Woman with her working on a laptopSo, it’s the big day! Attendees are excited to get to their sessions, speakers are anxious to present and exhibitors are hopeful to connect with their clients and prospects. Every detail has been discussed and agonized for over a year.

Something is different.

Instead of the war room in the convention center or hotel, teams are on Zoom or communicating with Slack and are spread across the country or world. Every event constituent (attendee, speaker, exhibitor, and sponsors) are also in similar situations.  They may be in their home offices with kids in tow or caring for a loved one at the same time as your event. Congratulations, you are now 100% virtual and now LIVE.

Orchestrating virtual events brings its own set of challenges and opportunities never experienced before the pandemic.  Thousands of event organizers and their teams have quickly realized that “online” is most likely the only way to offer education and showcase products and services from exhibitors and sponsors for the foreseeable future.

Become a Virtual Events Principal

Many have said, you cannot become a school principal without being a teacher first. While I am not an educator (only a parent of a child), I tend to agree with this principle. It was not until I started participating in virtual events that I fully understand how different they truly are. I have been fortunate to help execute two virtual events, exhibit at one, speak at two and attend many more. Regardless of the technology or vertical, each role I played and event I attended showed me many aspects I would have never considered had I not done it.

We must remember that in-person events have different cues and built-in understandings that help facilitate the event’s flow. If you dropped most professionals off at an event hotel or convention center, they could probably easily navigate themselves. Can’t find the general session? Follow the crowd or the signage. Can’t find the exhibit hall? Ask a passer-by or the many staff around to point you in the right direction. At home and online, we don’t have many of these real conveniences. Can’t log in to the virtual world? You are already locked out at the front door.

What’s Next for Virtual Event Organizers

If there’s one thing I know about event professionals, it is our willingness to go the extra mile and lean in. It is time to roll up our sleeves and take an active role in understanding these new journeys from the perspective of that persona. Whether you attend a free virtual event unrelated to your organization, industry event or pay for attendance, start from the attendees’ viewpoint. And most importantly, learn as much as you can from others who have gone before you. Here are just a few of the areas to ask questions or get insights around:

  • What were some of the surprising and unexpected challenges faced?
  • Were there different registration trends as a result of being virtual?
  • What are some of the day-of-event issues that organizers should plan for or consider?
  • What factors were important to consider in managing expectations and providing success?
  • How was the event priced?
  • What if any changes were made to existing content or the agenda?
  • How was the virtual event marketed?
  • How were communications among internal and external groups managed?

Join my special guests and me from the events planning team at National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) as we share lessons, experiences and best practices learned from their most recent virtual event, Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC).

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