Coronavirus changed the game and challenged the event industry with unprecedented lockdowns. Many event organizers are canceling or postponing their events, given the great uncertainty. But are postponing and canceling the only options? Sure not. There is a new trend emerging: events are going #virtual, taking the complete event experience online with speakers, sponsors, and participants joining remotely. Event technology is essential here and it can make the difference between boring live streams and engaging events. At Conference Compass we are ready to ease the process and support event organizers at every step of the way whilst they pivot to online events.
With many events transitioning, event apps are more relevant than ever. We had a little chat with our founder and CEO, Jelmer van Ast, on what are the opportunities our event apps provide to event organizers who decide to go virtual.
Physical events are being transitioned to virtual, but what does that mean?
Jelmer: Physical events can not take place right now, with the whole world practicing social distancing, as we are all trying to flatten the curve. If we don’t take this seriously, the healthcare systems would get overwhelmed. However, social distancing is a bit hard when it comes to live events – planned on purpose to bring people together. We know that physical events will not happen any time soon. We see some of our clients postponing their events to the fourth quarter of 2020. But even if the measures won’t be so stringent at that time, the fear would probably remain for the virus to come back. So what do you do if you are organizing an event – postpone or cancel? There is a third option now – go virtual. Surely, this is a big pivot and a big change for the event industry. But it’s one that we strongly recommend our customers to consider.
How many of our clients decided to convert their physical events to virtual? What do they have in mind?
Jelmer: At the time of speaking, we have nine customers going virtual but numbers are constantly changing. Generally, I expect that fewer events will get canceled and more events will go virtual. As for what they have in mind, we see it is a learning curve and many options are being explored. Whatever the format, I believe that all three core elements of an event need to be considered: content, community, and business. The learning and content part will have to take place online rather than on-site. That means presentations will be held via the webcam or, possibly, in a studio setting. And the audience will be joining from their computers, tablets, or phones. The interactivity, which normally takes place during a physical session, will also happen online. And this is exactly where our event apps come in.
Which features are essential here?
Jelmer: First of all, the event program will be equally important, as you need to know when things take place and how to join. Through using our native app, live streams and webcasts can be easily embedded, so attendees don’t need to be redirected to another app or to the browser. That being said, we also have our web app. I expect the web app to really take the center stage over the mobile app now, as people are most likely going to be sitting behind their desktop or laptop, benefiting from larger screens. For years, attendees have used our built-in Vote and Q&A features for audience engagement in a room. Now, these features will work just as well in a virtual room and these are the only ways for attendees to participate.
So, are the engagement and networking features more valuable now than ever before?
Jelmer: Yes, surely. The second core element of any event is always the people; the community. They may be from all over the world and meet each other at the event. And that part is much harder to be taken online – it flourishes by everyone mingling, matching, and having a drink. For good reasons, a big part of traditional event programs is the social element. So, I don’t think this will ever be replaced by virtual, but until we can meet in person again, we don’t have any other choice. As for the engagement and networking aspects, our apps offer great tools for that to happen. You can easily find other attendees and start a conversation. And when attending another event from the same organizer, you can see who you’ve met before and pick up the conversation where you left it. Whether that previous event was online or in person.
How about exhibitors and sponsors not being able to meet their target audience in person, how do our apps help them out?
Jelmer: Well, indeed the third core element of many events is the business one. At physical events, exhibitors and sponsors have the chance to meet with people and start professional relationships. Obvious ways to bring that online are to have a list of companies or a virtual floor plan with virtual stands where people can click and see a company video, product brochures, or other visuals. This could be done with the possibility to start an online meeting or chat conversation. And this is also the place where we provide vital support: you have the floor plan and the list of exhibitors together with their profiles in our apps, allowing you to connect with each other.
Are we changing our product roadmap in order to adapt to these big changes in the event industry?
Jelmer: All of our app features work out of the box for virtual events, but there are two things we are focusing on right now. The first one is our web app. We are stepping up our game because it is obvious that the web version is going to be much more valuable when you are joining virtually. The second one is live-streaming. While we have always been able to integrate these into our apps, we are going to do that much more integrated and with improved user experience.
So how does that fit into our long-term vision?
Jelmer: The three core event components I mentioned: content, community, and business, all require a thoughtful concept when transitioning to a virtual event. And they all need to rely on the right technology, which our platform offers. But our mission has always been to go beyond the event itself. We want to recognize that an event isn’t just for those few days when you meet and exchange ideas, it is about what you do after and how it helps you to grow your network and your knowledge. So ‘one community’ of users who perhaps meet at one event, are still connected after it ends, and can continue to chat with each other, ask questions to the speakers, and review webcasts and publications. Just as with live events, when you host your virtual event you also get that sort of an ‘after event’ community component, and this is going to get more and more attention in the following months.