Bruce Harpham introduces a three-step plan for virtual event success. It starts before the event, continues during the event, and finishes after the event
Ecommerce order volumes have exploded in a matter of months. At the same time, long-established retailers like Brooks Brothers and The Gap are in serious trouble. Governments around the world are doing what they can to help with public health measures and economic support: it’s fair to say that 2020 has changed the business world.
As an individual professional, what can you do to resume your growth and reach your goals in this uncertain environment? Working at home alone, week after week has some benefits in terms of saving time and money on commuting. However, this remote work arrangement is making networking and sustaining relationships more difficult.
That’s the conventional wisdom you might have read before. In reality, there is a new normal success skill set you need: virtual event skills. Master these skills and you can start making progress on your goals again. In the past, you might have taken a few days off to travel to a conference and explore a new city. Travel restrictions now make such activities much less attractive.
To achieve success in your virtual events, follow this three-step plan for virtual event success. It starts before the event, continues during the event, and finishes after the event.
Before the virtual event: five ways to position yourself for success
Before the event arrives, there are a few ways you can prepare yourself for success.
1Choose your virtual events carefully
Start by carefully selecting a virtual event that is relevant to your goals. In my case, I want to meet people in the technology industry, so I am looking for technology events like Tech Toronto. You might be interested in the financial services industry, fashion, or food. Once you have a shortlist of topics, choose one or two options that suit your budget and schedule.
2Schedule pre, during and after virtual event time
There are two types of virtual events: free and paid. Both can be valuable. In general, I prefer events with a ticket price because attendees tend to be more focused.
From a time perspective, add before and after time to the virtual event so that you make the most of the event. For instance, when I attend a one-hour virtual event, I add about 15 minutes of preparation time and about 30 minutes of post-event time. For a full-day event, you would probably need more before.
3Prepare yourself to make an effort
You might assume that virtual events are automatically easier than a live event because there is no travel involved. Consider Alexandra Panousis’s perspective. She has hosted more than twenty virtual events in 2020 as the Community Director and Host of Marketing TO inside the TechTO.
‘Virtual is harder. It is harder to connect emotionally with the participants. It is harder to read the room. Further, there are practical matters like lighting and sound, which make a massive difference in the event. We can’t use the live event presentation playbook in a virtual event,’ comments Alexandra Panousis, who is also the CEO of Carat, a global media agency with more than three thousand employees.
4 Prepare your technology
At a traditional event, you would pack a bag of clothes, computers, and everything else you need to thrive. In a virtual event, you can prepare in less than an hour. First, prepare your computer by closing all other programs on your computer while the event is in progress so that you minimise the chance of a crash. From a hardware perspective, a good web camera, microphone, and headphones are a must.
5Proactively reduce distractions
‘My recommended best practices for virtual event success include clearing your schedule of non-event tasks and calls. Second, set an Out of Office message on your email and voice mail,’ explains David Tyldesley, Co-founder of the SaaS North Conference. Established in 2016, SaaS North is one of the most significant conference events in Canada for the Software As Service (SaaS) industry.
During the virtual event
In a traditional event, travel time gives you time to adjust and transition to the event. With a virtual event, you might jump directly from a meeting (or from bed!) and join the event. To make the most of your virtual event attendance, I recommend setting some event goals.
Since I started attending TechTO events in 2019, I have been impressed by several aspects of the event series. The community is incredibly warm and supportive, which I wrote about last year (4 Reasons Why TechTO Is An Amazing Community). However, there is more to TechTO than warm fuzzy feelings. The organisers encourage everyone to connect with somebody new and learn something new at each event.
Virtual event goals: meet somebody new
Some events will have dedicated time and technology to facilitate networking with tools like Hopin. Other virtual events may not directly facilitate these conversations. In either case, set a realistic goal to meet new people.
At first, I limited my networking efforts to the event itself. For instance, at a virtual two-hour event, I would aim to speak with three to five people. Today, I’m aiming for greater depth by seeking to schedule a follow-up conversation after the event. It is working well for me!
Remember, nearly everybody attending events is interested in meeting new people. Introducing yourself to other people via chat sessions, LinkedIn invitations, and emails in the context of the event will usually be welcome.
Virtual event goals: learn something new
Regardless of your career experience, you can always learn something new. Conferences and virtual events are often one of the best ways to gain cutting edge insights from industry leaders. Speakers can share lessons they have just learned at the office rather than waiting for months or years to write a book. In addition, you have the opportunity to receive unique insight by asking a question.
In my experience, I find that very few people ask good questions during virtual events. If you take a few minutes to develop and ask a question at a virtual event, you will learn more and have the chance to be remembered by those speaking at the event.
After the virtual event: two ways to get more benefit than most other attendees
From my informal research, I find that few people are effective at post-virtual event activities. It is an area that I have gradually become better at over time. After the event is over, there are two ways to get more value from the event without spending a dollar.
From a learning perspective, review your notes from the event. Ask yourself how you can put the ideas you learned into action in your career or business. You don’t have to implement everything you hear automatically. Instead, choose one idea that sounds promising and implement it.
From a relationship standpoint, send at least one follow up message to someone you met after the event. Ideally, I recommend requesting a one on one call to share insights about the event. If the other person is not interested in that, an email exchange is helpful as well. Strong relationships, professional or otherwise, are not built overnight. Instead, they take several interactions over time. That’s why spending some time following up right after the event makes such a positive difference.
Bruce Harpham is a marketing consultant who helps Software As A Service (SaaS) companies get more leads through content marketing. He publishes interviews with marketing experts in the technology industry on BruceHarpham.com. His book on marketing strategies for SaaS companies will be published in the fall of 2020.