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Creating an engaging virtual conference

https://warwick.ac.uk/services/conferences/content-corner?newsItem=8a17841b7812a94e01781be2795c1e07

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A number of events have successfully switched to a virtual or hybrid environment. While there is no doubting that many are looking forward to returning to in-person conferences, organisers must also prepare for increased demand for virtual options.

Over the last six months, Warwick Conferences has worked with a number of organisers to adapt to the current climate. One of the biggest challenges of virtually-hosted conferences has been to create memorable experiences which are both engaging and inspiring. As such, here are five ways to ensure your virtual conferences are engaging and well-attended.

1. Create ultimate goals and outcomes

It might sound simple, but conference organisers should go back to basics and ensure they create goals and outline desired outcomes from the event. What is the main aim for the conference? By ensuring this question is answered, organisers can begin to ensure that they host the most appropriate conference.

If the conference is a follow-up to a previous event, then organisers should also take note of delegate feedback when planning the event. If changes have been made, then ensure that these have been effectively communicated with the audience.

2. Motivate people to attend and engage

Time is precious. While more people have technically saved the time once spent on a long commute to work, they are likely to be more selective with how they spend their spare hours. Additionally, online fatigue is becoming a real issue for many employers, meaning organisers have to work harder to ensure delegates are engaged throughout the conference.

Like with any conference, organisers need to give people a reason to attend. What are they going to get out from the event? Before the pandemic, attending conferences was once seen as a way for people to share knowledge, gather insight and relay learnings back to their business. So, then, how can that be created in an online setting?

Hosting inspirational keynote speakers, offering network opportunities and Q&A sessions, will ensure that the learning nature of the event is not missing. Running polls or surveys is a great way to boost engagement during the session, as well as integrating panel discussions and even virtual business cards to recreate the communication delegates would experience when attending in person.

Additionally, creating an engaging social media campaign to inspire peers will help create excitement for the event, rather than being seen as another meeting in the diary.

3. Preparation is key

Once the event is in the diary, it is crucial that everyone responsible for hosting parts of the conference is prepared. The technical elements can often be overwhelming for some organisers, and so ensuring that everyone can use the software is key. Warwick Conferences, for example, always ensures technical run-throughs are scheduled with presenters and organisers in advance of the event.

If speakers are not comfortable using the technology, then utilising pre-recording options could be a viable way forward. Recreating experiential conferences in a virtual setting is more difficult than face-to-face, but ensuring that the event runs smoothly, with minimal technical glitches, is imperative to keeping the audience engaged.

4. Setting up an online hub

Another aspect to ensure delegates make the most out of a virtual conference is to set up an online hub of content. Particularly useful if a conference is to take place throughout the course of a day or week, online hubs are great platforms to host additional video content, blogs and articles.

Additionally, online hubs can be used to host keynote presentations for those who either cannot attend on the day, or would like to re-watch certain segments. Recording sessions and offering them after the event has taken place ensures that everyone has the opportunity to view the content, and that the conference has a long-term impact.

Warwick Conferences recently supported colleagues at the University of Warwick host an international event in a virtual setting. In addition to supporting EUTOPIA Week with the use of its cloud-based technology, Warwick Conferences organised pre-recordings for certain speakers and also recorded all live sessions to later be shared on a communications hub. This allowed 600 participants from 30 countries to access the content at a time convenient to them.

Making the content accessible allows delegates to ensure the conference can work with their schedule, maximising audience engagement.

5. Following up with delegates

As with any conference or event, it is really important that organisers follow up with their delegates for feedback. Not only will this help to see how they found the content, it crucially provides information which can determine the organisation of future conferences.

Arguably, virtual conferences offer up more opportunities to follow up with attendees, as well as those who signed up but did not attend. Sharing links to online seminars, Q&A sessions and useful content can help ensure engagement continues long after the conference has taken place.

The advantage of holding virtual events is that it’s much easier to track which sessions delegates were most engaged with, by monitoring click throughs to the platforms they are being held on. Event planners can even use a platform that will allow them to track event attendance, visitor traffic patterns and engagement levels, providing important statistics which can be translated into ROI. Understanding the event’s ROI will help to develop and tailor it further in the future to maximise the benefits of the session.

Final thoughts

Virtual conferences and events are likely to continue to play an important role in a post-pandemic world. As we wait to see how delegates respond to coming back to a face-to-face setting, organisers should start to think about how virtual services are incorporated into their event.

Warwick Conferences works closely with event organisers to ensure that virtual conferences run smoothly, providing support throughout the process. Whether connecting with a global audience through a remotely hosted virtual event, or combining a physical event with a virtual event, there are a number of opportunities available for organisers to take advantage of.

Get in touch with our team to find out about our virtual and hybrid conferencing solutions.

Emma WillisEmma Willis

Industry professional with 25 years experience, working across many roles within hotels and for a large cruise ship company, with 17 years spent at Warwick Conferences. Emma’s position involves working within the national and international association sector and managing key partnerships with UK clients to seek out and build strong, long-term relationships.

E dot Willis dot 1 at warwick dot ac dot uk

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