3 key features to look for on any virtual event platform and the 5 strategy boards every company should consider to fully engage attendees

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Having organised over 2,000 hours of successful events, Sonali Nair is a certified media professional who is the perfect person to talk about digital events strategy, as that’s what she does for tech company Opentext

For small and medium businesses, when it comes to events and the strategy or marketing associated with it, the primary goal is to engage with customers. Especially during the pandemic where meeting people in person can’t really take place, that’s where virtual or digital events come into action, as it gives businesses the opportunity to create an experience, to create a story about the brand, and to connect with customers.

For digital events, one engagement tool Sonali can think of that actually connects with the brand and the overall virtual event experience is ON24, of which she is a personal user. Apart from the fact that they recently improved their entire user interface experience, which Sonali says has made using it even better, it creates and it helps companies deliver an immersive experience for customers through the visuals and resources they have available at your disposal.

Make sure your virtual event has these 3 features

Photo from ON24

Before diving into the key functionalities of ON24, it’s first important to keep in mind that everyone is receiving a lot of digital event requests. With that said, determine at the start how long the event will be, then you can pick the right engagement tools. What works for Sonali is the CTA option, wherein one can customize visually and identify the call to action for attendees as soon as they exit the event console. This lets them create their experience after they attend the event, which is really helpful since the goal is to encourage customers to the take the next step. 

Another key feature are the related resources that can be added within the console. Sonali suggests not making presentations PowerPoint-heavy, but rather to keep it conversational, allowing the sharing of additional resources like PDF documents or links where they can be redirected for additional information, such as customer success stories or product testimonials. This is another great way to redirect attendees to a place where they can read more about a brand or hear from people like themselves who went through the same journey and whose problem was solved by using that company’s products or services.

The third key feature would be the Q&A portion which is redirected to the host or the speaker. Instead of the typical scenario where the speaker answers questions from members of the audience, in terms of on-demand virtual events where the speaker doesn’t address questions live, redirecting them to one live person available is another great way to keep attendees engaged when they’re watching the on-demand event, because they know that there’s one person on the other side of the computer, who is reading their questions and is available to answer them.

How to get your brand to stand out in virtual events

Photo from Cvent

In in-person trade shows, it was easier to attract the attention of passersby who unintentionally ended up checking out your booth. Now, with everything done virtually, this is where the choice of event technology comes into the picture. Before doing so, however, first identify the objectives. What is it that you want to accomplish? In trade shows or virtual conferences where the business aims to get sponsors, what is it that sponsors or the exhibitors are looking for? Sonali’s example was how Cvent launched this Virtual Attendee Hub, which gives so much power to exhibitors and helps them create an entire journey of the experience. So, companies should always take into consideration what happens when an attendee logs into the console and the virtual environment, what they see, how they can customize their experience whether through chat, visuals, or other resources. Don’t forget this important element of virtual events: identify what you want to achieve out of that experience, and then pick your technology, instead of doing this the other way around.

What it took a company to stand out in trade shows is no longer relevant in the virtual world, so to make a brand more appealing over others is a challenge, which is why their experience matters so much. Having an in-depth understanding of the target audience will help businesses anticipate their customers’ expectations of the brand and determine what steps need to be taken in order to meet those expectations and create that experience. In in-person events, swag bags or raffle draws (which can be done virtually as well) drew a lot of attention, and so it’s all about finding out what the attendees will connect with so businesses can gamify the entire experience and differentiate themselves from their competitors.

The 5 strategy boards your business needs according to Sonali

Sonali has these five strategy boards. When it comes to this, she says to think of it as a business plan. Without it, no company will be able to function for a very simple reason: there is no goal nor clarity on the target audience. She likens it to having a recipe without an ingredient list. The most important strategy board is brand DNA followed by the target audience persona, then the messaging used to connect with them, the tools, strategies, and tactics to grow and market the brand, and the tools used to sustain the business. These five strategy boards go a long way, because these will bring together all the aspects and elements of a brand’s organisational goals. These also help communicate the relevance of the event to attendees and keep them engaged, so they come back to you and your product.

One example she provided of a successful event she managed was for the Spelling Bee of Canada, a nonprofit organisation that hosts spellathons for kids. What usually took place in person, they had to make virtual within two months. They wanted the parents and kids to be able to connect with each other, and so they used an array of event tools to market and host that spelling bee. They used YouTube Live, Twitch, and Twitter, to name a few, and they were able to attract 40 participants, 10 winners, and over 150 attendees. Those numbers were amazing to them, because everything was transformed digitally at the last minute. For her, it really comes down to how the attendees are kept engaged and made to feel that it’s not just a computer screen, that they’re sitting in front of, that they still have the support from the other attendees.

To sum it up, Sonali Nair shared about the impact of virtual events, how you can look at five different strategy boards and then blend these different technologies to create a truly engaging experience for all attendees, which is the key message. With that, think about the experience and the joy that you’re going to be creating, rather than just your own outcomes. To learn more about Sonali and what she does, you can connect with her on LinkedIn.

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo from HexaFair

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