6 Real-Life Learnings from Digital Event Experts to Make Your Events Better

August 4, 2020

Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes

Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes is chief marketing strategist at mdg, a full-service agency specializing in growing attendance for live and virtual events.

Many trade show and conference producers have found themselves in unchartered territory as they’ve made the in-person to online event pivot over the past several months. These professionals have been reading about best practices, researching new vendors, consulting with industry peers and otherwise learning as they go. Meanwhile, there’s another group of industry professionals—a subset of Freeman called Freeman Digital Ventures—that has been producing digital events since 2015. I asked three of the strategists that align with this group, Mark Fein, Stacy O’Connell and Tyler Day, to share what they’ve learned from strategizing, planning and marketing digital events that could inform and/or inspire the rest of us. Here were my top takeaways.

Little things make big things happen. 

One of our clients was producing a digital version of an exclusive, in-person event for VIPs. The shelter-in-place orders were new, and they wanted to wow the audience with this digital launch. In addition to the quality of the content, we put extra emphasis on production values — ensuring speakers had proper mics, lighting and camera settings. The speakers commented about how much the attention to detail, as well as the value of the rehearsals, enhanced their showing. Over the past several months, the level of production that’s expected by audiences has continued to rise. We’re trying to shift our thinking from, “how can we create a good online webinar?” to “how can we replicate the quality of the experience MasterClass or even Netflix provides?” A flawless, professional production can go a long way toward engaging our audiences. 

Content may be king, but our subjects have short attention spans. 

The Freeman Attendee Pulse survey lists learning as the top driver for participants attending online events as well as a preference for shorter event days and session times. With this in mind, we asked one of our clients, “Do you really need all this content?” We worked with them to develop an agenda with shorter days that better aligned with digital audiences’ desires and adult attention spans in general. We remind our clients regularly that it’s not just about a transfer of information; it’s about creating experiences that entertain and inspire. 

Memorable moments can combat online event fatigue. 

Building on the reality of shorter attention spans, we are working with one client to incorporate well-timed breaks that include elements of surprise and delight. Instead of jumping right into a cocktail reception, for instance, we’re starting with a 10-minute tutorial from an expert mixologist. The next morning, we will be complementing the coffee break with an option for a 15-minute yoga session. Another one of our clients invited a musician to entertain the audience during the virtual happy hour. A word of caution with this: Be careful not to overwhelm the audience, overfill the agenda and extend the event longer than it needs to be. 

Create different paths to connection. 

For many of our clients, creating meaningful connections is of equal or greater importance than the learning aspect of an online event. With that in mind, we’ve been creating a variety of opportunities to accommodate for the different ways in which people like to connect. In addition to basics like chat functions in an education session, we’re building in themed photo booths, social media integrations, expert-led discussion groups, direct one-on-one video chats, sponsored coffee breaks and more. 

Remember the bells and whistles. 

One of our corporate clients was exhibiting at an event that was shifting from physical to digital. The sponsorship package the event organizer offered had a few bells, but no whistles. Mapping back to our client’s objectives, we developed a digital game activation in which attendees completed various activities aligned with the client’s objectives — they could watch videos, download collateral/content, chat with a rep and more. They were even able to see a real-time leaderboard tied to valuable giveaways. This activation went far beyond what the producer was offering, provided a deeper brand experience to booth visitors and far exceeded our client’s lead-gen goals. 

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3. 

Although we’ve been at this a long time, we still believe in testing, testing and more testing. We’ve been experimenting with different marketing messages and tactics, session lengths, formats, etc. We’re using analytics to see where we’re getting high levels of engagement and then applying those on the fly and using them to package top trending topics for on-demand packages. “Agility” truly is the name of the game when it comes to digital events.  

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.