June 2, 2020

Conferences Are Paused; Hit Play On…Something Else

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In-person conferences are cancelled for 2020, and webinars are losing steam. Yesterday’s webinar was a break from work while still working, but today attending any sort of online event feels like just another video conference. That leaves marketers without some of their top lead generating tools.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for webinars

Looking back, the hour-long sales and marketing webinar had it coming. Most are thinly-veiled attempts to sell you on a product. And marketers who outsource these events to agencies often find themselves with fewer and less qualified leads than they hoped.

While everyone pivots their in-person conferences and events to live digital events, how do you avoid the webinar trap? What’s the secret to making a live event—in-person or digital—that engages attendees?

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An ode to in-person events

People love events and conferences because they provide a high ratio of learning to marketing. We’re willing to put up with the product-focused examples or case studies to gain a little insight that might help us do our jobs better.

With any live event, you get to take home free junk: swag. We’ll trade our work email for that really nice notebook, a branded American Apparel tshirt with a quippy quote, or a reusable water bottle we can use to secretly sip mimosas during the next day’s keynote. Because even better than the swag or the insight is the networking events—parties.

Perhaps most valuable of all? In-person events give you time and space to focus on learning and networking without taking PTO. You’re on the clock, but other than checking in on email to put out any fires, you’re working. You can’t recreate that escape from the demands of the office in a WFH model—or can you?

How do you recreate the conference experience in an online event?

You don’t.

First of all, get over conferences. Maybe not forever, but since most of the US isn’t willing to sit down in a restaurant with their neighbors, they’re probably not going to gather in a convention center elbow-to-elbow with 10,000 of their closest work proximity associates anytime soon, either.

Recognize that your virtual event is not a conference. Take a moment to mourn this, if you need.

Now that you’ve internalized that you have no booths, no swag, no uncomfortable chairs, no overpriced convention center, and no continual coffee shortage to fix, you can think differently about your online event.

Then take these steps to help your team plan a virtual event that looks and feels different from a webinar.

Define your outcome

What’s the ultimate goal of your event? Do you want to

  • Raise product awareness
  • Sell tickets
  • Showcase key vendors
  • Educate and inform customers
  • Drive product sales
  • Network with possible clients

When you define your goal, you’re better able to outline the steps to get there. Let’s say your goal is to showcase key vendors. By focusing on that portion of the event—rather than what you’ll cater for lunch—you free yourself to find the best way to source and highlight vendors.

List your restrictions

Consider normal event-related restrictions and new health and wellness restrictions:

  • The limited attention span of WFH audience
  • Budget, timeline, and supply chains for acquiring and mailing swag
  • Video conferencing software meeting attendee limits
  • Pre-recorded vs. live presentations
  • Technology considerations for hosting forums or chat rooms

By understanding your limits, you can define what does work for your event. It might be easier for you and more engaging for your audience if everyone watches a presentation asynchronously. Do you need to send out physical gifts, or is there a digital product you could provide that adds value to your audience? Take these limitations as opportunities for growth.

Build an attendee list

A sure-fire way to get engagement is to make your event exclusive. Build a target account list of the attendees that you want in the room.

  • What companies do you want to include? Think of potential customers on your ABM list and industry leaders that aren’t direct competitors.
  • Consider the thought leaders in the industry who might add valuable insight to your event.
  • How might your own technology partners contribute insight to your event? Think of who you might invite both as a knowledge-add and a co-promotion opportunity.

By making your event an exclusive, invite-only affair, you can build buzz and stand out in a sea of webinars.

Plan your event

Starting with your goal and your restrictions, build your event on a small scale. You don’t have 3 days of captive audiences and the excitement of travel to pump up your attendees, but you do have a world of possibilities.

  • What do you need to do to generate excitement and positive buzz before the event?
  • How can you structure your event to build excitement?
  • Consider whether an online chat once a month would benefit your attendees (and your bottom line)
  • How can you best use a half hour of pre-recorded video and all the marketing materials you can muster?
  • What might three hours of content delivered via email over several days bring to your audience?
  • How will you facilitate community-building and networking with your audience? Do you need to set up an invite-only LinkedIn or Facebook Group or an event-focused forum or Slack channel?

Partner and promote

Get the most out of your next marketing and sales event by finding the right audience. We can help you do that with a wide variety of media and lead products. Build your attendee list with our insights, and you’ll have an easier time engaging.