If you’ve been following our virtual conference series, you already know how important it is to create an engaging virtual conference. However, engagement goes beyond just the event itself. It’s important to know how to foster that connection prior to the event, how to network at a virtual conference, and how to follow up after a virtual conference.
As more Covid-19 cases are being identified across the company, companies are taking drastic measures to mitigate the risk of sick employees and customers by limiting large gatherings, and asking employees to work from home. Virtual conferences have grown in popularity over the past number of years, but they have never been more relevant or important than during the current global health concern.
In an effort to mitigate further exposure, a number of upcoming events have been cancelled or have begun transitioning to online-only conferences to ensure attendees around the world can participate in events from the comfort and safety of their homes. For a list of recent events that have been cancelled, postponed, or hosted as online-only events, take a look at COVID-19 Conference Cancellations. As events are transitioning to online-only events, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a crash course on hosting virtual conferences.
In today’s article, we’ll discuss how to network at virtual conferences, the best tools for note taking, how to improve remote collaboration with tools, and how to follow up after a virtual conference.
Whether you’re hosting a virtual conference to combat the spread of Covid 19 or your goal is to reach a wider audience with a virtual conference, engagement is paramount. If you’ve ever attended or hosted an in-person conference, you’re well aware of the enormous value they provide attendees, including tons of resources, and loads of opportunities for networking and conversations.
One of the biggest challenges is that virtual conferences run the risk of lacking the same opportunity for networking and interaction as face-to-face events. It’s essential that the interactions and engagement that make in-person conferences so valuable aren’t lost or compromised if you’re hosting a virtual conference. To overcome this, it’s important to implement software, tools, and practices that engage attendees. It probably goes without saying, but stringing together a bunch of Webinars will not effectively engage attendees. The same goes for relying on a bunch of talking heads to keep audiences engaged.
There are several benefits of virtual conferences, but in order to provide the most value or get the most value out of a virtual conference, it’s essential that we’re utilizing and implementing the best tools. To begin with, narrowing in on your target audience is essential for designing and hosting a virtual conference that interests attendees. This will help you understand the kinds of topics and speakers that they are interested in. Once you know exactly who you want to attract, you can begin scouting out speakers and designing a virtual conference that resonates with that specific target audience.
Right now, almost everyone is on social media to stay connected with their friends and the outside world, which means Facebook ads will be widely seen. This is one of the best and most common ways to promote a virtual conference and reach your specific audience. A successful event requires attendees, but more importantly, you need attendees that are interested in your event, so make sure you take the time to really narrow in on them.
Engagement and communication begin well before the event itself by making your virtual attendees feel involved before the event. Build a rapport so that they feel emotionally invested in the event. Connect with them via social media by asking their opinion about potential topics, events, speakers, or give them a space to ask questions, give feedback, complete quizzes or other interactive content. Stay connected with reminder emails that include content that builds excitement as you count down the days until the virtual conference.
It’s important to remember that attendees can be valuable collaborators. Social tools, such as chat and discussion forums, are great for connecting with them and hearing about what they gained, liked, and learned from the experience. Take things a step further by featuring attendees in the session content with things like case studies. You can also leverage materials submitted by attendees, with permission, so you have more real-life examples. If you go this route, take a challenge or opportunity that an attendee is facing, and present it to other attendees who might be facing similar challenges and provide advice.
With the right software and tools, you have the opportunity to foster a lively online conversation before, during, and after the event. In our last article, Best Tools to Use to Host a Successful Virtual Conference (Part Three), we delved into a list of the best platforms for hosting a virtual conference. There are tons of options, so choosing the right platform depends on your specific needs and your audience.
With any virtual conference software, it’s important to utilize the chat feature. This is an exceptional way to get the conversation flowing. A Q&A portion of the talk, which utilizes the live video portion, is another exceptional way to interact and engage with the audience. For attendees that find it nerve-wracking to speak up in person, they might find using the chat tool far more comfortable. Encourage conversation with well-thought relevant and provocative questions during sessions and remind attendees that participation is encouraged. Periodically responding to the chat will help keep the conversation going, and ensure it is relevant.
Take it a step further by providing a place for attendees to discuss and interact between sessions. This can be achieved in several ways, including a private FB or Linked-In group that is only open to attendees. This can also be integrated into your website with a discussion board plugin. A great way to direct attendees to discussions and forums is with a newsletter that highlights active discussions on the forum and links directly to them.
Incorporating live video recordings with pre-recorded videos is essential if you want engagement. A huge component of in-person conferences is listening and engaging with the speaker in the moment. This will make your virtual conference feel more personal and intimate. As virtual conferences have skyrocketed in popularity, more and more platforms have made it simple to seamlessly incorporate pre-recorded videos with live videos.
Be strategic with your live recordings to cultivate the most meaningful connections and to encourage engagement. We suggest streaming a live video before each speaker or topic to introduce them and to provide them with some relevant information and questions to think about during the talk. As a result, you will increase the chances of attendee engagement. Once you’ve introduced the speakers and inspired attendees to engage, you can transition to the speaker’s actual presentation, or you can have a pre-recorded introduction and a live video of the speaker. The point its, Intermittent live videos remind attendees that the event is being hosted by real people who value and want to provide real teaching, discussion, and learning.
Most conference attendees agree that notetaking is vital if you want to really get the most out of a conference. Visuals and references help reinforce concepts and give attendees something tangible to look back on after an event. The great thing about virtual conferences is that notetaking becomes that much easier because they are not moving around from place to place. For attendees, the best tools for note taking or notetaking app depends on what kind of notes are helpful when they review them. Some people connect better with words, some prefer visuals, others prefer a mixture of both.
The same thing goes for hosts and speakers. As we mentioned, audiences need more than just talking heads, they need visual cues, actionable information, and relevant examples. When choosing which software to host your virtual conference, it’s important to review the best tools for note taking or explaining concepts. Most platforms have whiteboards and other note taking or concept explanation tools. As a host or moderator, collecting notes and feedback in one place will help keep you organized, and prepared for follow-ups.
In-person conferences are popular because of the incredible relationships and conversations that naturally evolve from gathering so many like-minded people together.
When attending or hosting an in-person conference, there are usually dedicated time slots and locations for attendees to gather and network. If you’re wondering how to network at virtual conferences, create these event spaces virtually. Providing a place for attendees to discuss and interact between sessions is the online alternative to events and networking opportunities typically present at an in-person conference.
Your virtual conference doesn’t need to be any different! Consider a virtual conference as a launching pad for great conversations that will continue to evolve and grow. Use tools like Zoom or BlueJeans for real-time conversations in conjunction with CloudApp to create instant shareable visuals or videos. This will help create the same value and connection as a face to face conversation.
In the first three articles of this four-part virtual conference series, we talked a lot about the importance of encouraging engagement during the conference, but it doesn’t end there. It’s essential that we communicate with attendees and registrants afterward. Many hosts struggle with how to follow up after a virtual conference, so here are a few tips:
Host a “Follow Up” session to address questions and discuss or review content that was covered in the event. This can be a one-time event, or you can break it down into a few. In some cases, it might be beneficial to invite certain attendees to be panelists and have them join in on video. This is beneficial because it introduces fresh faces and new perspectives to the discussion. In other cases, it might be beneficial to schedule a time after the event to chat with specific attendees one-on-one to get feedback or to continue the discussion.
If your attendees have signed up for your newsletter, share a link, video, or actionable piece of information to remind them of a product, idea, service, or concept showcased during the conference. You can use CloudApp for its screen recorder, screenshot tool, and GIFMaker to help you make engaging collateral. You can also direct attendees to discussions and forums that highlight active discussions on the forum with a direct link and more content or questions to keep the discussion going. It’s important to make this aspect of the virtual conference meaningful, active, and relevant. When done well, this will provide a ton of value and is a space for attendees to share what they’ve learned, key takeaways, ask questions, and connect with hosts and other attendees. Without this, attendees may feel some of the value is missing from the virtual conference.
At the end of the day, a successful virtual conference is defined by how much value attendees feel they’ve gained. When attendees feel the information provided is valuable, they are more likely to engage, interact, and connect.
In today’s world, we have access to so many platforms and tools that’ll help streamline the process and enhance engagement including CloudApp, Asana, and Slack. Make the most of your virtual conference with a little planning and the right tools to get attendees more involved.
With the rise of remote work, especially in tech, SaaS, and online industries, coupled with the efforts to control the spread of Covid-19, more and more conferences are transitioning from in-person events to online-only virtual conferences. With that rise, we’ve seen a correlated rise in collaborative tools such as Slack, Asana, and Zoom, all with the intention of making remote work and virtual conferences easier and more valuable.