EDITOR'S CUT

All The World's a Virtual Stage

All the world’s a virtual stage, as the Bard would say in these strange times. He, too, lived during a pandemic — the bubonic plague — with outbreaks shuttering theaters amid political chaos. “Tis the times’ plague, when madmen lead the blind,” Shakespeare wrote in “King Lear.”

But this isn’t about reviewing the virtues of plays or the vitriol of politicians, rather reviewing your virtual events.

Is the audience rapt with your performance? Will they eagerly come back for more online sessions? Are they writing glowing reviews? Or maybe they’re still in their pajamas, checking email and dozing off during your PowerPoint soliloquies.

Let’s start by setting the scene.

The pandemic wiped out physical events practically overnight, and so many brands turned to virtual events as a viable replacement. The number of organizations planning a virtual event doubled this year, according to Wild Apricot.

Other brands opted out. Chief among their reasons: People are sick of online calls and events, supporters aren’t technologically savvy, too hard to get people to participate, not enough revenue, people lack stable Internet, etc.

It’s true that brands had a tough time figuring out how much to charge attendees for a virtual event. Bizzabo says the average price was more than $500 earlier this year and fell to around $250 in the summer, as marketers sought to attract more attendees. (Bizzabo, though, predicts the average price will go up over time.)

Once people come to your virtual event, you’ve got to get them to engage with the content and each other. Marketers cite audience engagement as the biggest challenge in an event where attendees can leave with the click of a button.

However, signs point to some early success. Bizzabo says the average attendee watches 68% of a 20-minute or longer session, with an average of 12 sessions per virtual event. Nearly half of registrants attend live, while 10% check out the on-demand recording, according to Intrado. These stats should excite virtual event planners everywhere.

With audience engagement, a key lesson is to keep it small. Markletic found that the ideal audience size for a virtual round table discussion is between eight and 10 people. They want to meet peers and grow their networks, and small gatherings afford them the opportunity.

Brands will need to build in networking opportunities, too. According to Freeman, 81% of virtual event organizers agree that digital events need to include networking and engagement, in addition to learning. Even in online settings, brands can conduct workshops, round tables, fireside chats and happy hours.

“Attendees want to replicate the experience of bumping into someone in a hallway and starting a conversation or turning to someone sitting next to you to share an experience,” wrote Ray Wang, founder of Constellation Research, in a destinationCRM article. “Tools such as Wonder.me, Remo.com, and Gatherly.io re-create this.” 

In order to gauge whether your virtual event was a hit or a flop, event organizers should measure attendee satisfaction. This is done through surveys and polls, as well as feedback received from the sales team. Polls are especially good for learning ways to improve interaction.

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The underlying theme is that people are quickly adapting to digital work and life and want to attend virtual events for both learning and networking. In Shakespeare’s time, theatre closures meant the show couldn’t go on, but today we have a virtual capability and a willing audience.

Now it’s up to brands to give a performance worthy of the digital play.

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