Countless brands are going digital as they adapt to the challenges facing their rapidly evolving industries. In Digitizing Events, we explore how companies have successfully pivoted to virtual events and experiences while continuing to build important business relationships among industry leaders, professionals, and enthusiasts.

The coronavirus has changed every facet of life and business the world over. The pandemic is projected to shrink the world economy by an alarming 3%, and that might be a conservative estimate. This ensuing economic crisis is forcing organizations to adapt. The race for not only remaining relevant, but even survival for many industries is underway.

Knowing that this is a marathon and not a sprint, many businesses have shifted to work from home mode, but this may not be enough. Many of these organizations were not well-prepared for such a dynamic change, and this lack of preparedness left them with no option but to shut down some services.

Even companies that are ostensibly benefitting from the switch to virtual events were no-doubt shocked by the speed of the change. In December 2019, Zoom had 10 million daily meeting participants; compare that to 200 million in March 2020 and 300 million by April.

At Sisense, we’ve increased our online events by six times as compared to our pace before COVID-19. Online events are now an important part of how we help and educate our industry.  And despite still a relatively new part of how we market Sisense, we continue to build, execute, and optimize in an evolving landscape. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into how companies are transforming in-person conferences and other gatherings into worthwhile digital events.

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Truly transform your virtual events

Countless companies canceled upcoming conferences, summits, and expos due to the coronavirus. Instead, they have scaled up virtual events and virtual conferences. For example, Adobe Summit and Digital Experience Conference recently took place online. But there was something special about NVIDIA’s GPU Technical Conference (GTC) Digital 2020. Digitalwasn’t just an added word but an epic transformation that other companies can learn from.

Originally scheduled for March 22 to 26 in California, NVIDIA’s GTC was transformed into a fully virtual convention — a series of tech talks, seminars, training sessions, and workshops. GTC 2020 Digital drew four times the expected audience: 45,000+ registrants in addition to 300+ talks, 148 research presentations, 86 hours of virtual training/workshops, and up to 80,000 viewers for some sessions.

This successful pivot gives us a number of virtual event best practices that can help your business survive and thrive in the age of COVID-19.

Deliver content, gather data

We’ve all experienced virtual meetings and seminars. But the scale has changed during this pandemic. Dealing with a large-scale virtual event, whether it’s a few hundred people or several thousand, isn’t a trivial matter. Platforms like Zoom and Google Meet are robust and provide numerous features, but many of us are still learning how to use many of these tools. Similarly, partners and attendees are also learning how they work, and becoming more comfortable with online interactions. 

It’s important to know your audience and familiarize your workforce, as many of these tools are here to stay. Learn your tools!

“I cried; I won’t lie,” said Jasmin Dave, lead for operations, sales, and marketing at NVIDIA, of dealing with the intense requirements of GTC 2020 Digital.

Your virtual meeting software isn’t just a place to disseminate your content, it’s also a place to gather data. First off, you can more easily track attendees and participation. You can also use built-in or external polling software to better understand the preferences and habits of your attendees. These real-time insights help you understand the effectiveness of your event while there’s still time to react, plus you can modify future events to better serve your audience.

The fact that platforms like Zoom also include attendee numbers, meeting lengths, etc. as part of their “Reports” function shows how ubiquitous embedded analytics have become in product design. Every bit of data you can gather from your audience helps you build a better program.

Build a deep funnel

A strong strong communication process is critical for success before, during, and after an event. With a sizable portion of the workforce operating remotely, plus taking care of their various domestic duties (childcare, cooking, cleaning, mental health self-care), it’s natural that event dates might slip one’s mind. That’s where NVIDIA took action to drive engagement, sending out regular newsletters and reminders, keeping customers and attendees in the loop. 

At Sisense, we’re focused on strong pre-event outreach, with leads tracked through Salesforce and Marketo and regular emails and calls from our business development reps. We pipe constantly-updated information to our team so that they can develop relationships with prospective attendees and make sure they’re aware of events that suit their specific needs. These actual human connections draw people in and give us more information to optimize our event strategy: picking topics and speakers that will resonate with our audiences.

Use time in creative ways: For speakers and attendees

Your conference is everywhere and nowhere, but time is one dimension that still binds us all. Picking a date for your event is challenging: you need enough runway to gather a worthwhile crowd, but if it’s too far in the future, people can forget all about it. (This is where your ongoing engagement efforts can really help.)

That being said, don’t let your speakers’ schedules disrupt your target dates/times and vice versa. While live content is a vital part of many digital events, it needn’t be the only element. As Emily Schario from Gitlab shared in our joint webinar, Thriving as a Remote Team: A Foundational Toolkit, it’s a snap to turn a team meeting into a video that can be viewed anytime. So, if you have an event lined up and can’t get all the talent online at the same time, consider dropping in prepared content from one of your panel, that the other panelists can riff on during the live portion of the event.

Record everything. You can reuse your event recordings in a variety of ways afterwards: quick snippets, explainer videos, transcripts, blog posts, and of course, releasing the full video for all who want it.

Don’t just cut and/or post the raw video, though. Be prepared to adjust the videos you receive to improve video and sound quality. It took NVIDIA’s team a significant time investment to remove background sounds and amplify some of the low-talking speakers, but the improved quality of the finished product was worth it. Also add your company’s branding to all your videos (clips, full videos, etc.): just a logo panel at the beginning and a “brought to you by” at the end is enough to put your stamp on them and takes little time.

Simplify your processes

This goes for both your workforce and the audience. Make logging in as simple as possible for attendees and make sure your behind-the-scenes tech team understands what could go wrong and how to fix it. Having an FAQ page for attendees is a must, but you might also want to consider bringing in additional humanpower from your workforce to field questions and help people get logged in while the event is getting underway.  

Here, again, your engagement process is key. Closely follow registrations and keep attendess eager to join until the event starts. Everyone who registers for a Sisense event gets an email drip leading up the date of the presentation, serving up relevant content and priming them for what they’ll see later. After the event, they also receive follow-up emails with related content and suggestions for other events they might want to join. This is another chance to gather data: did they enjoy the event, was it worthwhile, did it help advance them on their customer journey (if appropriate), etc.

Understand the value of “free”

One of the most strategic moves by NVIDIA was making GTC Digital 2020 free. Knowing that the company would not have to invest anything in the physical arrangements, NVIDIA made its event entirely free and refunded all the payments made prior to the event. Breaking the event into a series of talks and training sessions and spanning it over a month made GTC available to everyone. However, it did require a time investment to turn a virtual version of GTC 2020 into a reality.  

Don’t let latency slow you down

Internet latency can become a bottleneck as the majority of the people are working from home these days. Be prepared for this hurdle and keep a backup for speakers’ and trainers’ sessions/videos in case either of you loses your internet connection. Nothing can be more annoying for event attendees than interrupted sessions (even when the event is free). You don’t want to prepare for months and let this last-minute issue ruin your virtual event.

Ready to go virtual?

Now that you’ve gleaned some of the virtual event best practices that made GTC 2020 such a success, it’s your turn. Engage your audience, hit the (virtual) floor with an event that will delight attendees, and gather all the data you can along the way. Although in-person/physical events are big opportunities to enhance your social networks and have face-to-face interactions with industry leaders, the issue right now is the survival of your organization. Do it now, or others will do it instead.

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Sarah Prawl is a seasoned marketer with a passion for storytelling and content creation. She specializes in audience development, building marketing campaigns through social media, email, web, and events.

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