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Events Are Going Digital: Should Your Company Follow?
by Daniel Newman | April 14, 2020

We’ve seen a lot of changes in the business landscape since COVID-19 hit the country. While most of the country is under strict shelter-in-place orders, companies of every type are being forced to reconsider how to stay connected with teammates and customers. One of the most obvious casualties: company and industry events. Because information surrounding COVID-19 has been changing so quickly, many event and marketing teams are operating on short notice, wondering if they should replace their upcoming event with a digital meeting at the last minute, or simply cancel the event altogether.

In the last months we saw Mobile World Congress, SXSW, Google I/O, and a host of other events, analyst days, and product announcements get scrapped. But the smart companies have been able to pivot and move events online.

Most of us have been to some bad digital events. But many of us have also been to some lame face to face events, as well. As such, if your company is looking to move a future meeting online, don’t fear. It doesn’t have to be a disappointment or a disaster. In fact, there are definitely some advantages to running a great digital event, for meeting planners and attendees alike. The following are some tips for planning an awesome digital event (on short notice).

Creating an Awesome Digital Event: Maintain Your Culture

Hands down the most important thing you can do before making the decision to host your event digitally is to ask the question: what one thing from our physical event do we need to preserve for it to “feel” the same to our attendees. No one wants their physical event to be a let-down. But it will be—if your attendees come away from it thinking, “Wow. They really should have waited until next year.” To avoid that embarrassment, take the time to consider what your attendees are really looking for. Is it networking? A cool keynote? New tech selections? Inspirational advice? It doesn’t need to be fancy; there are tons of TED talks that have millions of views simply because they given attendees what they want—life-changing perspective. So, consider what your key takeaway is before determining if going online will work for you.

Creating an Awesome Digital Event: Mind the Clock

An important thing to keep in mind right now is that people working from home have a lot more distractions—and responsibilities—than they would if there were attending an event at a swanky resort. For instance, many people working from home right now are doing so with children homeschooling in the background. Others simply don’t know how to limit other distractions like social media when they aren’t in the office. How can you create—and package—content so that it is interesting, easy to access (on their timelines), and makes them want to engage, rather than log off completely? On a recent podcast, I shared one experience of attending a digital event where attendees received DoorDash coupons for free lunch so they’d feel like they were away at a corporate event. There are also giveaways throughout the event to keep people engaged and entertained. What types of things can you do with your content to make it fun, engaging, and easy to digest—in a way that works with the hectic home office environment?

Creating an Awesome Digital Event: Think Omnichannel

As I noted above, not everyone has 8 hours to sit in front of a computer to capture the wisdom your company wants to share. Rather than hosting an extensive webinar or Zoom meeting, consider moving parts of your event to different channels. Hold a networking opportunity on chat, post downloads of speaker segments on the cloud, and organize content in such a way that people can “grab” certain segments throughout the day whether they are helping their kids with homework or answering emails. Sheltering in place means people have a lot of things thrown at them at once. Make it easy to catch the things that matter most to them.

Creating an Awesome Digital Event: Learn and Move Forward

Not everyone has the budget to shoot their event from numerous camera angles or pass out DoorDash coupons to everyone in attendance. That’s OK. The situation we’re in right now is unprecedented. Heck, even zoos and concert halls are rushing to move their experiences on line for the sake of staying afloat. You may not have the know-how or capacity to throw a 5-star digital event together on the first round. The important thing to do is take what you learn—from your own company and others that are working on digital events right now—and consider ways to incorporate them moving forward.

Even when the COVID-19 crisis passes, there will still be benefits of doing events digitally, namely savings on hotel, air travel, and other shwag. This period may force you to learn more about digital events—but recognize it won’t be the last time you encounter them. The successful company is the one that’s willing to discover which new technology or technique will help them reach their customers digitally, be it now or years into the future.

Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.

The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.

Daniel Newman
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