You don’t need to shake hands to network – virtual events are now ‘in’

Lockdowns and social distancing measures shouldn't mean industries can't come together.
9 April 2020

More events are being hosted online amid the pandemic. Source: Unsplash

Notifications of events postponed and canceled have been commonplace in recent months – social distancing measures and lockdowns has made them simply unviable, and when we will be able to meet in crowds again is up for question.

To provide some weight to just how much the annual event circuit has been shaken, one of the UK’s biggest venues for industry trade shows ExCeL London has been temporarily turned into a 4,000 bed field hospital for COVID-19 patients.

But many organizers have been undeterred, steadfast that bringing people together doesn’t mean you have to be physically rubbing shoulders. 

In enterprise technology, events serve as crucial meetings points for acquiring new business, discovering new products and services, striking up lucrative relationships and gaining insight into the goings-on of the wider industry.

Things are a long way from normal, and event organizers and goers must embrace new methods.

In the tech scene, Microsoft has confirmed that events scheduled through the end of the calendar year 2020 will all be held virtually, with plans for 2021 events to be held online as well.

Other tech giants, including Alphabet, Adobe, and Nvidia, joining the growing list of repositioned events, conferences to the cybersphere, while on TechHQ‘s sister site Tech Wire Asia, software giant Cisco held its first virtual conference for the APJC region. 

There is a real opportunity for companies to dive into hosting virtual events and engage with audience in a different dimension, and while event firms and large globe-straddlers might be best poised to take things further with new technologies like AR, almost any enterprise can explore this new channel. 

“Don’t just transfer activity to the digital realm, think what the digital can do for you,” is one of the golden rules pedalled by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) in its guide to Online Engagement

Putting this into context, an engaging virtual event starts with embracing a digital mindset during the planning stage, by visualizing the execution in a digital setting, and building the content and activity around that format. 

Content fit for digital 

First, determine the format and content of the life event above all else. Virtual events come in many formats such as webinars, live streams, workshops, or even full-scale conferences and networking events. 

Each kind of virtual event is suited for specific communications, functions, and goals that companies would like to achieve.

Selecting the ‘right’ tools to help bring content to life on a digital platform is imperative for the success of virtual events. By understanding each tool’s pros and cons, event teams are spared of plenty of hours and headaches in the long run.

For small scale and budget-friendly events, video conferencing tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and ezTalks are ideal.

Meanwhile, there are a variety of tools with features to host an amazing digital event. For instance, Hopin lets hosts run webinars, live-streams, and a live chat for attendees to listen, interact and ask questions in real-time.

Besides that, Whova provides an extra dimension for attendees to engage and communicate through one-on-one or in virtual groups. 

Keeping the human connection 

A stark difference between live events and digital events are the missing crowd of attendees at the registration booth and networking groups close to the trays of sandwiches and coffee. 

For virtual events, the opportunity and ‘room’ for engagement as well as networking are essential, especially at a time where social distancing is at its full force. 

Adding some activities can make the virtual event more memorable and overall, meaningful for both hosts and participants. For example, setting up polls and quizzes can ignite conversations and engagements. Meanwhile, there’s no reason that the event networking apps we’re so accustomed to can’t be repurposed as desktop versions ahead of virtual events. 

In addition, making full use of social media platforms is a bonus point for marketing and fuels the buzz of virtual events. Live-tweeting and updates on social media can boost brand presence and, more importantly, replicate the excitement of live events.