by Mark Hozza
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the first part of 2020, we all found ourselves having to become “tech-savvy” since we were forced into continuing “in-person” relationships though a lens and a screen. At first, communicating in such a fashion was a novelty, for those who hadn’t embraced the technology previously in a business relationship. In our personal lives, we may have attended “Virtual Happy Hours” sometimes with limited success. And now many of us have experienced digital fatigue because the sudden dependence on remote meeting software hasn’t dissipated and will likely remain firmly entrenched as a daily staple for at least the immediate future.
For Life Science Sales and Marketing professionals, we had some experience with online meeting platforms such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, MS Teams, WebEx and others, but we used those to supplement our face-to-face meetings, not run our daily life. We still would travel to meet customers and attend exhibitions and trade shows. This year, we saw a huge number of physical events organize virtual conferences instead but many of those events felt more like a series of lectures, than interactive exhibitions. Customer interaction and lead generation suffered immensely, so what can we do to be more effective at Virtual Events as they temporarily become more prominent?
A virtual event replicates a “physical” location-based event but is held online usually through a browser-based platform. However, there isn’t a universally dominant platform that can solve all your needs. Instead, there are 5 different components of Virtual Events to consider:
These are either your small group team meetings, breakout groups or 1:1 customer video chat, where the face-to-face element is important. Key features of leading platforms include recording, text chat (both group and individual) audio options (VOIP/Dial-in), screen sharing, calendar integration and Security features, (passwords, encryption etc.)
These are “lecture-style” events with large audiences in primarily a one-way broadcast of a topic potentially with Q&A. Webinars are typically used as standalone events to build brand awareness and produce high-level “top of the funnel” content. They can also be used as plenary sessions as a part of a larger virtual conference event. Webinars are usually recorded so they can be made available after the event. Key features of leading platforms include: recording (live or pre-recording), attendee chat and Q&A, polling screen sharing for presenter, audio options (VOIP/Dial-in mute attendees) support small panels, registration capabilities with option to monetize event (ticket sales), “backstage area” (to provide support for speaker, review Q&A, moderation etc.) calendar integration and security features (passwords, encryption etc.)
These are interactive meetings, similar to coffee break sessions, where you can mingle, chat and meet new people. These are useful as standalone events or as sessions to break up a larger multi-track virtual conference. Key features of leading platforms include: Text Chat, 1:1 video chat, random chat match (where 2 attendees are randomly match for a determined period of time, when time expires, they are then matched with someone else) multiple small breakout video rooms.
These are sessions that offer interactive ways to learn more about a company’s products and services and usually coincide with another type of event. Key features of leading platforms include: Various booth sizes (different levels of sponsorship), video integration, downloadable materials (brochures etc), CRM integration that capture attendee information and metrics, Text chat, 1:1 Video chat
These are sessions that are primarily used to teach and include the ability for testing and certification. These are sometimes taught as a live classroom style or are a self-paced instruction. Key features of the leading platforms include recording (live or prerecording), screen sharing, online testing, certificates, text chat, Q&A, polling, registration capabilities/monetization, calendar integration, Security features.
For any size virtual event, careful planning and preparation is key. For large complex events it is still best to engage with an event planner. Many “live event” planners have recently taken the leap and now offer virtual event planning as well.
Define the goal of your event
Having a solid strategy behind your event will help you choose the correct platform/platforms to achieve your goal and set the metrics you will use to measure success.
Plan a budget for your event
Virtual events are usually less costly than in-person events to produce, however, they are also harder to monetize from your attendees. What will the platform cost? Will you pay honoraria to speakers? Will you have sponsors cover costs?
Decide on a concept
What type of event do you want to hold? Which of the 5 virtual event components do you need? Will you need speakers, panelists etc.?
Choose your event platform
Base on your event concept and components you need, pick a platform that meets your criteria and request a demo for each of those platforms. Consider price (pricing models vary drastically), ease of use, scalability and features you will need. Each platform is different, so you may need to combine more than one for larger events to get what you need.
Identify target audience and choose a date and time
Make sure you have enough time to get acclimated with the platform and promote the event far enough in advance to maximize attendance.
Configure platform and create content
Line up your speakers/panelists, define parameters on your platform to configure your meeting, set up payment, notification and CRM systems if needed. And do a test run to rehearse timing, practice presentations, and get a feel for coping with the pressure to troubleshoot on the fly in case spontaneous issues crop up during the actual event.
On the day of the event
Ensure you monitor and respond to questions in the chat window, and actively help attendees with questions. If you have a multi-track or multi-session event, send out attendee reminders when sessions start. Check-in with your speakers to ensure presentations move smoothly. And when the day is over, communicate with your attendees, thanking them for attending and inform them where they can go to find the recordings or other materials from the event.
In closing, as we all become more comfortable with online events, I just want to remind everyone of some tips and etiquette when choosing to be on camera, whether it be just a regular 1:1 video chat or a large scale event:
Good luck with your event.
Mark Hozza is a Life Science Executive with over 20 years’ experience helping organizations realize their full commercial potential. He is founder and president of Dragonfly Life Sciences Consulting, an executive management consulting firm focusing on commercial excellence. He is also a current board member of SAMPS. Follow him at markhozza.com or on LinkedIn