Webinars are great and all but isn’t it time you upscaled to live virtual events?

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Done well, webinars have a major impact on the ability of your business to reach its audience.  They provide an opportunity to develop new relationships and start conversations with an online audience. However, they have their flaws. For one, it’s hard to create a two-way conversation through a webinar. And many of us have experienced poorly run webinars, where we’re left staring at a PowerPoint slide deck, thinking that we might as well have read a white paper.

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The way businesses communicate with customers never stops evolving and the next logical step in that journey is live virtual events.

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The virtual live event experience is in its infancy, taking style cues from how traditional live events.  We’re all conditioned to expect events to work in a certain way.  For that reason, it’s not easy to drift quickly into a new format, such as a live online event akin to a documentary, blended with video footage, and interactive ‘Question Time’ style opportunities for the live audience to engage.

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This is the point where you need to inject some creativity, know-how and grit!  Getting your business to stand out in an online marketplace means experimenting with new ways of engagement.  The virtual event format offers businesses the opportunity to really promote their brand and product to a vast online audience; energizing their sales and marketing machines by focusing down on one day in the calendar.

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Why upgrade from webinars to live virtual events?

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Brand innovation

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Running live virtual events shows that your brand is prepared to move with the times. In a world that's increasingly working from home, it's cool to do business online. Also, there's a lot you can do to project your brand image before, during, and after live online events. More than a one-time webinar event, your live event is literally a stage for your brand.

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You don't have to disenfranchise anyone

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One of the pitfalls of live events is where you run them when most businesses today have an international audience. Virtual events allow everyone in your audience the ability to come along, no matter where they're located.

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It's a great way to cultivate supplier and partner relationships

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While we're still in the honeymoon period of live online events, there's definitely a halo impact of putting on a good online event. Get the topics right and you'll have suppliers and partners lining up around the corner of the street to get on your program. It's an ideal opportunity to develop relationships, extend your reach and grow your channels.

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What Makes a Good Virtual Event?

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1. It has to be LIVE

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A live event should in every sense feel like an EVENT.  You want participants to feel like they would be ‘missing out’ if they failed to turn up.  Recorded webinars just won't cut it. While live stream tooling is widely available (and on platforms like YouTube and Facebook, it's free) you don’t necessarily have to live stream. Running sequential webinars also works well – and organizers benefit from the attendee analysis, poll and survey results analysis, etc.

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2. Creating that LIVE look-and-feel

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When we organize live events for our customers, we know the importance of imagery and the visual impact of event pages.  We aim to take our audience back to those live events they’ve attended previously and remember the feelings of meeting up in the lobby, waiting for the big keynote in the conference hall, or catching up with a colleague at the networking lunch.  See examples of live events on our site and you’ll notice we use the same terminology that you’d expect to encounter in the conference hall (Lobby, Keynote, Networking Lounge, etc.)

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3. Networking and collaboration

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Networking is an integral part of events.  It’s sometimes the opportunity to speak to people in the audience that makes attendance worthwhile.  Who doesn’t want to use an event as an opportunity to build up their network and benefit from the perspectives of the audience?  Having social streams and tooling on your event site, such as webchat and Twitter feeds, is invaluable to allow participants to network with others, and to build on that live experience.

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4. Encouraging sponsors and re-marketing opportunities

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Like any major conference, you’ll probably want to invite partners and industry speakers.  You might even want to sponsor your event.  Having corporate sponsors help you to promote attendance and share the rewards of the event can turn a small event into something big.  You can have a dedicated area on your event site for sponsors to publish their portfolios of products or work. At the same time, you can encourage them to link back to your site to grow SEO visibility.

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5. Recording and re-using your conference assets

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We like to put as much effort into the re-use of assets post-event as we do in the build-up.   A live virtual event can produce an enormous about of rich content and goodwill, that’s sure to add vigor and richness to your social marketing for the next quarter.  You might consider offering a promotion to attendees on the back of your event, so there’s a reason to follow all of the participants up and qualify their interest post-event.

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6. RoI and Post-Event Analysis

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As with any event, it’s always worthwhile to push for feedback from participants and do a round-up on the amount of business resulting from the event, and the total cost of running the exercise, including sales time, marketing spend, campaign activity, etc.  You will want to learn from your first event to make the next one even better.  And you will want to be able to compare the cost of running a live virtual event with the other routes you can take to win customers so you can weigh up which is the best conversational path to your audience.

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Summary

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Useful as they might be as a conversational instrument, webinars are becoming over-marketed and a rather passé method of engaging and educating customers.  Virtual events are the next formula in the evolution of online engagement for businesses, and make a regular feature on your marketing agenda. We expect innovation to go further, leveraging brand ambassadors and more creative production techniques and technologies to evolve the possibilities of virtual client engagement.

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Ian Tomlin is a marketer, entrepreneur, business leader and management consultant. His passion is to help make great ideas happen. Relentlessly optimistic about the potential of technology for good, Ian’s 30+ year career has focused around the intersect of strategy, technology and marketing. He writes on subjects including enterprise computing and organizational design. He also works as a consultant and advisor to the executive teams of PrinSIX Technologies, Answer Pay and INTNT.AI, helping to rethink their marketing in order to tell their brand story.

Ian has founded a series of successful businesses including NDMC Ltd (2003), Encanvas (2006), and Newton Day Ltd (2019). He has written books, articles and guides on brand, digital transformation, enterprise applications, data science, workforce management, and organizational design. He can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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