As the lead agency, we worked with partners to create a bespoke, three-day virtual solution, and it was a success on all counts. We carefully cultivated a professional TV-show format that was underpinned by creative technology and smart real-life benefits. And the outcome: a format which helped the AFA successfully transform from a physical event into a virtual one. So, if you’re planning your next event, here’s how to dazzle digitally, right from the outset.

START OVER WITH A TIGHTER, VIRTUAL-FOCUSED BRIEF.

For a truly successful virtual event, you need to start right back at the drawing board to intricately understand what the goal of your conference is – you can’t just switch everything to a simple webinar format and expect it to work as a conference, holding the attention of your delegates...especially for several hours or days on end.

Our goals for the VISION Conference: to deliver the content and service that the AFA is renowned for, while ensuring the delegates remained fully engaged. It became a high-value professional broadcast, complete with networking, gamification and immersive experiences to keep the delegates glued to their screens over the three-day event period. Additionally, all of the creative tech elements were driven towards particular engagement goals. The value of a tight, focused client brief is immeasurable as it’ll make sure you harness the best features of the virtual format for your event. You’ll need to work hand-in-hand with all your internal and external stakeholders and suppliers to define the brief and event blueprint. It will require managing expectations and overcoming people’s fear of the unknown – but the results will make it all worthwhile. 

CHOOSE THE RIGHT PARTNERS, AND THEN DIVVY UP THE TASKS.

Once you’ve outlined what you want to achieve, you’ll then need to start drafting a list of all the tools and resources you’ll need for the job, and that’s where smart budgeting and an understanding of production costs will matter (yes, you’re putting on a production). It will also help you to select the right agency and suppliers to partner with, and everyone will need to be clear about roles and responsibilities. You need to decide who’s going to do the conference website build, manage the speakers, help with programme support, and organise the logistics and exhibitor and sponsorship coordination. Here’s what Because did on our side of the partnership: we created a bespoke webcast platform (which included a pre-event lobby, a slick exhibitor chat function (which we then curated over the two days), and interactive tools like polls and Q&As, managed the production and logistics for both the pre-recorded content and the live production over two days, took care of venue hire and MC selection, sponsor integration, in-studio speaker training & management, data tracking and analysis for four months. Those are just some of the tasks you’ll need to keep in mind when planning. A team of almost twenty folk were required to make the VISION 2020 Conference happen, so don’t be mistaken in thinking that pulling off a memorable virtual event is a walk in the park – experience and skill is a prerequisite.

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EMPHASIZE THE REAL-LIFE VALUE YOU'RE PROVIDING.

One of the biggest challenges of this real-to-digital conversion is to show what the new virtual value is over the traditional conference, and to allay the fears of your stakeholders. Why would people want to pay for tickets for your new virtual event? For the VISION 2020 Conference, there was a host of features: the 80-plus live speakers, the five live industry panel sessions, polls, live Q&As and networking sessions, and the virtual expo of 30-plus partners and exhibitors during the event. In addition, we offered 36 hours of CPD-accredited content and four months of on-demand access to all the exclusive content from the presentations and masterclasses. Crucially, this content counts towards professional development points, so it’s a massive benefit for the attendees in terms of their careers.

This digital format not only allows more people to attend (distance and travel costs are no longer a barrier), it’s also much easier for high numbers of conference guests to interact with the speakers, and to chat in real-time with the experts. This digital format allows you to sell something new to your sponsors, as not only can you track delegates more closely and offer deep data analytics, but you can provide new engagement options in chat rooms, polls, interactive sessions and more. We created a custom dashboard for AFA, and not only did it provide all the analytics they needed at a glance, but it also opened a whole new world of customer retargeting for them and their sponsors – we expect that will be useful for quite some months to come.

You’ll also be able to promote the ‘soft’ benefits, like being more environmentally friendly, allowing your conference attendees to skip the travel and hotel costs and hassles. They can enjoy the conference from their couch, happy in the knowledge that they’re being sustainably responsible.    

CHOOSE YOUR HOST AND VENUE CAREFULLY. 

It’s a crucial decision, as it affects the flow and character of your event, and it can make or break your customer engagement. You need a skilled orator who knows how to engage with a camera rather than a room full of delegates, a people-manager that can effectively interview people and create seamless changes between sections and speakers. For VISION 2020, we chose the charismatic Nigel Collin as our MC, and he was the perfect fit for the conference, its content, and the attendees. He hosted the event from the main stage at the Museum of Contemporary Arts Australia.

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SUPPLEMENT THE EXPERIENCE WITH THE HUMAN TOUCH. 

Case in point: as a partner with Hasbro, we transformed their live season toy previews for the retail buyers into digital ones, but we didn’t want to lose the magic of the physical feel in the experience. So, we sent the buyers custom gift boxes in advance to help them enjoy their virtual previews. These boxes included a branded Virtual Reality (VR) headset with a supplied fun game to keep kids occupied while WFH parents were on the call, slick-looking stationery, tasty refreshments, and of course, some carefully chosen sugary treats to sweeten the deal. So naturally we followed suit again here, delivering food and snacks to delegates as this mechanic is a fantastic option to help add a real, shared experience to your virtual event.

To sum up, transforming a physical event into a virtual showstopper isn't as daunting as you think; it's about shifting mindsets for stakeholders. Moving to virtual can still mean an engaged conference, it just comes with more benefits: more people can attend and they don't have to travel, it's more sustainable, and most importantly, offers more marketing and selling options through greater content options and deeper analytics.

You need to start with a blank page, be willing to ask the stupid questions (we love questions at Because), and most importantly, you’ll need to recruit the right partners. Understanding the different types of virtual events, who to talk to, and what sort of budget you’ll need, takes experience. You don’t want to be ‘that brand’ which gets talked about online for the wrong reasons.

Our biggest lesson: you need to put user experience first, and to create a community feel virtually. Get that right, and your delegates, customers, and sponsors will reward you with higher levels of engagement and support.

To help you know where to start we're offering 10 virtual consultations with a Managing Partner. Start by clicking below...

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