Shifting from IRL to digital has become the new normal right now for many event planners and producers who were impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown. The event’s industry, in particular, is in the land of uncertainty; organizations are facing tough decisions on how to navigate events in a socially distanced world. This uncertainty around the current state of emergency and with capacity mandates now until by year’s end, have thrown everyone, including health experts and lawmakers – thus creating fear with non-profits’ leaders on whether to cancel, postpone, or instead of nixing the gala or rescheduling, many events including flagship buzz-worthy fundraisers have gone virtual.
It’s a new world out there. While virtual events are growing in popularity, modern technology has made it possible for companies to host amazing online events that were thought to rival in-person events, a benefit for both event planners, attendees, and non-profits, and it’s a great way to ensure your mission stays visible. Since March, we have been spending large amounts of time in front of screens – watching TV, working remotely and checking in over Zoom meetings with colleagues and clients, social media and webinars have peaked; as a result, online video social get-togethers with friends and family, online fitness classes, Skype cooking classes, online concerts, you name it – and over time, this can be draining. Turns out, even a Zoom cocktail hour can burn you out. You’re probably feeling “zoom fatigue,” too. We spoke about it amongst ourselves while on Zoom, of course, and decided to ask around to see if others were feeling the same. Apparently, we’re not alone, but maybe that’s just us, planners anxious to be social.
In the last week of April, we had a Zoom meeting with our gala committee. They all echoed that they are already “over” virtual events and wanted a virtual event only as a back up for their summer event. “Sure,” we said. “We will come up with a hybrid plan. There’s an appetite out there to engage in this way.” We were tasked with pivoting and planning an inclusive hybrid event experience in this new virtual world.
Let’s face it, I too miss in-person contact, hanging out and cocktailing with friends – we all do! But rather than simply surrendering to this crisis, and moving events to entirely virtual, I thought of ideas to maximize engagement in terms of approach and execution, plus create anticipation with unique event activations. There are plenty of content types to explore that can create an engaging and interactive online event experience. Despite the hurdles we faced on the path to this monumental shift, we realized there was an opportunity to do something special. Live streaming and conferencing tools are more available than ever before, and online events are far more affordable to produce. The good news is we have a variety of options to choose from.
This was an opportunity to reassess the value of the event and see how we can reinvent that experience virtually. The pressure to innovate and redesign event experiences with social distancing will shape the next era of our events. While nothing can replace the in-person experience and sponsor engagement that events deliver, we have conceptualized an inclusive and interactive experience with Hybrid events. Virtual experiences work hand-in-hand with live experiences. Take advantage of both to create the best version of your brand experience and wow your audience from every angle. There’s no reason why you can’t create the event you imagined.
Well, that’s not fun! Virtual events can run the risk of becoming less collaborative, there’s only one “conversation” that can take place effectively at a time. Executing a sound game plan can allow you to shift your in-person event strategy to an experiential virtual event.
We’ve replaced the virtual event with a modern, creative event your clients can adapt to. What was born out of necessity, has the potential to change the game in what we do.
Find fresh and innovative ways to collaborate and network. Networking and person to person contact is one of the main components of in-person events that can be missing from virtual events. Think through ways that you can replicate a networking experience online. What if you add the Zoom breakout component to virtual attendees so while the in-person attendees are entering the event or safely being social before they are seated, the virtual attendees can network online in their breakout virtual rooms. This actionable item will keep event pros moving forward.
First things to consider, how can we change the virtual attendee experience to make them feel like they’re in the room? How do we bring in the WOW factor when merging virtual and in-person for an inclusive experience? How will you keep an online audience focused? How can we add an element of two-way, live interaction with the auction and our speakers?
Producing virtual and hybrid experiences may be a familiar or new territory, but you will find the right balance of in-person events. The same strategies made you succeed in events logistically will make you successful in the virtual space. No matter the challenge, every event organizer knows that the real value of events is in bringing people together. Here are some planning tips for hybrid events.
To enhance and bond relationships, we find that when you challenge your attendees to take risks with your experience, they bond more effectively and raise more dollars. Just because you can’t execute your pre-COVID-19 gala, doesn’t mean you should give up on revenue non-profits rely on. Your community wants you to succeed and will understand your pivot to ensure mission awareness is achieved. Choose a strategy and commit. Remember, your community is going through this development together. Donors will support you.
The Associated Press reported, on Tuesday, May 5, that China had one new case of coronavirus and no deaths, marking three weeks since it recorded a COVID-19 fatality. So there may be light at the end of the tunnel, BUT, and that’s a big but, scientists predict a potential comeback and without a vaccine, attendees may be reluctant to be social in big groups. You absolutely need contingency plans over an above back up plans for each component as phases and government mandates change.
Good luck and to find out more about our full hybrid fundraising event plan, please contact me – I’d love to help.