4 TIPS for business holding virtual events and digital summits amid COVID-19

The pandemic has forced every organization to move events online but it's not always as easy as it looks. Here's how to work out the kinks.

Organizations across the world have had to cancel thousands of events, conferences and seminars due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus. In order to save annual events that drew millions, enterprises are trying to use a variety of platforms to hold virtual summits and webinars. But over the last month, dozens of organizations have learned the hard way that digitized events are not as easy as they seem. It can be difficult finding the right platform, keeping attendees engaged and bringing the same value enterprises did with in-person summits.  

Mark Bornstein, vice president of marketing for digital experience platform ON24, said things are getting better but organizations are still working out the kinks of digital events.  

"Digital engagement has been getting better and better over the past few years, but the way in which people have responded in the past month to all the social distancing has been interesting. All of the ways in which people are having virtual happy hours, virtual parties and virtual painting classes with kids," Bornstein said. 

"They've found ways to get creative and stay engaged online in ways like never before. So the expectations are greater for digital events."

While some companies had concerns about whether people would show up to digital summits and virtual events, the numbers show that attendance is through the roof. Bornstein said ON24 has seen the number of live webinars and events in their network increase by 330% year over year, and the company is on pace to deliver a quarter of a million webinars this year alone. ON24 has seen about a billion minutes of audience engagement, according to Bornstein.

TechRepublic spoke with experts who shared four tips organizations can use when holding digital events.


1. Keep people engaged

Engagement is probably one of the biggest issues event holders face when moving things onto video conferencing platforms. 

Jacques Botbol, vice president of marketing at AI captioning company Verbit, said interactivity is key to keeping people engaged through their computer screens.

"We add a lot of interactivity during our summits and webinars. We try to do a lot of polls and take in live questions from the public, which we believe that is really important. We do live polls and then share the results with everyone," Botbol said. 

"We then share insights on the poll that was given. We also suggest live captions to increase engagement and accessibility. Our data shows that even for people that are not hard of hearing, they are engaged 80% more with live captions than without live captions. It is a really important metric in terms of engagement."

Bornstein added that effective digital events still have the element of human immersion and approachability that an actual, physical event would have.

Virtual events still need to be interactive and still need to have social networking as well as attendee to attendee networking. Just because an event is held through a video platform does not mean it should become a passive experience, he added.