November 8, 2021 Content Chat Recap: How to Plan and Promote an Engaging Virtual or Hybrid Event

A #ContentChat header image that says today's topic is how to plan and promote an engaging virtual or hybrid event.

Research from LinkedIn found that 85% of marketers have held a virtual event in the past year. For nearly a quarter of these marketers, at least 90% of their events are now entirely virtual. Does this mean marketing teams should plan exclusively for virtual events in 2022? Not exactly.

As more communities lift their social distancing protocols, we should see an increasing number of live and hybrid event experiences next year. The research suggests we can anticipate a breakdown of 30% virtual events, 36% in-person events, and 24% hybrid events.

To help marketers start their 2022 event planning, in this #ContentChat we explain how to plan and promote an engaging virtual or hybrid event. Read the full recap to learn how to start planning a virtual or hybrid event, the challenges you will likely face (and solutions), how to navigate a call-for-speakers process, and more.

Q1: What is the current state of B2B industry events? Can we expect in-person experiences to come back in 2022?

There will be more in-person conferences in 2022.

A1a: A number of big industry events that canceled their 2021 in-person conferences are already announcing plans for in-person and hybrid events in 2022. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

However, we expect many of these in-person experiences to include a virtual component, meaning that many events will be hybrid.

A1b: What’s interesting to note is many events that previously did not have a virtual component have heard from their attendees that they aren’t ready to go back to live events yet. Hence seeing a boom in hybrid offerings. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

A1: It definitely sounds like some in-person events will be back in 2022, but with virtual options. I think it’s a safe bet to have both planned. As we’ve seen, things with the pandemic can change fast. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) November 8, 2021

Agree 100% on this. A city that seemed like a great choice can have a COVID surge that causes people to not want to travel there in person. Definitely saw that this year. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

my day job is promo products and we’re having live events in 2022, along with a virtual slate as well.

— Cait Mack (@caitmackcs) November 8, 2021

A1 I think we’re seeing them becoming more popular again – there’s been a lot of Zoom/screen fatigue and people are excited to get back to meeting in-person
That said, I would like to see hybrid style events becoming more commonly used
-Alyx#ContentChat https://t.co/qntFeuy9xi

— Charlie & Alyx – Charlie Appel Agency (@ColfaxInsurance) November 8, 2021

Per LinkedIn research (see The Drum article), 85% of marketers have held a #virtualevent in the last year, and 28% say at least 90% of their events are all virtual. In 2022, they expect a breakdown of 40% virtual, 36% in-person, & 24% hybrid. https://t.co/SsLU6GOs9D #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) November 8, 2021

This is an understandable evolution of the events industry. Marketers spent 2020 and 2021 learning how to host a successful virtual conference, and teams now understand that the best event experiences make full use of the features and functions available based on the attendees’ preferred way to attend.

A1c: Also, once you’ve been able to successfully host an all virtual conference, and seen how you can draw an audience that wouldn’t normally attend in-person due to budget or travel constraints, it makes sense to keep that momentum going. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

Networking remains a challenge for virtual and hybrid events.

I’ve tried a few virtual events that span multiple days. I’m not a fan. I can research any topic whenever I’d like, and networking at virtual events is subpar in my experience. #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) November 8, 2021

I’ve noticed networking is harder at virtual events too
I wonder if there hasn’t been enough planning on the host’s end to promote networking, or if it’s just a new enough concept that it hasn’t taken off yet 🤔
-Alyx#ContentChat

— Charlie & Alyx – Charlie Appel Agency (@ColfaxInsurance) November 8, 2021

I think that is a multifaceted issue. Many #virtualevents platforms don’t have great audience participation and engagement tools for sessions, let alone for peer networking. We will get into that a bit more later in the chat as well. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

There are definitely technical limitations at large events. At live events, you randomly meet people and see people you know. Discussions happen naturally. #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) November 8, 2021

Agreed. I haven’t yet seen a great virtual event interface for tagging along with your friend to their sessions, although some will allow you to see their custom agenda of planned to watch sessions. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

Q2: If you planned a virtual or hybrid event in 2021, what challenges did you face?

There is a lot of work that goes into planning a virtual or hybrid event. Ensure you have designated team members ready to assist throughout the planning and hosting process.

Each member of your team only had one head and two hands..

— Robert Dunsmore (@robert_dunsmore) November 8, 2021

Ha! Yes, when managing virtual events, it can definitely feel like having an extra set of eyes and a whole wall of screens would be valuable. 🙂 #ContentChat https://t.co/xE8jxf84S7

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

Zoom fatigue can be a major challenge for events with any virtual component.

A2a: One of the biggest challenges with #virtualevents and #hybridevents has been Zoom fatigue. When you are doing so much of your work online every day, it’s hard to get excited about attending a several-day-long session of more video calls. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

A2b: And how do you help people feel like they are having a immersive experience when they’re sitting at their homes and in their offices… the same as always? #ContentChat

— Maureen Jann (she/her) (@NeoLuxeMo) November 8, 2021

Virtual events can lack a sense of importance to some bosses and colleagues, because anyone can join these experiences without needing to hop on a plane. Simply, an in-person event demands more attention from everyone given the required planning and travel preparation.

A2b: Also, when attendees are attending virtually, their colleagues and boss don’t seem to give their participation as much space as if they’d gotten on a plane or at least hopped in the car and gone to a conference. So attendees get drawn away easily. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

100% agree with this. Not from a management standpoint necessarily, but an attendee standpoint, too. Sometimes it’s hard to justify blocking off the time on the calendar — it’s almost as if it isn’t as valuable or important because it’s virtual. #ContentChat https://t.co/PvVRtRzS82

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) November 8, 2021

Your choice of virtual or hybrid event technology will greatly enhance or limit the engagement and networking opportunities at your event.

A2: We planned a virtual event and keeping the sessions engaging and not just a talking head on the screen is where we spent a lot of our time. #contentchat

— Maureen Jann (she/her) (@NeoLuxeMo) November 8, 2021

I’ve had good networking at small Zoom events with less than 20 people. I’ve rarely had good networking at virtual events with hundreds or thousands of people. There isn’t the same common experience as physically being at an event together. #ContentChat

— Tod Cordill (@todcordill) November 8, 2021

I agree. I think the @MProfsEvents team did a fantastic job with their viewing parties for #MPB2B to bring back some of the feelings of being all in a room together. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

And picking a time for the event can be challenging given the potentially global audience.

A2 time zone differences since we have participants from all over, including Alaska and Hawaii #ContentChat

— lizzie sorkin (@denazzie) November 8, 2021

Excellent point! Look at your potential audience/attendee list and find the best time for sessions to maximize engagement. Don’t assume everyone can work with ET. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) November 8, 2021

Q3: How should marketers get started in planning their next virtual or hybrid event?

Before you plan a virtual or hybrid event, go attend one yourself. Get an understanding of how virtual experiences can differ and the general functions your team can provide.

A3a: First things first: go out and ATTEND some virtual and hybrid events to see how other organizations have approached them. If you have never attended a virtual event, it’s going to be really tough to anticipate the features/functionality your community expects. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

Next, speak with your typical event attendees and gauge what their ideal virtual event experience looks like.

A3b: Once you have a grounding in what felt like it worked and what didn’t reach out to some of your event’s return attendees and talk to them about their ideal #virtualevent experience. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

Listening to their audiences

— Robert Dunsmore (@robert_dunsmore) November 8, 2021

It’s more than community – it’s actually far more nuanced “C” words.. bitesize clans, clubs, combos, crews, coteries, cliques, concordances.. I’m getting carried away now..

— Robert Dunsmore (@robert_dunsmore) November 8, 2021

Supplement your findings by sending a pre-event survey.

A3c: Then, validate those conversations against your larger event community by sending out a pre-event survey to make sure you understand your attendees’ needs. See this article for some great suggestions. https://t.co/t6CgwLQVjm #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

As you plan the event, focus on audience engagement. How can you keep everyone engaged throughout the event?

A3: I think one of the most important things to brainstorm how you’re going to keep your audience engaged throughout the event. Get creative! Contests, huddle rooms, soliciting feedback during presentations, etc. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) November 8, 2021

A3: Before you start any event planning, ask yourself:
– Why are we hosting this event?
– What value will our attendees gain?
– Do our attendees want an in-person component (or is it just our C-Suite leaders that think they do)? #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) November 8, 2021

Q4: What are the best practices for handling a virtual or hybrid event call-for-speakers process?

One of the benefits of a virtual event is that you can field speakers from anywhere in the world. Cast a wide net with emails, social media promotion, and other methods to circulate the call-for-speakers form.

A4a: To make sure you find speakers who are comfortable with a virtual audience, cast a wide net with your call for speaker proposals. It’s easy to have a sophisticated pitch form online that ensures you find speakers who are a good fit. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

Ask speakers to include a video from an online presentation they’ve given.

A4b: Ask potential speakers to include a video from an online presentation they’ve given, to make sure they are comfortable talking into the void of the computer. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

That’s a good point, talking to live audience vs virtual is so different for dynamics and interaction. #contentchat

— Irina Graf (@themiceblog) November 8, 2021

I have seen many speakers who are electric in front of a live audience, literally end up reading their slides on video because the lack of audience gets to them. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

In some instances, I’ve encouraged people to put a face around their camera to help with this… lol… #ContentChat

— Maureen Jann (she/her) (@NeoLuxeMo) November 8, 2021

Prioritize speakers that can provide clear attendee takeaways, and look beyond your usual speaker roster.

A4: When selecting #virtualevent or #hybridevent speakers:
– Remove bias from the selection process
– Prioritize speakers with clear attendee takeaways
– Look past your usual speaker roster
– Remember that your event shouldn’t be an hours-long sales extravaganza#ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) November 8, 2021

Q5: Lack of engagement is a common challenge of virtual and hybrid event experiences. How can event planners deliver meaningful engagement opportunities at events with a virtual component?

Share your event application and attendee profile access at least a week before your event. This gives people time to become familiar with the app, browse the attendee list, and begin planning their sessions.

A5a: Get an early start! Share the event app and attendee profile access at least a week in advance to give people time to get familiar with their virtual badge, search the attendee list for people they want to meet, and plan their schedule accordingly. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

Carve time out during the event for 1:1 engagement opportunities for attendees and speakers throughout the event.

A5b: Don’t just schedule an open networking session and call it a day. Build in 1:1 engagement opportunities between attendees and speakers throughout the event. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

A5c: A robust #vitualevent networking agenda should include some fun social activities—like bingo or trivia, birds of a feather hosted roundtable conversations, in-session chat feeds, and a virtual space to meet and chat in small groups with folks you meet. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

Build in plenty of extended breaks during the event so your attendees do not have to rush from session to session for 4 hours.

A5b: I’d also recommend building plenty of long-ish breaks into the schedule. Too many virtual events are just back to back to back sessions. You may get more engaged participants if they can step away for a bit and come back fresh. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) November 8, 2021

I aggree, this is one of the must-dos, and STILL overlooked. Discussed it from brain science perspective:
https://t.co/UPSj5iir5u#contentchat

— Victoria Matey (@MateyEvents) November 8, 2021

Be conscious about the virtual event platform, and the associated features, that you choose. Does your platform enable break-out rooms for small group discussion and games? Is there a built-in messaging component?

A5: Three things you should consider when looking at virtual engagement:
—-How does the platform you’re using handle interactions?
—-Are you creating genuinely engaging content?
—-Do you have any games to bring people together during breaks? #ContentChat

— Maureen Jann (she/her) (@NeoLuxeMo) November 8, 2021

A5b: Our most popular session at the event we created was a live tour through a safety lab. It was fascinating and they did demonstrations as he walked through! #ContentChat

— Maureen Jann (she/her) (@NeoLuxeMo) November 8, 2021

Encourage speakers to engage with their audience, and find a way to enable attendee Q&A during sessions. This may require a moderator to assist in gathering all the questions.

Encourage your speakers to engage with the audience, too. Get them to ask questions and follow-up questions. The event shouldn’t be something where they just present and move on. If they don’t want to do this, they may not be a good fit for your event! #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) November 8, 2021

If possible, research the behavioral mechanisms, biases, and barriers associated with virtual events. We as a society are just beginning to explore the effects of digital-first life, and we expect more research and studies to emerge that can guide us on best practices.

Understand the key behavioral mechanisms, biases and barriers – essentially, why people behave the way the do – and meaningful engagement will be much easier to deliver. #eventpsychology #contentchat

— Victoria Matey (@MateyEvents) November 8, 2021

Q6: How can teams use social media throughout the event planning process to support the team’s efforts?

Engage your potential event attendees on social media. Ask them about their top challenges and conduct social listening to help inform your event agenda.

A6: You can start engaging your potential attendees and asking them about their top challenges, and conduct social listening that can help your events team craft the perfect agenda. And there’s nothing like real-time feedback to validate plans-in-progress. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

Directly message your industry or brand’s top influencers to get ideas, feedback, and gauge their interest in your event.

A6: Look for your industry or brand’s top influencers on social and reach out to them directly with a DM to get ideas, feedback and gauge interest. See if they want to present! Getting these influencers on board can help give credibility to your event. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) November 8, 2021

And they can also model actions you’d like the rest of your speaker roster to take. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

Q7: What examples or ideas can you share of interesting, unique, or simply fun ideas to try out to deliver an engaging virtual or hybrid event?

During hybrid events, have a moderator act as a proxy for the virtual audience at the in-person component.

A7a: During hybrid events, make sure you have a moderator who acts as the virtual audience’s proxy in the session room! While a speaker can’t be monitoring the chat feed while presenting in-person, someone neds to. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

Set-up viewing parties with the presenter in attendance during pre-recorded sessions. This way attendees can interact and ask questions throughout the chat.

A7b: Instead of just scheduling pre-recorded sessions at set times, setup viewing parties with the presenter in attendance so attendees can interact and ask questions via text throughout the session. And build in time for live Q&A after the recorded presentation. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) November 8, 2021

100% agree. I love the viewing party set-up. It feels virtual but we’re still all attending together. #ContentChat https://t.co/MbsdVFX9ii

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) November 8, 2021

When possible, think outside the box for giveaways. Melanie’s team gave out one-year subscriptions to House Plant Shop.

A7: Everyone has a conference giveaway these days, but try to think outside the box with it! Don’t just go for the Sbux or Visa gift card or plastic branded trash. We did something a little different with our conferences this year and it’s paid off. #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) November 8, 2021

We did a one-year subscription to @HousePlantShopp and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback about it! #ContentChat

— Melanie Graham (@WriterGirlMel) November 8, 2021

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