The global pandemic stopped meetings, conferences, and events in their tracks. Like every other industry, the events industry went through an unprecedented time, and had to reinvent itself in order to survive.
The pandemic accelerated the digital world, and customers are now open to the idea of digital events alongside face-to-face. “It’s actually opened up the spectrum for all sorts of companies,” says Heinrich Swanepoel, Head of Sales at PaySpace, a leader in payroll and HR software.
He says the pandemic forced organisations across the board to adapt to work-from-home scenarios, which depend heavily on Wi-Fi, streaming, and video conferencing. “Without technology, we wouldn’t have survived. The technology came through for us with flying colours, enabling businesses to be resilient.”
According to him, it has levelled the playing field for events. It not only changed the way people live their lives, but consumer behaviour also changed a lot too – in terms of how they shop, and their willingness to adapt with the new tools and services. People no longer find it strange to be attending a virtual event.
There is little doubt that business travel and meetings will look different in the future, when we put the pandemic behind us, to what they were like a few years ago. “Savvy event organisers are also realising that budgets are shrinking and offering compelling virtual event options is the way forward.”
For Swanepoel, there will always be face-to-face events. “These events will never drop away entirely. More businesses will realise they can offer hybrid events, which combine a live event with the option to participate virtually too. This, I believe, will be the way of the future.”
When it comes to ensuring customer engagement with virtual events, Swanepoel says that the key is to understand the customer. “You need to see the world through their eyes, and then ensure that you prioritise their expectations. People who attend these events do so for educational purposes. They expect advice that will help them achieve business goals and objectives. This can make it difficult, because content needs to be world-class and informative. A lot of time needs to be put into the preparation of content, to ensure it is tailored to your target audience.”
Engaging the audience
He says, however, that virtual events make it a lot harder to engage and keep the attention of the audience. “In home environments, it is easy to be interrupted or get distracted. Holding their interest is far easier at a physical venue.”
But there are several benefits to hosting virtual events. “The number of delegates usually increases dramatically with virtual events. Companies can extend their reach significantly, and at the same time save a fortune, as virtual events are far less resource-heavy.
“There are no costs associated with people running the event on the ground, the venue is free, and there is no catering needed. For attendees, there’s no travelling time or costs, and they can log in and out at will. For example, our recent annual PaySpace POWER Conference ran over three days with more than double the number of attendees we had last year. This clearly demonstrates the success and increasing popularity of digital events.”
Many delegates find it a lot easier to ask questions in a virtual event, as they can remain anonymous. Companies can gather a lot of insight from the questions that are asked, and more participation is encouraged, says Swanepoel.
There are several tools available to ensure that virtual events are a success, he says, in particular MS Teams, Zoho, and YouTube for videos and content. “For me, it’s all about the planning. The tools are an important part of the planning stage, production needs to be on point, and both the sound and connection must be top class. It’s about connecting all these dots.”
Offering some advice for companies wanting to host virtual events, Swanepoel says: “Decide what your desired outcome is and set yourself a target to work towards. You will need to put a plan together that covers all your objectives. Make sure your content is world-class, too. Remember, if you’re not hosting events, no one will recognise you.”