Online Events: If You’re Going Virtual, You’re Playing the Deconstruction Game
In the pre-COVID era, events were often seen as one big offering. A week-long conference would be considered one event, as opposed to separate blocks of content and networking opportunities. However, with the move to online spaces, this line of thinking is no longer helpful. Instead, it’s time to deconstruct these events down to their most basic elements. Doing so will be beneficial not only for the event, but for event producers in the long term as well.
Step I — Deconstruct Your (formerly known as) In-Person Event
Everyone knows that events start with goals. This is not new. That being said, I don’t just mean general goals, but specific goals for each part of the original in-person event. In other words, goals for each segment. These goals should also be specific and quantifiable. Of course, there may have been an overall goal for the event, but each session, even the networking, was planned (I hope) as a lead-up to the bigger objective. Why was this session done? Why this speaker? Why this timeframe? Why, why, why. This will be your new favorite word for virtual event planning. Once each session has been divided up by its goals, it’s now a matter of creating a virtual roadmap that’s fit for each of those purposes.
Step II — Think in Blocks
With your session goals pulled apart, it’s time to look at how each content goal could be achieved in the virtual world. It could potentially be met on its own, or perhaps working in conjunction with one or two other blocks. But the key element is that this content no longer needs the entire in-person event tower of blocks. Online, it might be able to stand on its own. And it might even serve its audience better this way.
For example, if one session (or couple of sessions) was meant to simply educate users on a new technology, but they had to leave their families, their homes, climb on a plane, and sleep in a hotel bed just to do this, you’re probably severely limiting your audience, not to mention inconveniencing them. But if you make this session a sizzle reel with broadcast quality production, and include quizzes and polls with their fellow attendees, you’ll likely gain a lot more fans. And if you let them do all this and still tuck their kids in after dinner? That could create significant employee or customer loyalty.
Once again, the key here is not thinking about ‘events’ anymore as a whole, but in terms of individual content blocks in the virtual world. Ask questions like who is coming? Why? What do they really need? Do they need the content blocks all at once? Or over a timeframe of a couple months or weeks? What was once a day-long event of panels in the same conference room could now become five different webinars, each with its own format, access link, and tech team. In essence, five different events. In theory, they always were separate events, but the shift to online spaces is only making this distinction more clear.
Step III — Rearrange the Legos
It is entirely possible that once you have deconstructed an event down to its fundamental content blocks, it will become clear that not all content as originally planned was fit for purpose. For example, when people were gathering in-person, there was a finite schedule for content blocks. But did this suit the goals of the event? Did everything have to happen on the same day, or was that simply an on-site necessity? The best part of the shift to online spaces is that you can now think in terms of what content each individual audience member wants. Did people come to the conference and engage with all of the content? Or did they come for only a part of it? What if you could plan individual content tracks for each individual audience member? With the move to online spaces, this is all possible and more.
It helps to think of these content blocks as Lego pieces. You can move them around and rearrange them as much as you want in order to create the best possible experience for your audience. This was true with in-person events to some extent, but the move to online spaces allows you to target each audience member individually. You can map out individual event horizons from start to finish, because you are no longer constrained by physical limitations. You can then find sponsors for each event horizon, thereby connecting those sponsors to the right audience instead of the most broad. There are an infinite number of ways those Lego pieces can be rearranged, with the end result being that the right structure finds the right audience.
Step IV — Lay Out the Long-Term
When we are finally able to gather in person once more, I know that I for one, am excited to keep thinking of content in terms of Lego pieces. At Caspian, we’ve always promoted the idea of the Event Horizon, and with the move to virtual spaces, this idea is finally taking hold in a big way. The possibilities of planning an Event Horizon are endless, but one thing is for certain. We will be going back to in-person gatherings eventually, but we absolutely should not go back to the way things used to be done.
In my opinion, event producers in the pre-COVID era had gotten spoiled with plenary speakers, panels, and repeated formats. Too often, we benefited from the serendipity of people accidentally bumping into each other in the lobby or exhibition hall, but that serendipity might have been overrated. Now, we have the opportunity to be purposeful in how we plan those connections. This means event producers are driving event strategy, because event producers are so much more than logisticians. We’re strategists first and foremost, and events going virtual will keep us there. As far as I’m concerned, this can only be a good thing. Because we’re not going back.
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