Do Virtual Events Hurt Your In-Person Events?

This question comes up quite a bit.  The short answer… if you do it right, is…

No.

If you can market the virtual event in conjunction with the in-person event, you end up boosting the value of the in-person event.  If you market one, then move to the other, then back again, the messaging can get very confusing to your audience.  You need to work the shows together, then you can clearly show how your audience benefits from each venue.

One of the successful things that is done is using the online event as a promotional tool, but also as a pre-event tool.  Using this approach, you can help your audience attend the in-person event in possibly a more prepared, informed way.  Here are some ideas to help integrate the two types of events:

  • Hold pre-conference pre-sessions.  These sessions are presented by your speakers and include information that will get the audience ready for the in-person event.  Of course you don’t need (or want) to present the entire in-person session, but you can present the items that help people better understand what will be shown.
  • Consider pre- and post-conference classes or supporting sessions.  You can offer these as an add-on to your in-person registration.  These can be multi-session presentations and provide deep information for attendees.  Then, when they come to the event, they can learn how to apply and further use the information from the pre-con.  These can also be a way to get deeper involved in the materials presented, since the multiple sessions will be focused on a single topic whereas sessions in the in-person event typically are single sessions and stand alone.
  • Use pre-sessions to introduce topics and introduce homework to get people thinking along common lines.
  • Use virtual events to provide additional information about and by your vendors and sponsors.  These virtual events are great ways to further leverage your relationships with your sponsors and provide additional opportunity for the sponsors to interact with and gain information from your audience.  Keep in mind, you can keep the virtual event online after the in-person event, so your vendors can continue working with your audience in on-demand mode.
  • Consider adding “best of” type sessions after the in-person event has completed.  You can add them to the virtual event and use it as an additional touch point to work with your audience.  Simply capture the sessions at the in-person event, then announce that you’ll be adding the top 5 (or 10 or whatever works well for you) sessions to the virtual event in the weeks following the event.
  • Consider live-streaming your keynote presentations or key presentations from industry experts – this can further integrate your events (online and virtual) and show why people should attend both.  They get to see the live session and they get to experience the online virtual event.

There are a whole host of ways you can leverage virtual conferences, webcasts and webinars and in-person events.  From marketing to extending content to outreach to follow-up, the virtual event platform can significantly boost your in-person events.

As you write up your attendee and sponsor offerings, consider adding an option to add the virtual event items you’ll be offering.  Do the inverse on the virtual event registration – adding options to include the in-person event.  By integrating the two, you can leverage your audience, not split your messaging and gain additional ways people can take in your events, talk with sponsors and more.

Virtual events can be a powerful add-on and powerful marketing tool for your in-person events.  So many people make the mistake of assuming it’s one or the other for their audience.  Done right however, it allows you to extend your in-person event’s interaction with your audience in exciting ways.

Keep Virtual Event Attendees Engaged

Keeping attendees engaged is a tough battle with an online event.  Let’s face it, distractions abound!  Email arrives, instant messages beckon, heck just typing a new URL in the browser is a threat to their attention to your event.

What can you do to retain attendees – to keep their attention and make the event all it can be for them and for you and your stakeholders?

One thing that has worked repeatedly is the use of between-session messaging and content.  As you move through your event, offer additional content between sessions.  Rather than just showing “the next session starts in 5 minutes” type messages, consider putting additional content, tips and other elements in the space between sessions.

Here are some great examples that work very well, time after time:

  • Interview the speakers – talk to them about real-life, ask for advice, talk about their pets.  Basically what you’re looking to do is to help your speakers be “real” to your audience, help your audience get to know the speaker.  These are very powerful and can be relatively short.  If you’re concerned about topics, pick a central 2 or 3 topics, then ask the same questions to each speaker.  This can be things like “what’s your favorite board game” or “what movies have you seen recently” or “are you a dog or a cat person?”  All of these are great ice-breakers and can can offer a bit of fun between sessions.
  • Add polls between sessions – ask questions of your attendees, see what you can learn, and then present, about your audience.  Perhaps even ask the same questions as those above.  Then you can get a feel for your audience and help them relate to the content presented.
  • Add contests – have treasure hunts in the virtual environment have treasure hunts in the sponsor’s and speaker’s web sites.  This is a great way to get people involved and learning all that’s available.  You can even score the activities (for every “X” you find, you gain 20 points) – then award a keychain or t-shirt to the winner by points.
  • Have chats on Twitter or in the chat tools – guide the chats to include materials just presented (the speaker may be able to provide interesting topics and questions) or on completely unrelated topics to help people get to know one-another.
  • Create news segments – talk about very recent headlines between sessions.  Make sure the headlines are related to the event.  Perhaps even just one or two headlines, then suggest people move to chat or social media you have integrated into the event to discuss the headline.  Be sure to give them your opinion (or the opinion of the person presenting the headlines) on the items.
  • Have a fun mini-session – this could be an exercise session, a yoga session, stretching that you can lead.  This can also be a completely spoof-based segment.  Remember, it’s only a few minutes maximum.  Have fun with it.

By doing these types of activities, attendee retention jumps by up to 80%.  These are real benefits and can substantially impact your event, the attendees involvement in your show and their impression overall for the event.