What to Consider When Choosing a Virtual Platform for Your Event Audience

April 7, 2020

Jordan Schwartz

Jordan Schwartz is president and co-founder of Pathable, a virtual event and mobile app platform for conferences. Jordan works from his home in Seattle and tends his community of bees in his spare time.

The coronavirus pandemic has been like a Class-5 hurricane through our industry. Mass event cancelations are creating a devastating wave through the event industry that is cascading out to vendors and service providers in all related fields.

Event producers need solutions today for their events that are scheduled for tomorrow, next week and next month that can’t be held in person. Virtual events platforms, which can deliver a live broadcast of education sessions and online networking opportunities, can be a critical lifeboat for event producers who need to deliver something to their delegates and exhibitors. But the best ones can be more: a way to deliver genuine value, knowledge and relationships at a vastly reduced expense for both the producer and the attendee.

We know that this will eventually pass. Whether it’s in two months, six months, eight months or more, we don’t know; but it’s a virtual certainty (no pun intended) that in-person events will be back by next year. So, what then? 

I have to imagine that a lot of event managers and delegates who got a taste of the value that a virtual event can deliver will be thinking, “Hey, that was actually pretty cool.” And with the ecological impact of plane travel looming as a long-term crisis, perhaps as impactful as coronavirus has been in the short-term, it would be surprising if we didn’t see event managers re-thinking things.

So what will the “new normal” look like, then? I don’t know for sure, but I’ll bet we’ll see more hybrid events where attendees can attend in-person as well as virtually. The content — and perhaps even the networking — can be shared.

What that means for event tech, of course, is that providers that are able to live through this temporary catastrophe and adapt to a virtual world may come out with even more interesting offerings. That’s the way evolution works, of course: The environment introduces a stress, we adapt and then improve in response. 

I think about event value as being a three-legged stool: education, networking and commerce. For education, the obvious solution is webinar-style live broadcasts or on-demand video content. Webinar-style presentations offer the advantage of interactivity with the audience, the ability to take questions and answers, conduct live polls and more. For larger presentations (e.g., a keynote), on-demand video may be a better solution as it allows you to edit and refine the presentation and eliminate the risk of last-minute glitches.

For networking, discussion forums or live chat for delegates is the most basic solution; but as human beings, we gain so much information and emotional connection from being able to see someone’s face as we talk with them. Live video rooms, either one-on-one or in a group, are one way to replicate some of the value you would get from an in-person event.

At Pathable, for example, we introduced “Birds of a Feather” small group video meet-ups, similar to the “Lunch Topic Tables” many events feature. Attendees can choose a video room based on shared interests and enjoy casual, unstructured conversation with people around a common theme.

For commerce, there are a number of sponsorship and virtual trade show options in the virtual events space. Exhibitor directories with informational pages on each exhibitor, lead retrieval tools and even live video exhibit hours can help build engagement and value through a virtual event platform. 

And course, brand matters. The theme and customization options offered by the platform can create a feel that either resonates with your audience or not. A financial conference is going to have a different vibe than a gaming conference, and you want your participants to feel at home — otherwise they won’t connect.

If all else fails and you aren’t able to access an event tech company to help you due to overwhelming demand, don’t just go dark. Be transparent in your communication. There is so much uncertainty and confusion today, and the best thing you can do for your attendees is to be clear with them about what you know, what you don’t know and what might change.

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