With the live events industry going bust during the COVID-19 global pandemic, many industry professionals have wondered HOW to take their experiences live. As a 25-year marketer, producing live events (concerts, trade show events, custom and sponsor events) since 1996, designing virtual events at this time felt easy and intuitive as it was always about the customer and the core experience. Here are 4 quick pieces of planning advice I’ve found helpful in making the pivot.
- Let your customer’s needs guide your content strategy.
Your customer is your North Star. No matter if the event is live or virtual, you are programming an event to attract the “attention” of customers. Time and money spent is attention. Customers choose how they spend their time every day. With less money floating around these days, attention is EVERYTHING. Outside of work (and for some, even while at work :)), they spend time with various forms of media and entertainment. Events fall into this vast bucket. So, do you know what this means?? You have to fulfill a void in their life. Are they seeking pleasure, information, edutainment or other? If you’re programming an event, it is your job to know what your customer wants, and deliver it to them. As such, the delivery mechanism — virtual or live — is less significant.
During the pandemic, I had the pleasure of teaching at NYU via Zoom, teaching yoga online, and producing two events for a client during the pandemic (ESSENCE Wellness House 1 & 2). I programmed the first ESSENCE Wellness House event on March 31st to deliver content to alleviate their shock of sheltering at home all of a sudden — co-managing home and worklife under one roof. While the second event on May 8th delivered more wellness content targeted to change lifestyle habits & behaviors and also deal with the sobering realities of grief and losses from COVID-19. Again, the design of the content was all from the consumer-centric perspective, yet on brand from the producer..
2. Focus on what you do well — and partner with someone to do all else.
Listen. All this technology required for live events — Blue Jeans. VMix. Zoom. WebEx. Stage 10. — is a lot. To learn. To comprehend. So, my strong recommendation is to continue doing what you love and know well, and hire some technology whiz kid experts to help you with the rest. The learning curve is too steep. The pandemic is but a moment. To maximize market share at this time (sorry, it’s what businesses need to do right now to have hope to stay alive after this is all said and done), you have to pivot fast. So, rather than learning all the nuts and bolts of how to actually execute virtual events, hire.
3. Emulate and replicate the live experience.
So, if you’re a live event producer, your customer base is used to just that. So, make it your goal to deliver a full experience akin to what they’re used to, virtually. This may sound simple or common sense. But, upon hearing people ask “how do we do it?” I wanted to pause to invite us all to harken back to the reason why customers patronized you in the first place. If you have an opening act, a second act, a closing act, a host/moderator, an intermission, replicate that experience. Especially think about that intermission. People’s ability to be still at home in front of a screen is a bit different from a cushy theatre seat. But oh, invite your guests to dress up…make them feel like they have left the house and are fully engaged on a night out. In particular, people want to meet and greet each other…see what people have on and who they are with — so integrate a way to provide social engagement and also to engage with the talent. Think about a concert, where radio winners or special VIPs get to go backstage. How can you offer this experience via technology? If it’s a class, how can you use features like Zoom’s Breakout Rooms for class breakouts and one-on-one support.
4. Be Humane & Considerate of Your Ask.
In thinking about the customer first, is it fair and considerate to ask the customer to sit for hours to watch blotchy content with no intermission? Would you do that? Is it fair to ask the customer to pay full price for a fitness class, in which they normally interact with people and get hands-on assists? Money & time are precious resources that your customers own. If nothing else, people show you they love or hate you with these two factors. When YOU as the event designer consider these factors which belong to your attendees, consumers appreciate you more. When you don’t, well, I think you know what happens (hint: they go elsewhere, and worst-case tell their friends or leave a bad review).
All in all. Events are a means to deliver compelling and meaningful content to a buying population. If you think of your customer first, hire the best tech producers (just as you would the best lighting/sound/rigging technicians for a live show) and deliver an experience that drives social engagement, you’re winning.
Olivia F. Scott, Consultant/Creator/Professor omergealliances.com/freedomatthemat.com