With the continued negative impacts of COVID-19 extending longer than originally anticipated, meetings professionals are finding themselves shifting most of their 2020 meetings to a virtual platform and are seeking creative ideas for addressing the new challenges that accompany digital content delivery.

Sixty percent of the 450+ participants in the August Financial & Insurance Professionals (FICP) Chats said at least 50 percent of their meetings and events through the end of 2020 will or have converted to fully virtual. Those same participants cited attendee engagement and collaboration, and finding the ideal platform/provider as the biggest challenges when shifting from in-person to virtual events.

For more FICP Chat summaries, click here.

In the ninth of FICP’s virtual education series, revisiting virtual meetings for the first time since May, those participants shared ideas to help overcome some of those concerns.

Start with Purpose

It can be daunting to consider the many previously unchartered elements of a virtual event and it is understandable that meetings professionals may want to focus on those first. However, it’s important to remember that any successful plan should start with a discussion about the strategy behind the event itself. Understanding the objectives of the meeting (ex. recognition or corporate updates), revenue model and participant profiles will help inform the platforms and activities that should be leveraged.

Those discussions are also a good time to decide if the content should be presented live or on-demand, with an evaluation of the benefits of each. While live delivery provides exclusivity, recorded content is less vulnerable to technical difficulties or interruptions during the event. Both scenarios, however, can be repurposed for future use assuming relevant content and presenter approvals.

Virtual Platforms

Meetings professionals have just started to scratch the surface of the many available virtual event platforms beyond WebEx, On24 and Zoom. Other options discussed by participants included VirBela, which assists you with participant engagement through the need to interact with their avatars, Global Meet (which is integrating with Cvent) and Shingdig.

In the May FICP Chats on this topic, participants discussed the need to approach a virtual event with the same level of preparation and production support as an in-person one, and prepare a thorough run of show with a moderator, available technical support and contingency planning in place.

Participants added to that discussion in August with a recommendation to enhance presentation quality now that some shelter-in-place restrictions have been eased. This means that in-house or third-party production studios can be used to record executive presentations in a safe environment with higher-level quality than those executives could execute on their own in their homes. If you decide to pre-record sessions and host live Q&A, remember to have presenters wear the same clothes and re-appear in the same place as their presentation was recorded. And while transition times between sessions are typically short for in-person meetings, participants are finding that more transition time is needed in a virtual experience.

Virtual Entertainment

Incorporating entertainment elements into virtual meetings or other virtual group networking activities was a commonly cited way of enhancing the experience. Organizations such as Song Division can create custom songs and competitions, and a host of musicians have turned to online performances while touring is off the table.

MoreHow to “Unlame” Your Virtual Meeting by Adding Visual Artists

Participants noted that a number of services are available for existing royalty-free music that can be used in events or to help you discover new performers, such as Twitch. Other types of performers are also available for virtual events, including interactive magicians like Digital Deception, who were featured in FICP’s Education Week.

Engaging Virtual Attendees

The key to successfully engaging your attendees is starting before the event. Registration form questions or surveys can be used to collect data to customize the attendee experience. For example, if you know your attendees enjoy connecting with strangers, you can create an ad hoc session where attendees can meet each other or use break times for those opportunities.

Prior to events, gifting can be used to help get your group excited about the event, understand what you’re trying to accomplish and reinforce the importance of attending. Sending catered meals or kits for group activities such as chocolate-making workshops, wine or whiskey tastings and cooking classes were all cited as successful approaches for generating enthusiasm and increasing engagement. “Tasting boxes” from a city you wish to highlight and GrubHub/Uber Eats gift cards are other ways to incorporate meals that accompany a meeting.

During the event, virtual trivia games, in-meeting polls and similar activities can be used to create opportunities for interaction and break up presentations. Frequent breaks and changes to format are needed to help break up the fatigue of watching an event virtually. Company or executive questions can help make those games more personalized for your group. A number of affordable options are available for these activities.

CSR activities can be conducted prior to an event, with video highlights shown to attendees during the virtual experience, and some gifting programs allow donations to a charity in place of the gift.

Meetings Outlook

Participants agreed there was no question about the return to in-person meetings in some capacity at their companies or client companies. Not only are in-person meetings a driver of company culture for many, humans require in-person interaction and the limits of virtual events are becoming well recognized.

It may be that the event strategies will change over the long-term such that virtual meetings remain for smaller meetings or those with purposes that are well served by virtual delivery. Many noted that summer and fall 2021 was when they would be making a return to in-person meetings, and they anticipated that hybrid meetings will be a reality with those first in-person meetings.

Jennifer Squeglia, CMP, is a member of FICP Board of Directors. In the next FICP Chats, our community will focus on your career during COVID-19. Learn more about upcoming FICP Chats, part of FICP Anytime.

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