360 Live Media has interviewed dozens of attendees of virtual events, to get a sense of how audiences are adapting to this new shift in the environment. The answers are providing some valuable information as we help associations make decisions about diversifying event portfolios to include hybrid and virtual experiences in 2020 and 2021.
1. Virtual attendees want information. Not perfection.
Everyone knows we are working in very strange times. Participants who attended virtual events in March were impressed that associations were able to get anything online at all. Registrants who are planning to participate in events in April and May also know that the pivot is happening quickly, and they are expecting there might be some roughness around the edges.
Everyone understands that bandwidth issues, barking dogs, and babies crying are just another part of our working lives now. Expectations are calibrated appropriately, and all attendees really want is an easy way to get whatever it is they need. They need:
- to be kept in the loop
- to have clear instructions
- a user-friendly experience
- easy access to information
Overall, right now, attendees are forgiving. They know event planners and associations are all trying their best, and they are appreciative. Keep innovating – it's working.
2. Virtual attendees want consumable content and meaningful connections.
The bar is rising for future online events. Attendees are worried virtual conferences will be one presentation after another, and they are daunted by the prospect of a four-hour time block. All of the fun, quick, online content we have been seeing is changing expectations for what can and should be delivered using even the most basic event technology platforms like Zoom.
Prospective attendees are also worried about losing the thing that they like most about attending in-person events—connecting with people. More than just seeing old colleagues and friends, they want the chance to meet new contacts who will further their ideas and their businesses. They are willing to experiment with matchmaking if it is simple and done in a way that provides high-value connections.
3. Virtual attendees want discounts. Some require refunds.
Virtual attendees understand that there are costs for an association to host a virtual event. They also know that the event is a large source of income for the organization, and they appreciate that there is a need for business to get done. That being said, they don't expect to pay full price. The trend for what they were willing to spend varied from $100 to 50% of the in-person experience.
Unsurprisingly, these virtual attendees also want an ROI, no matter how much they invest financially. In fact, they want to know how the association will increase the value that they receive from attending virtually. If the event is just the PowerPoint presentations online, then they aren't really getting everything they need from the event. If they are perceiving that they are losing out on networking, fun, and other event perks, then they are expecting them to be replaced. They are asking for additional content, access to whitepapers and journals, extended membership, and anything else the group can provide to increase the value.
For associations who have events coming later this year who haven't opened registration, it's going to be tricky because many companies have a moratorium on spending. Even if people want to attend, they might be looking to pay out of their own pockets, and that can make a significant registration fee expensive. The good news is that those who feel very loyal to their organizations, the ones who see it as their "home," are planning to find a way to pay and attend no matter what.
Stay mindful that some industries, companies, and individuals have been hit harder than others and are truly struggling right now. A refund policy that keeps loyal customers coming back to you as their partner is essential.
There is no short answer on pricing a virtual event. The best thing to do is to consider how your audience has been impacted. If people are still performing most of their regular business, they are better positioned to participate. If not, then you have to make decisions about how you will provide access to the content that they need most.
4. Virtual attendees want the most relevant content.
Those papers and speakers you approved a few months ago need to be revisited. At least for the next few months as attendees are demanding just-in-time content that is highly relevant to the impact on their professions and industries. Speakers are following suit, shifting their canned presentations to be more relevant and applicable.
Later this year, we expect that there will also be a focus and desire for skills-building that sets professionals apart in the marketplace. It's becoming ever more critical that professionals establish their skillset and contributions to their company as indispensable. As you reevaluate your event content, it is smart to develop criteria based on both impact and skills development.
5. Virtual attendees embrace flexibility.
While some people still plan to attend fall events, the majority of those that we interviewed are reluctant to travel until there is a vaccine in place or resolution.
Everyone and every company have their own threshold for risk. Whether it be financial, health, safety, or other, your attendees, speakers, and partners are seeking ways for you to accommodate them over the next 3, 6, or 12+ months.
The biggest takeaways that the 360 Live Media team gained from these interviews is that every association should be planning for a virtual component to their event. Not just as a backup plan, but as a strategy for embracing innovation, flexibility and improving customer satisfaction for all of your stakeholders.
All we can do as event planners are manage the things that are in our control. And for events right now, the only decision that is in our control is whether or not to offer virtual?
We're here to make your virtual event a success.
360 Live Media is a virtual experience agency in Washington, D.C. If you need help, or just want to talk through what it takes to go virtual, 360 Live Media is offering complimentary one-hour consults to the association community to assist you during this time. We are also offering free weekly webinars to address questions and provide recommendations.
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We have ideas AND we have solutions. Contact us below to take the first step in transforming your event experience. Thanks for reading and looking forward to connecting.