I recently had the pleasure of participating in an event that was very much a sign of the interesting times we’re living in. Sponsored by CXOSync, moderated by Somi Arian, and featuring Wired Executive Editor Jeremy White in addition to yours truly, it was a virtual discussion of everything that goes into successful virtual and hybrid events.
Now that so many companies have seen for themselves the benefits of virtual events (or adding virtual components to in-person ones), there’s no doubt that virtual and hybrid events are here to stay. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning one for the year ahead.
AUDIENCES ARE EXPONENTIALLY LARGER – BE READY
If you’re used to drawing a thousand or so people to an in-person event, don’t be surprised if a virtual component attracts ten times that number. With virtual, travel time and expenses are no longer a barrier for attendees, so suddenly anyone who wants to attend, can. When you’re choosing a video platform for the virtual elements of your program, be sure to pick one that can handle your maximum likely audience. The last thing you want is for technical problems to ruin first-time attendees’ experience of your event.
LIVE OR PRERECORDED? THE ANSWER IS A LITTLE OF BOTH
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Live sessions have their own energy and excitement, but they present time zone challenges if you want to attract a global audience. Prerecorded gives you more control, but viewers miss the chance for interaction. A great middle ground is the simu-live format, where a prerecorded session is followed by a live Q&A with the speaker – it feels live (especially if the speaker wears the same clothes she wore when she was recorded!), but it’s much less demanding if the local time is 3:00 AM.
KEEP CONTENT SHORT
In person, a presentation of 45 minutes or even an hour is fine – but that’s way too long for a virtual one. The small screen just can’t hold someone’s attention the way a live speaker on a stage can. (Not to mention all the distractions that surround us at home.) Break things up into segments that are 20 to 25 minutes long. If an hour is allotted for a session, consider making it a 25-minute talk followed by a 15-minute panel discussion and 10 minutes of Q&A.
FLAWLESS PLAYBACK DOESN’T JUST HAPPEN
In an ideal world, everyone would be watching on the same device and with the same amount of bandwidth. In that case, a standard webinar platform would work just fine. But the real world offers no such predictability. People will be attending your event via any number of devices and under a wide range of bandwidths. And your platform has to be ready for that, or you will have a lot of frustrated attendees. A video player like Brightcove’s has adaptive streaming that will detect each viewer’s bandwidth environment and automatically switch to the best resolution with no buffering delays, which viewers hate. So your audience will have a flawless playback experience that won’t distract them from all the fantastic content at your event.
WITH GREAT DATA COMES GREAT INSIGHT
Virtual and in-person are two very different things, with their own strengths and weaknesses. The number one area where in-person can’t touch virtual is in the data-driven insights virtual events give you into what your audience cares about. Data can tell you what your viewers are engaging with in unexpected ways. Did someone rewind a portion of a VOD session and watch it again? That could be a powerful insight into their interests. Combine that information with the sessions they started vs. those they completed, what questions they asked in Q&A sessions, etc., and you can build a much clearer profile of this attendee than you could if they were at your event in person. Badge swipes just don’t tell you that much.
Last year, organizations found themselves scrambling to transition to virtual events, and as you might expect, results were mixed. In 2021, people are ahead of the curve and are planning virtual and hybrid events that maximize their considerable strengths. If you’d like to talk about what one could look like for your organization, I’m always here to help. By the end of this year we will begin seeing repeating hybrid events that are informed by the learnings from the last one, and the results will be amazing, I’m sure.
Justin Barrett is Brightcove’s Vice President of EMEA Sales