Events are beneficial for member engagement and also member recruitment. However, over the past couple years, associations were forced to adjust to the current times and hop on the bandwagon of virtual events. Several themes revealed themselves as associations pivoted from in-person events to virtual platforms; some good and others that called for our attention to improve. Here are some of the pros and cons of virtual events that we have seen thus far.
Pros of Virtual Events
An obvious advantage to virtual events is that they are less expensive to execute. They save money by eliminating travel, everyone out, paying for hotels and transportation, and buying a steady supply of $30 gallons of coffee.
Even though there is still a cost for virtual events, we can execute these programs for less and invest the money saved from this expenditure somewhere else in the company.
For the most part, many in-person meetings are just that, in-person, so if you missed it, then you can only hope a friend or coworker took good notes for you. Virtual events open up the opportunity for long-term content availability with on-demand viewing and archives. If members or prospects miss a meeting, they have access to go back and rewatch the meeting on their schedule. This also allows attendees to relax and not stress about missing any events because the content will be waiting for them.
Access to Valuable Data
Hosts can gather valuable data and information about the virtual event and its participants themselves because virtual event platforms include more opportunities to track and measure member engagement. This gives you an insight into who is interested in the topic of your event, if they have questions, the type of questions, how they interact with the event, etc. This is powerful data collection and can provide insights with tremendous value.
The ability to track new attendees and new audiences is a big pro. However, the biggest opportunities are the ability to make deeper connections with individual members to foster member engagement efforts and build lasting relationships with member companies. In the past, a member company may have sent two people to an annual meeting, limiting your reach to the number of connections those two people could make. Now, you can have those two people and all of the people who report to them attend as well.
There is also an increase in opportunity for content delivery and the ability to include more sponsor and vendor thought leadership on a digital platform. Associations are more liberal with the content that they’re providing based on the prospectuses that we have seen thus far. You can add additional sessions without limitations because registrants have the opportunity to attend them all. This allows sponsors, vendors, and suppliers to deliver more case studies and thought leadership.
Cons of Virtual Events
Lack of Human Interaction
With virtual events, there is limited interaction between the speaker and the audience to build a human connection. Not having a face-to-face interaction can be impersonal and reduce the level of engagement between the speaker and the audience. Lately, we’ve seen uneven networking engagement with a wide variance of success. There is a need to facilitate and lead networking forums to bring people together around a particular topic. You need to cultivate areas of focus for your attendees, both members, and sponsors.
Decrease in Gross Revenue
Gross revenue – something that associations use to pay for the infrastructure back at headquarters – may be lower. However, a lower gross revenue may not be telling you what you think it is. A smaller gross revenue does not always mean smaller net revenue. Even though gross revenue supports a lot of other functions, the net margin of a virtual event may actually be higher.
With physical events, it’s easier to hold a member’s attention because they are in the moment and focused on that meeting or event. With virtual events, there are other stimuli competing for their focus. Another way of looking at it is that we used to fill a room full of people in classroom-style seating and the person in the middle of the row had no choice but to stay for the entire session because it was difficult to leave without anyone noticing. People no longer feel like they have to stick around if the content is not valuable or engaging. Take into account shortened attention spans and build in breaks to combat distractions.
Another con to consider is that speakers will require additional training on the virtual platform. We’ve heard from several associations who have had virtual meetings that a speaker messed up their delivery because they didn’t take time to learn the platform. Sometimes it was because the association didn’t provide proper training and equipment. For virtual events, you need to re-evaluate whether speakers who have a really good delivery in person can still deliver well in a virtual format.
Virtual meetings and events are an incredible opportunity for innovation and driving member engagement year over year. Given the pros and cons to consider, hosting hybrid events are an excellent opportunity to capitalize on the advantages of both in-person and virtual meetings while combating the cons of virtual events. With the right approach and high-quality content, a hybrid event might take you to the next level!