Our previous post offered advice for pitching your C-suite executives to in-person events. In this post, Marlene Saritzky, principal of event consulting firm MSS Associates, and Amy Richards, vice president of events at The Information, share their ideas for staging your own events — both virtual and in-person.
Marlene Saritzky remembers vividly the early days of the approaching pandemic, when it became clear that her meticulously planned in-person events calendar was about to undergo a massive pivot.
“We were programming Fortune’s spring dinner in San Francisco when the pandemic news broke,” says Saritzky. “Everything shut down and we had to cancel that event.” Looking at all the events stacked up on her calendar, she knew she was in for an enormous challenge: “We only had a few days to become experts on virtual events!”
The first big takeaway was realizing what kind of production features would be needed for the virtual world — and computer and laptop monitors, viewed by audiences largely working from home.
“It was clear that the best virtual events were actually produced like TV shows — and that at least initially, it was going to be tough to do anything live,” Saritzky says. She cautioned her clients not to plunge into live events right away. “Just pre-record everything,” she says. “That’s probably the best way to survive.”
During the first couple of years of lockdowns and remote work, Saritzky and Richards both found ways to offer hybrid events that included both in-person events and streaming content.
“There were a lot of new processes and tech to learn,” says Richards. “We needed to be able to switch from live content, to pre-recorded content, to content coming from speaker A, to content coming from speaker B, and so forth.”
Once Saritzky and Richards had a handle on the tools and processes, deeper nuances of hybrid events began to emerge. For starters, hybrid events are here to stay — and they have some distinct benefits, starting with reach.
Hybrid events are by definition available to a much wider audience. In addition, a hybrid event presents an opportunity to get creative and present a differentiated experience for remote viewers.
“Your experience as a virtual attendee and as an in-person attendee is never going to be the same,” says Saritzky. “You have to come up with ideas that are interesting to the hybrid audience.”
Recently, Saritzky attended an event remotely. After the speaker was finished presenting, a camera followed her offstage to a studio in the green room, where the speaker did a Q&A session just for the remote viewers. “I thought this was a brilliant example of adding value for the remote audience,” Saritzky says.
This sort of premium content could also be part of upselling to all attendees, remote or live. “I think, at some point, if you’re giving them enough, you can actually charge for these add-ons,” she says.
For young businesses wanting to create and host events, getting buy-in from stakeholders is the first challenge.
“The ROI for events is notoriously hard to measure,” says Richards. “You have to look at the value of the long-term relationships that can be started through event networking.”
Adds Saritzky: “Get your decision makers to attend an event that you know is successful, so they can see for themselves the excitement, energy, and inspiration that is capable of being produced — with your brand at the center of all of it.”
If this is the business’s first foray into events, consider starting small. “Starting virtual, even with a free event, is a useful first step that will help build your contacts and provide valuable lessons and data for a larger event down the line,” says Richards. “At The Information, many of our events are under a hundred people.”
More advice for event beginners: “Determine what your goals are,” says Richards. “Are they to generate brand awareness, generate buzz, get media coverage, build your customer pipeline, or generate revenue? You can’t focus on five things and give them all the exact same priority, so know what you’re trying to get out of the event.”
Saritzky warns that event newbies also may not realize just how far in advance the planning needs to start — everything from venues and speakers to food and logistics. “Be aware of the long timelines involved in the event industry and start planning early — sometimes that means at least a year out,” Saritzky says.
Two and a half years after virtual events became the norm, which will win out: in-person or remote events? Both Richards and Saritzky retain a strong belief in the value of in-person interactions.
Says Richards, “Being in person is always more spontaneous and more intimate. It allows you the additional conversations and connections that can build important relationships.”