In 2018, the event industry was on the up-and-up. A report by Allied Market Research in 2018 predicted that the sector would reach around $2,330 billion by 2026, with the Asia-Pacific region expected to witness the highest CAGR of over 13% throughout the forecast period. These were optimistic numbers until 2020 came, and COVID plunged the global events industry into disarray. 

The pandemic has hit the industry hard. At GlobalSign.in, we saw physical event projects being either cancelled or postponed until further notice. Worldwide, to ensure everyone’s health and safety, businesses were left with little choice but to do the same — cancel or postpone their events, tradeshows and conferences, some of which had been planned and budgeted for months in advance.

As the crisis continues, it has become less and less feasible for event organisers to continue delaying their events. However, it would not be in anyone’s best interest to recklessly go ahead with physical gatherings. What we are seeing instead is a renewed push to take events into digital space: Take the Microsoft Build developer event, for example, they took their highly-anticipated yearly event entirely online. We’ve seen a new interest among our clients and event owners around the world to move into this virtual frontier, to keep events going in this period of social isolation. This is why we created GEVME Live, a platform built from the ground up specifically for digital events and exhibitions.  

Go digital or be left behind

According to a survey conducted during one of our webinars, over 40% of our respondents said that they would choose to attend events virtually rather than physically even in October 2020, six whole months from when the survey was conducted. It’s clear that for as long as anxieties surrounding the virus remain, digital events will be here to stay. Yet, there has been a knowledge and experience gap among most in the industry: 90.2% of our respondents in another survey shared that they had never organized a digital event before. 

The Gevme platform. Image courtesy of GlobalSignin

Digital events require a new skill set to organize. It’s not enough to just get everyone on Zoom and call it a day. To make optimum use of digital resources, here are some things to keep in mind as you move your events online:

  1. What are the goals of your event?

You shouldn’t host a virtual event just for the sake of it. Think about the goals and milestones for your event beforehand: Is it to raise awareness for a brand, or generate leads? How about a specific number of conversions to your next online event — or maybe think ahead into the future, and consider the number of conversions to your next live event? After all, 30% of attendees to an online event will attend that same event in person the following year. 

And, even with digital events, you should also consider how you can generate revenue — for example, by monetizing your video resources, or through sponsorships.

  1. Who is your target audience?

Decide who you want attending your event: Would your online target audience be the same as your offline audience? With online events, it’s possible to gain the interest of participants who may not otherwise have the time or expenses to travel, or to get speakers you otherwise would not have been able to fly in from abroad, which means you can consider casting your net wider — but if this is a live event, time zones become an important consideration. Where is your target audience located, and what time is most convenient for them? 

  1. Decide your event format

Not all events are made equal — or for the same purpose. A webinar is not a live stream, which is not a conference. Different formats correspond to different goals and may require different approaches and software. Here’s a brief rundown:

  • Webinars are instructional workshops or classes, with a typically-passive listening audience who can be allowed to ask questions, typically during an allotted time for Q&A. Some webinar platform options include 6connex, Crowdcast, Demio, Livestorm, WebinarNinja, Zoom, and YouTube Livestream.
  • Social live streams engage and entertain a large audience in real-time. Platform options include Instagram Live, Facebook Live, LinkedIn Live, TikTok, Twitter Live, and YouTube Livestream — almost all social media platforms have live functionality. 
  • A conference requires interaction and networking between participants; you’ll need sophisticated tools and interactive features such as live streaming, chatrooms, polls, and live Q&A.
  1. Keep your audience engaged

39% of event professionals agree that ‘engaging attendees’ is the most crucial element of a live event — and this goes the same for online events. But, sitting still for two hours at a physical seminar is not the same as sitting for two hours for an online webinar. 

Think about how long your event needs to be, and consider breaking things up: The Microsoft Build event lasted 48 hours, but rather than expecting audiences to tune in for the entirety of the event, participants could saunter in and out of sessions they were interested in; our own DIgital Events Series breaks up content about how to run digital events into multiple hour-long episodes. How much information do you need to deliver — and how long do you need for audiences to feel like they’ve spent their time valuably? 

Once you have got all this figured out, then, it’s time to consider audience participation. It’s not as simple as getting out of your seat to hobnob with guests, but there are things that are easier to do on a digital platform. Invite your audience to take part in polls or quizzes, or encourage them to live-tweet, and generate buzz for your event. Get them to chat with speakers or other guests through the chat tool, or open the floor to a Q&A session. There are many creative ways to get your audience engaged, that leverage your digital tools. 

  1. Elevate your online event

Your video stream doesn’t — and shouldn’t — just be a talking head, especially if you want to make your viewers feel like they are attending an actual event. Make your video stream stand out from the milieu, and give it recognisable brand character by displaying live widgets to promote your brand, your partners and sponsors. Give your audience something extra to “bring home” with them, by providing access to downloadable resources like digital brochures and white papers, for example. 

  1. Dive into post-event analytics

When your event ends, leverage your digital tools to gain better into the success of your online event: Ask for feedback, send email surveys, and analyze data to understand how well your event did. Through data on interactions in chat discussions, video analytics, and file downloads, you can get a better idea of what caught and kept your audience, or what didn’t, and work on doing better for your next online event.

The future is hybrid

As we move into the future, I don’t doubt that we’ll see more digital elements being implemented into physical events — capturing the best of both worlds, as it were. In fact, 59.5% of the respondents we polled believe that hybrid events are the future! 

As COVID-19 changes what we come to expect from events, the industry will continue evolving in response to the pandemic and beyond — with stricter safety and hygiene measures, greater digital integration, and much more. To be able to survive, a perfect balance between elements of physical events and benefits of online streams have to be brought together by experts who come with experience and industry knowledge. These are trying times and the event scene must step up to sustain and survive. 

Contributed by Veemal Gungadin, CEO of GlobalSignin

About the author

Veemal founded GSI in 2006, architected and coded the very first software platform of the company. GSI is today a leading event tech company with offices in Singapore, Australia, India, Myanmar and the US. Having graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in Computer Science, Veemal remains at the forefront of technology and spearheads the software products being crafted at GSI. GSI’s core SaaS product is GEVME, the award-winning enterprise event ticketing & marketing platform.