Current Affairs

Strategies for Switching to Virtual Events

8th June 2020

In the early onset of the pandemic, many event organizers started to postpone events from spring to summer. But as borders restrictions and lockdown orders remained in place for months, they realized even summer may be too soon for a F2F conference. Events as large and legendary as the Olympics pushed its dates back a year, while the annual Cannes Film Festival simply cancelled. Associations, meanwhile, saw an acceleration toward another option: the digitalization of events.

Words Lane Nieset

For associations who want to transform their main conference into a virtual one, Yannis Antoniou M.Sc., Operational Excellence Manager for GCO Meetings & Events, advises establishing a starting point and writing down all of the functions you would normally arrange during a F2F conference. “In the same way that a F2F conference carries different attributes than a virtual event, there is a different set of rules and limitations that apply depending on the environment—whether it’s physical or virtual,” he says.

Isabelle Deniaud Lassara, Director PCO & Asset Development, MCI Benelux, agrees. “The most important thing is to stop believing we will be capable to fully replicate a live event into a digital format or to offer exactly the same experience as a live event,” says Deniaud Lassara. Instead, start designing a virtual event by considering the objectives you want to achieve. “Those objectives will then dictate the format of your digital event and which technology or technologies will best answer those needs and objectives,” she argues.

Roadmaps for virtual events

Your association’s previous event programmes can also serve as roadmaps for future virtual events. “Consider how last year’s program looked like, what types of sessions were there, what social events you organized, if there was an exhibition or not, if there were other functions like poster presentations,” advises Antoniou. “Make a list of all the elements that form the backbone of your F2F conference. It’s always best to map this and have it at hand, in black and white, for the next steps you are going to take.” 

This article was written by Boardroom editor Lane Nieset. The right to use it, in parts or in full, has to be granted by the Publisher.

Silvano Schär, Head of Sales & Marketing at Congrex Switzerland, advises to research virtual events that have already taken place and speak to fellow associations that have experience organizing virtual events. “There are many different online solutions,” Schär says, “but to find the fitting one, you need to ask yourself what the Return on Investment for participants and sponsors should be.”

And instead of fitting your congress into a particular platform, find a platform that fits your congress. When investigating the market’s available options, make sure you lead the discussion,” says Antoniou, who adds it’s best to seek the advice of professionals who have experience in running both F2F and virtual events. “At the end of the day, it’s more about the how rather than the what. Technology is an enabler but event professionals, with experience in F2F and virtual events, understand the importance of engagement with your audience. And this is one of the deciding factors that will define the level of success for your conference.”

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