7 ways companies can deliver better virtual events

Audiences still want what audiences want: content, community and connections. There are seven ways businesses can deliver what their audiences want through live events delivered virtually.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." -- William Shakespeare

What happens when that stage no longer has a jumbotron, special effects, and a state-of-the-art sound system? How do you amplify your pitch and your prospects when front row, center stage seats go virtual? While the context has shifted, the demand for events that create connections and convert leads into sales haven't.

"Audiences still want what audiences want: content, community and connections," reminds Bari Baumgardner, an event planning veteran and founder of SAGE Event Management. "The question is how to deliver what audiences want through live events delivered virtually."  To stage a performance that leaves your audience wanting more - and results in revenue and raving fans - create a backdrop for success with these leading practices.

 "All the world's a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed."--  Seán O'Casey

Here are seven things that can help you deliver a successful virtual event: 

1. Go off script: What happens when your biggest fundraiser of the year is COVID canceled? You go off-script. At least, that's what WBUR-FM, Boston's NPR news station, discovered. Their annual gala is a critical funding source, once they realized they needed to survive. They quickly re-imagined and relaunched their virtual gala as a "Night in Together." WBUR subsequently raised $1 million in just 13 hours from the 450 virtual guests.


Conan O'Brien - One of Boston's most famous and admired comedian

2. Invest in a Headliner: Replace rubber chicken dinners with someone famous telling jokes about rubber chickens. "What WBUR did brilliantly," Mathew Sweezey, author of The Context Marketing Revolution explains, "Is invest in getting a bigger name - a headliner. Big names offer virtual appearances at reduced rates. What WBUR saved on event costs, they re-invested in a virtual appearance from late-night host, Conan O'Brien, a native of nearby Brookline." Humorous headliners also increase engagement and enjoyment while reducing video fatigue.
3. Take Your Cues: Wondering about how to give all of your audience members the best seat in the house? The secret to success is where you source your cues. "All virtual events must be designed for the viewer sitting behind a screen, not in front of the stage," Sweezey continues. "Physical events take notes from stage performances. Virtual events should take notes from TV Newsrooms."  Be purposeful about the visual and verbal cues you offer during each moment of your live event delivered virtually.

"The audience does not need to tune themselves to you -- you need to tune your message to them. Skilled presenting requires you to understand their hearts and minds and create a message to resonate with what's already there." -- Nancy Duarte

4. Be Pitch Perfect: Deliver less content in a more engaging way to maintain your audience's attention. "Imagine sitting in your home office watching an hour-long panel - not fun," deadpans Sweezey. "People will make time for a single track of relevant content delivered in compressed time. WBUR, for example, whittled down the typical 5-minute spot to spots between 90 seconds and three minutes. Re-imagine content. What works for live events does not translate to live events delivered virtually."  Cut out what you want to say, and focus on what your audience wants to hear instead.
5. Offer A Backstage Pass: "Everyone loves an exclusive VIP experience and an insider's view," Jill Snyder, Wine Specialist for Big Red Liquors chuckles. "And sneak peeks and special guests are a cocktail for customer connection." Snyder expertly curates experiences that translate from the barroom to the living room using an age-old concoction. "Invite only, behind the scenes tours, where product secrets are revealed enchant and delight," Snyder explains. "When the world went virtual, I integrated the experiences of taking a Craft Brewery Tour and meeting the Brewmaster, taking a Distillery Tour and meeting the Master Distiller, and a tasting room. What resulted was virtual experiences for our customers to meet the brilliant minds behind the products they love, as well as a podcast series that offers an insider's view of our industry." How can you bring your customers backstage and give them an experience worth sharing?
6. Designate Ushers: Just like every live event has people dedicated to guiding you to your seat, every live event delivered virtually needs people dedicated to guiding your guests' experience. Be sure each attendee knows how to use the event platform for an optimal experience, whether that's how to turn on their video camera, locate that elusive mute button, ask questions, or interact with other guests. Make it easy for attendees to find and get the help they need when they need it.
7. Extend the Encore: Postpone your final bow and the cast party.  Instead, schedule one-on-one follow up conversations with each event attendee.  Invite feedback about what worked, how to improve, and what resonated most.  Give yourself the gift of continued conversation and the opportunity to deepen relationships in the process.

Audiences are incredibly forgiving and generous right now.  Reward them with the gift of incremental improvements with each live event delivered virtually going forward.  
Karen Mangia, vice president of customer and market insights and a member of the Salesforce's Work From Home Task Force, and I have co-authored several articles on how you can reach your full potential and deliver peak performance while working from home. We've covered how you design and architect your surroundings, the art and science of public speaking and presentation skills, the ability to pause, ponder, and prioritize your time, how to effectively managing your remote teams, and how leaders must cultivate healthy relationships for all stakeholders. We also know the importance of managing relationships with managers and how world recording holding athletes develop a mindset that keeps you inspired and motivated to work from home. We also wrote about how you can get a strong referral. The series of articles mentioned about were developed to ensure you can deliver high performance while working remotely, including the delivery of virtual events.   

What is your experience with delivering virtual events? Are your audiences delighted with how your company is connecting with your stakeholders? We welcome your insights here or by joining us on Twitter at @karenmangia and @ValaAfshar.

This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, customer and market insights, at Salesforce

Karen engages customers globally to discover new ways of creating success and growth together. From Executive Advisory Boards to strategic consulting engagements, her insights are central to Go-to-Market strategy, product development, marketing, and branding. In addition, Karen influences industry thought leadership in her role as Chair of the Customer Experience Council for The Conference Board. Formerly responsible for Insight Innovation at Cisco Systems, she led a global team with oversight into Customer Satisfaction and Experience, Diversity Business Practices, and Global Offset and Countertrade. Karen is also the author of Success With Less and a TEDx speaker.

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