Originally published on Forbes.com.
They only happen once a year, but large-scale events are full-time businesses. Talented team members spend an entire year planning each event. As they iron out details, the last thing on their minds is canceling because of a pandemic.
But here we are.
South by Southwest canceled its annual event as Covid-19 began its insidious spread, and Met Gala organizers postponed their event indefinitely in March before cancelling it in May. This has become a common occurrence, and events — regardless of industry or size — have been canceled across the globe. Naturally, the economic implications are immense.
In 2019, for instance, Southwest by Southwest added more than $350 million to Austin’s local economy. Canceling this year’s event caused immediate layoffs, and the impending lack of revenue has left local businesses and entrepreneurs scrambling.
Other events, including those attended by industry professionals to network and market products, are experiencing similar mass cancellations. This, too, will affect the economy — especially considering 52% of senior executives believe events are one of their most valuable marketing channels.
It seems widespread cancellations will limit this year’s critical selling opportunities, but it doesn’t have to be this way. My company, for example, has always used technology to enhance in-person events. Now, we’ve pivoted our tech strategies to stage unique online-only conferences and gatherings.
Here are three ways you can do the same and offer a stellar experience during your next online event:
1. Always have a plan B.
In today’s digital world, every in-person event should have a virtual backup plan. Thanks to advances in livestreaming technology, it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to completely transition a live event into a remote one that still looks and feels professional. This already has happened with large-scale events in light of the novel coronavirus: The annual Adobe Summit, for instance, was entirely digital; Microsoft and Apple followed suit with two of their larger conferences.
Events that are canceled outright miss the opportunity to innovate and connect with their audiences. Even with in-person events in the future, choosing to livestream your keynote sessions allows a wider audience to participate.
Many speakers and panelists have already created content for their sessions. Instead of tossing out this valuable information, marketers should distribute it to their attendees. The obvious way to do this is with a livestreaming platform that allows for two-way interactions between panelists and remote audiences.
2. Create a branded atmosphere.
Take the online event experience a step further by creating a virtual world for your event, which can take shape in two ways. First, as a web experience that provides guests with a portal to explore and interact with your brand, the content and one another. Second, as a completely virtual world, which is the new frontier of virtual events — and it’s been a fixture of gaming and esports events for years.
Fortnite hosted a live concert with Travis Scott in late April, for example, that allowed attendees to enjoy the rapper’s music alongside creative visuals — creating an interactive music video of sorts. The premiere of that event drew 12.3 million attendees, which shows that preparing your in-person events for digital can pay off.
3. Allow attendees to connect.
Even with the social distancing taking place in response to Covid-19, many networking events still occur — just entirely online. According to EventMB’s 2018 data, 82% of corporate event attendees list networking as their top priority. Canceling an event without the option to connect attendees digitally could jeopardize its reputation.
Hosting events online allows for always-live forum discussions that attendees can use to communicate and collaborate. Presenters can still interact with their audience and answer follow-up questions, which offers greater accessibility than most in-person events.
For marketers, the time to go virtual is now. Hybrid in-person and virtual events can increase reach and create both larger and longer-lasting communities. What was once an oddity has become a priority, and the way I see it, the brands that don’t embrace this new format will not be seen as innovative.
Although nobody questions whether an in-person event is the most effective way to deliver a message, virtual events provide a strong alternative. Shifting from in-person conferences to remote events for the time being will provide opportunities for more flexibility and creativity in the long run.