How are you handling the shift to virtual events? While the meeting landscape is different, it’s also the same. McNeel Keenan, vice president of product management at Cvent, talked about the implications for planners of this and much more in the latest Smart Meetings Accelerator, “Best Practices to Accelerate Your Pivot to Virtual Events.”

For instance, he also shared insight into how to keep your attendees engaged in the virtual world. “That [meeting] room is their living room, it’s their laptop. Now you’ve got to really put yourself in the shoes of a different kind of attendee, in a totally different context. You need to account for that when you’re designing that virtual event experience,” he says.

Different Platform, Same Cycle

Keenan notes that the event cycle hasn’t changed. “A lot of the fundamentals stay the same. When you think of the event life cycle, you still need to market your event. You need to promote it. You need to build that website, capture registrations, guide people through what the experience is going to be and help them build a schedule,” he says.

What is different is attendee attention span.

“Attendee engagement might be a little bit harder to maintain in that you don’t have people in one room facing one stage, with no other activities competing for their attention, like family members or children or their e-mail inbox, or a million other things. The need for compelling content is amplified, and there’s a potential for higher attrition,” he says, adding that he hasn’t seen higher attrition rates. This, he says, could be due to people being much more likely to attend while they’re at home and away from the competing demands of an office.

Keenan cited Salesforce’s recent Sydney, Australia, event, which historically has about 10,000 attendees. After shifting to virtual, 80,000 live viewers tuned in; on-demand content garnered a whopping 2.5 million views.

Hybrid events are something entirely different—and more challenging.

“On the surface, everyone seems to inherently know what [hybrid events are]. Some people are going to be attending in person, some are going to be attending virtual, but what it’s not is just putting a camera in a ballroom, setting it to a stream and go,” Keenan says. “One way you’ve got to think about hybrid events is, it’s almost the equivalent of planning two separate events. You have, ultimately, one audience, but you need to deliver two different experiences.”

More: 6 Great Virtual Meeting Icebreakers

The Four Pillars of Virtual Events

Digital events can be broken down into four components: content, community, sponsorship and analytics.

While content is about the speaker, the message and correct video format, it’s also about creating a shared experience. “That’s the difference between a standard, prerecorded video, and you running an event,’ Keenan says.

That shared experience ties in with community, something that live events have with no effort on the planner’s part. Those serendipitous moments during breakfast or waiting in line when people meet can’t be had organically over the virtual landscape. “Community doesn’t come for free with virtual events… You have to think of new ways to connect people,” he says. This can be through appointments or interactive chats, to cite two examples.

Keenan says, initially, planners were intimidated by the idea of including sponsors in their digital events, as they didn’t know how to demonstrate ROI. But more recently, he has seen many creative ways planners have incorporated sponsors. Among ways to benefit sponsors is by making them a part of the content, by contributing knowledge; and sharing attendee lists, giving them leads.

Tracking analytics helps you know who your audience is and understand what content resonates. This can aid planners in personalizing the attendee experience, during and after the event.

Keep the Ball Rollin’

In many cases, planners are still undecided as to whether particular events will be online or live, and yet, registration dates loom.

Keenan notes that one thing we’ve all realized is that this new reality is still evolving quickly, and what we think we knew last week might have to be disregarded the next. And we continually get surprised.

If you don’t know how your event will be delivered, that doesn’t mean slow down. Keenan recommends working on content. “You’re still thinking about speakers, thinking about abstracts and curating how you actually deliver it. You can worry about everything else later in the game,” he says.

More: Expert Tips for Creating Virtual Experiences

The Virtual Techscape

“When we look across the vast virtual techscapes, it can be a little intimidating,” Keenan says. Much of the terminology can be used interchangeably, but it’s important to know the differences.

  • Video Conferencing

Essentially, a video conference is designed to allow everyone that logged in to speak and be on video, so they can have a conversation as simply as on FaceTime on your iPhone, through tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

  • Webinar

Webinars are similar to video conferencing, but designed for one, or a few, people to speak, to a moderate number of people, 500 or 1,000 at the most.

  • Livestreaming

Livestreaming, typically rooted in the B2C space, will help you reach that mega-audience if you need it—as many as tens of thousands, even millions, of people. You’re also able to stream and produce video at a higher quality, making graphic overlays, interstitials and splicing between multiple video feeds possible.

  • Virtual Conference Platform

This platform is built to mirror the live conference. You can navigate through all the rooms—the lobby, lounge, conference room, etc.—as you would as if you were really there.