Virtual events have dominated the news cycle in the event industry. As regulators shut down live events, online events popped up. But what does it take to host an online event? And where is this all going? And what are blended events?
Virtual events have a lot going for them, to be sure. They’re accessible. There are cost and time savings for both promoters and attendees. And no travel or hotels. But that’s a tradeoff. Event marketers, businesses, and event planners will be weighing up the pros and cons frequently over the coming months.
To help, I spoke to Ellie Wiggins, co-founder of Evley Events. They’re a virtual events agency based in the UK. Ellie was cool enough to take the time to answer my questions about, well, everything virtual event-related. Let’s get going and learn more about Ellie and how she sees the digital event space.
Who Are Evley Events?
Evley Events is a virtual events agency set up by two students: Ellie and Yazz. They aim to bring virtual events to life and to your screens. At the moment, their focus is to raise money for charities during the COVID-19 Era. They believe that Virtual Events are the way forward, and hope that they become more prominent in the future.
Ellie Wiggins is a Junior Events Professional, studying for a Level 7 Postgraduate Diploma in Events Management accredited by the CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) at The Event Academy in London.
Currently, Evley Events is working on a series titled “Past Your Bedtime” to raise money in aid of Age UK. There’s an event coming up on May 11th that we definitely recommend you check out here. Or The Facebook Event here.
Age UK is a charity supporting the UK’s older generation with loneliness.
She’s always had a love for planning, being the one in her group of friends to plan any unusual excursions and making sure everything was coordinated. It was in these moments that Ellie decided to become an Events Organiser. She aims to specialize in Charity Events.
What is a Virtual Event?
Let’s start at the absolute beginning. According to Ellie, “A virtual event is an event that you can experience online. It can be exclusive or inclusive as a company likes.”
In many cases, these events are free because they’re virtual unless the subject is specialized, like SaaStock, who have moved to virtual and blended events in the short term.
Meetings industry professionals are probably already familiar with the switch, having been early adopters of the shift to online. Ellie makes that point; Meetings via Zoom too can be considered virtual events.
The Best Platform For Virtual Events
Everyone’s been talking about Zoom, but several startups are entering the space too. Hopin, Run the World, and HeySummit are all focused on digital events, while legacy companies like Skype and Whova are making a play for the market also.
Ellie says, “I think if you want to get multiple people engaging directly with the event, then Zoom is definitely one of the better ones to go for. Google Hangouts works out pretty well. Skype is a pretty good one to hold conferences on, and it’s becoming more and more adapt to the ever-changing situation.”
What Types of Events Should Go Virtual?
Typically, Ellie sees conferences and meetings going online. “But,” Ellie says, “there are a couple of music events as well, which I’ve seen going down. They’re creating the same event that you’d have in person, but online.”
This tracks with my own research. Event marketers have moved a lot of business events online, including social mixers, product releases, and even conferences. One prominent example of this is the Game Developers Choice Awards, who took their convention to Twitch.
At the same time, the wedding industry has focused on postponements, rather than going online. Still, there’s a growing trend of blended events, including weddings – a small number of live attendees, with others joining virtually.
What Are Blended Events?
A blended event integrates elements of virtual and live, and this is something Evley Events has dabbled in.
“I think it’s a great way to open up and widen the audience participation,” Ellie says. “How we’re doing that is still on rocky terms at the moment, like everything is. But I feel like it will be solidified within hopefully the next year.”
Ellie went on to mention that things are moving fast, and we might see blended events becoming common as smaller events open up and the regulations ease.
The Limitations of Virtual Events?
The significant limitation is internet access. “You should expect the internet to fail,” Ellie explains. “And have a backup for that. Internet failure is obviously the most prominent limitation, but poor connections are common too.”
I asked if there was anything one could do to mitigate that. Ellie mentioned, “One of the ways you can minimize that is connecting the computer or the laptop to an ethernet cable, and that helps enhance the stability of your internet.”
The duration of the event is another consideration.
“I don’t think they should be very long due to health issues when it comes to using the screens. It’s not that good to be in front of the screen for that long. If attendees can view the event on a TV, where they can keep some distance from the screen, then you might be able to do it a bit longer.”
And what about large conferences that ordinarily would have a host of speakers back-to-back?
“I don’t expect companies to be doing all day virtual events at the moment. But that might be a possibility to branch out into. It’s tricky to say with everything that’s going on.”
“People actually find it a lot more enjoyment in being able to go out (virtually) and enjoy themselves and not actually have to socialize. We’re a very antisocial generation at the moment. But I’m sure that will change once everything goes back, and people start to want proper social interaction.”
So if you’re expecting a lot of speakers, Ellie recommends spreading your event out over several days. “If you’ve got multiple speakers, I’m going to be very, very bored looking at my screen all day. So I’d recommend keeping it to a minimum of two to three hours max and make sure you have a couple of breaks within that. Or spread it out over a couple of days.”
Quick Launches: A Unique Benefit Of Virtual Events
One thing that struck me as my discussion with Ellie turned to attendees, and marketing was the time-to-launch. For a client who has a large, engaged audience, virtual events can be conceived and launched far quicker than live events. Even perhaps a matter of days.
Ellie, however, recommended at least two weeks. This is for marketing purposes as well as set up. Anyone planning on impromptu digital events should consider what it will take to ensure attendees. With a couple of weeks lead time, you can market, follow up, get attendees excited, and leverage social media to spread the word.
Getting Attendees To Your Virtual Event
“Make it look interesting,” Ellie says. “Keep the messaging short and sweet. I think that’s definitely a crucial one when it comes to social media postings about events. When promoting an event, we try and minimize the number of words on an Instagram post or a Facebook page and use more visuals when it comes to promotion. Infographics, pictures, videos, any sort of digital data that isn’t writing is an effective way to get people attending our events.”
Ellie also recommends focusing on a niche target audience. By being specific, you’re able to tap into the particular interests of an audience. Generalized marketing can prove to be less enticing.
How To Stay Organized When Planning Virtual Events?
“I think the key factors are using your timelines,” Ellie says. “And making sure you’ve got a run sheet for your event. Making sure you stick to the deadlines on your timeline is absolutely critical when planning an event.”
Ellie strikes a note of caution. “But, as you know, things can go wrong. Make sure you have a contingency within your timeline, as well.” Ellie is a fan of critical path analysis. She uses this methodology to gauge which sections of her timeline she has to complete on time, and which other areas can be delayed.
The Future of Events
Ellie believes that there will be a new normal. “There will be changes in how we put on events with the safety regulations coming into place. This will affect attendee numbers, which is a rather prominent concern.”
“How prominent it will be for society, I think that’s difficult to predict. A lot of people will stay away from larger events, especially if they have vulnerable people at home or if they’re at risk themselves.”
Speaking for ThymeBase, we believe that the event industry will survive, adapt, and grow. We think that the growth of virtual events will be an addition to the event industry, and to part of zero-sum competition. And we believe our event planning software can help event planners stay organized whether their events are in gardens and venues, or in bits and bytes.