We virtually sat down with HeySummit's CEO Robert Gelb for a discussion on what goes into building successful virtual events, how they have evolved since the start of the pandemic, how our mobile platform complements their services, and more!
Check out the full interview below:
What are the most important aspects that go into organizing a virtual event?
No two events are the same and your approach to organizing a virtual event very much depends on your goals and what you want to accomplish. Oftentimes, however, these goals aren’t fully fleshed out before starting to plan an online event, which can then lead to difficulty in everything from deciding on subjects, to sourcing speakers, to marketing the event.
The deciding factor is whether or not there is a key understanding about what ‘good’ looks like when it comes to organizing your event. Is the event about knowledge-sharing, thought leadership growth, cross-pollination, networking, etc? Understanding your attendee’s motivations will then allow you to make decisions that will deliver a successful event in their eyes.
I have some suggestions and questions to ask yourself for how to start planning:
Start with what your objectives are - raising awareness, growing your membership, serving your membership, positioning, planning/workshopping, etc. What do you need to get out of this for it to be successful? Quantify it - is it cash? Leads? Partnerships? Press?
Then, after you understand what you need to get out of the event, turn your focus onto who you need to attend. It’s important to stay disciplined when thinking of who this event is for and crucially who it is not for. If you find yourself stretching the definition of who your ideal attendee is, chances are you need to pull the scope back.
After building your ideal attendee persona, you’re then ready to design the event. Your attendee persona should be able to tell you everything from the subjects of talks to the best formats that will work. Design the event completely hypothetically down to the talk titles. Then take that plan and use it to start recruiting speakers. With that plan, you’ll know exactly how a speaker fits into a particular category rather than the other way around.
Doing this will empower you to know what you need to accomplish, and enable you to pick the tools and formats that will get you there rather than trying to shoe-horn in something that doesn't fit with your objectives.
How do you see virtual events evolving now that they have become the expectation these days?
Covid has had an immense impact on the events industry. It's spurred innovation in experiences, pushed people to have to get innovative with their own events, and made the barrier to running a successful event far lower in cost while increasing the reach.
As things advance, virtual events will evolve in a few ways. Firstly, I don't think in-person events are going away. At the same time, there are a lot of different missions that event organizers are trying to accomplish that can be enhanced by embracing virtual experiences and I think we're just getting started with seeing what is possible.
Event organizers are starting to see their events as communities rather than just events. Several large conventions that used to run one large event per year use HeySummit to run monthly virtual events and conferences with more niche interests to engage their audience and build excitement for the in-person one.
Virtual events have also allowed some really great hybrid options that enable people or chapters from all parts of the world to not only engage, but also share ownership in the production of the event. We've seen multi-chapter associations run patchwork events that are filled with updates and content that is engaging and empowering to speakers and members who might not be able to attend their annual general meetings (AGMs).
How do you measure a successful virtual event?
It all depends on the goals, but ultimately I'd ask the question, "Were my attendees well served?" It's a more complex question than you might think. What were their goals and objectives? Have you delivered something that addresses those in a way that is meaningful?
This sounds a bit wishy washy, but it might be helpful to give a few examples. If you're running an event for a community that craves interaction and networking, then networking and workshops should be central to your event. If they experienced a series of pre-recorded sessions, they will feel under-served.
Likewise, if your community is wanting to absorb and learn a great deal of information quickly and efficiently, then a series of webinars or pre-recorded sessions might be more valuable than networking, and therefore the availability to access the relays of those sessions is important to prioritize.
It all comes back to your attendee persona. A successful event for your attendees is the foundation to achieving your financial, membership, or awareness goals.
How do you see the use of mobile apps benefitting virtual events?
I don't think event-only mobile apps are critical for delivering amazing experiences unless the purpose of the event is best served through using a mobile app. This is a bit different than in-person events which benefit greatly from using mobile apps to keep you on track and engaged.
From a community perspective, however, it's very important and a great complement to your virtual event marketing and management tech stack.
How does Clowder’s year-round mobile platform complement HeySummit’s services?
Online summits are extremely efficient in raising awareness and generating interest. The average event on HeySummit has 1,950 attendees, with 10,000+ not uncommon. After that summit happens, however, you need a great way to keep the conversation going and activate the community you're building. Many of our most successful event organizers on HeySummit use platforms like Clowder to harness the power of their community.
It's a critical step when designing events that make a real impact.
What advice would you share with our clients who are fairly new to the virtual event space?
After seeing over 5,500 events with over 3 million attendees in the past year alone, there are a few bits of advice I'd love folks to take away:
Don't be intimidated - running online events might sound intimidating, but at the end of the day, it's an opportunity to share knowledge and connect. Challenges will happen, including speaker issues, sponsorships, attendee confusion, etc. People are human, but don't be afraid to try.
Focus on the fundamentals - try to resist shiny object syndrome and make sure you're clear with why you're running an event, who you're targeting, and what their needs are. Every single decision that follows will be easier if it's based on what's best for your attendee persona.
It's not about going big, it's about being effective - if you find yourself explaining how anyone might take value in your event, you need to step back and re-evaluate. If you try and make something for everyone, it will serve no one. Don't be afraid to say no to speakers, formats, or tools if they aren't serving your audience.
Be creative with formats - technology can be empowering, but it can also be limiting. The power of running events effectively isn't just about knowing what experience to use, but how best to use it for your audience. We've all been on Zoom events that make us cringe, but we've also been on ones that are great fun and impactful. The difference is the format and intentionality of the planning. Running pre-recorded events with speaker live chat can also be effective when bandwidth or time is a concern.
Don't be afraid to mix and match - customers on HeySummit use the tools they already know and love to run engaging events. For some, it's Zoom, for others it's Remo, or even through pre-recorded videos. For others, it's a mixture. Don't be afraid to use Zoom for that Keynote at 9 am, Remo for that networking session at 10 am, and Vimeo for that pre-recorded masterclass at 11 am, if that's what's going to serve your attendees and enable you to deliver an amazing experience to them more effectively.
We appreciate all of Robert's insights! If you would like to learn more about how Clowder can benefit your next event, book a demo with us.