These are still early days in the rapidly unfolding corona virus pandemic, but there’s no doubt that the live meeting and events landscape is among the hardest hit.
After all, face to face contact is a long-established business practice that cuts across industries, sectors and borders. But going virtual has already gone mainstream — and companies have been forced into the realization that conducting meetings online can yield substantial time and cost savings. There will be no rewind button that erases this realization.
The economic importance of a seismic live-to-virtual transformation cannot be overstated. Business-to-business companies alone spend a total of $512 billion annually on live events programming, according to Frost and Sullivan. And 21% of event planners have yearly budgets of over $1 million, says Event MB.
Moving forward, meeting sponsors will need to reinvent business models to retain profitability. Norms will continue to shift and an ecosystem will arise that translates the key features and value proposition of live events into digitally native experiences.
As all types of companies grapple with the new reality, here are six things c-suite executives need to know to prepare for the new reality.
- Virtual meetings lead to higher ROI
A vast majority of meetings do not need to be in person (as we have again proved during this forced home confinement). The cost of flying a team around the country—combined with hotels and other expenses for a one-hour presentation that could have been made equally as well online— makes no sense. Even shifting a small percentage of presentations online, would enhance the profitability profile. The increased use of webcams demonstrates a growing comfort level with online communications.
- Your audience may actually prefer a virtual meeting
In a study by the Harvard Business Review, they found that when using online meeting best-practices, 86% of participants reported as high or higher levels of engagement in their virtual meetings versus face-to-face meetings. Additionally, in my personal experience managing both virtual and in-person meetings, I have found that attendees actually prefer certain types of meetings virtually, especially when they’d have to travel a distance to attend the meeting in person. Consider this rule of thumb: if attendees spend more than double the time traveling to the meeting versus the time actually spent in the meeting, then a virtual meeting is probably a better alternative.
- Webcasting software is a commodity—but service and production value are key
Dozens of providers offer webcasting and virtual meeting software, with only slight variances in the offering set and very little differentiation to the end user. The key to a successful virtual event is provisioning for either a dedicated internal staff or a reliable service provider with significant experience producing virtual events. Any number of random factors could interrupt program success, so identify a proven production team equipped to manage mission-critical programs.
- Time to market is mission critical
Virtual meetings absorb only a fraction of the time required to organize live meetings. Eliminating the worry of planning logistics, hotel reservations and catering selection, as well as the added business concern of sidelining teams and customers from their primary in- market responsibilities are among the important virtues realized by moving events to the virtual world.
- Virtual meetings can be recorded and repurposed
It’s very simple to record a virtual conference and then edit the video for future purposes. The video can be housed on your website for future on-demand viewing. You can advertise the video on social media or through other non-personal marketing channels to drive additional viewership. The video could also be used for future training and certification programs, so that instead of having to give the same live presentation multiple times, the online version would provide the same information and allow the use of analytics tools to ensure that your viewers are online and interacting with your presentation.
- The added value of virtual meetings
Virtual meetings can track audience activity, including who attends, from where they are attending, length of time each attendee is present, if they are interacting with and paying attention to the program, responses to polling and survey questions, and questions posed by each participant. In addition, virtual training courses enable users to certify completion and compliance and immediately supply certificates of completion.
Time savings, reduced expenses, enhanced return on investment and productivity combined with the growing readiness of the marketplace to embrace virtual event programming roll up to a historic turning point.
Inflections like this are an invitation to experiment. If your company relies on live event programming to drive brand visibility, deliver thought leadership or prospect for new business, now is the time to add a virtual meeting component to your event planning.