Managing the risks of virtual events

Australia is currently dealing with its second wave of COVID-19. And event organisers, many of who were hoping to ride things out until we return to normal, are facing the realisation that ’normal’ may be a long way away.   

Of course some have seen the current environment as an opportunity to explore alternatives. According to Eventbrite there has been a 2,000% year on year increase in online events. Yet others have been waiting on the sidelines, hoping it will all blow over. At a C-Suite level, the most common reason to avoid online events is the perception of risk. 

Following is a breakdown of the four key risks of online events and how we help clients overcome them.

The risk of attraction
The risk of attraction is the risk associated with marketing our event and getting people to attend. How can we promote and sell tickets to an event when it doesn’t have a track record? When we don’t have footage or testimonials from last year’s event? Or when deep down we’re not even sure ourselves how the event will look and feel online?

Attraction risk also extends to sponsors. How do you entice sponsors to support an event when you don’t know how many people will attend? How do you translate old branding opportunities such as a banner in the foyer into online space?*

*The value proposition of virtual events for both audience and sponsors is actually very attractive. We do a lot of work with clients to help them understand that proposition and articulate it. We often go so far as to produce promotional videos to market the event and hold education sessions with event sponsors. 

Although attraction risk is a very real short term problem, over the long term it’s the least significant risk. Over the long term, the answer to attracting both an audience and sponsorship is simple.

Deliver an event that’s amazing.

If you do that, your audience will rave about it and sponsors will come flocking. But the inverse is also true. If you deliver something average it’s incredibly easy for your audience and sponsors to go elsewhere. 

The risk of attention
Fundamental to delivering an amazing event is keeping people’s attention. The risk of attention doesn’t have the biggest consequence, but it definitely has the highest likelihood. Why? Because most seasoned event organisers aren’t yet familiar with the nuances of online events. 

Maintaining attention online isn’t easy. Every minute of your event you are competing with a world of fine-tuned distractions. There are emails to check, text messages going ding, YouTube videos to watch, and Zoom calls to attend.

We encourage event organisers to think of their event in terms of TV. TV programming has evolved over decades to capture and maintain our attention. But online events can be even better than TV. Unlike TV, online events provide an opportunity for your audience to contribute and shape the content. To do this, events need to be live, your audience needs to be engaged, and your programming needs to be spot on. 

The risk of execution
We often see this as the biggest risk. This is the technical risk associated with getting the event up and ensuring people can access it. Over the last few months we’ve all been exposed to webinars, Zoom calls, and other online events that didn’t go to plan. 

There is also execution risk when it comes to physical events. A power outage, a fire, a missed flight…or a pandemic can all wreck havoc with our event.

Understanding the underlying technology, how it works and how it connects is incredibly important. Not only to give you the reassurance that risk is manageable but also to ensure you have plans in place should something go wrong. 

The risk of inaction
“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.” – Helen Keller

All this talk of risk might have you thinking ‘Why bother? Let’s just wait for this to blow over’. But the biggest risk right now is the risk of inaction. 

Given the current roller coaster we are on, how sure are you that we will be back to ‘normal’ next year? Or in two years, or in seven? And how sure are you that within that unspecified time frame your audience and sponsors will wait for you? 

The risk of inaction is the result of two aligned forces. First, the longer this goes on the less likely people will want to go to the types of events they previously went to. They will be cautious about travel. They will be forced to wear masks. They will avoid networking and unnecessary social interactions. And second, online events will keep getting better. The technology will improve. New approaches to networking will be devised. Programming will get better. 

As I’ve previously written, inaction can turn operational risks into strategic ones. You might avoid the risks of attraction, attention and execution but in doing so you create a new risk — the risk of irrelevance.

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