On navigating next normal, meaningful virtual events & Michael Jordan forever

“Build a community. No one does big things by themselves”
–  Barack Obama

Hey friend,

How have the last weeks been for you? Pacing Zoom fatigue, social distanced walks and grabbing a flat white from my local coffee shop are personal highlights. That, and absorbing ALL of Michael Jordan’s breath-taking Last Dance on Netflix. Growing up in Cyprus, where basketball is the second national sport, MJ is forever a god-like figure. So this was deeply nostalgic, powerful and also, Dennis Rodman? 😉

Conversations on “next normal” are escalating as we shift out of lockdown. From what re-entry looks like for businesses through to socially distanced offices (what happens to lifts?)

How we gather has transformed too. There’s virtual global summits, Obama’s poignant, utterly on-point Class of 2020 address and anxiety-inducing Zoom break-out rooms. A conversation with a group of marketing leaders last week made it super-clear that larger in-person gatherings are on hold this side of 2021.  So, where does leave marketing strategies underpinned by events, conferences and bigger scale networking?

For this blog post, I caught up with a group of event pros, community builders and membership founders to look at what’s working in the world of virtual events. And, how you can shape yours in the months ahead.

1. Make events part of your community-building strategy

An effective events strategy – on or offline – has a purpose beyond the event itself. Right now, events can bring real value to your clients, partners and teams – whether it’s to educate, engage, or entertain. It’s a powerful way to nurture your community.

Live events specialist and founder at Amy Meadows, Amy Johnson told me, “The crucial element was having a mailing list and social media following who were willing to be flexible. I’ve been using Eventbrite for a while for local events, which makes it easy to broadcast changes to specific events.”

Think how you can give your event life beyond the event itself. Yes, we’re in sweats at our kitchen tables, but attention is still at a premium. How do you cut through the swathe of LinkedIn lives and webinars?

Marketing and events consultant (and TikTok queen), Kim Darragon, believes connecting attendees is key. “The magic of events usually resides in the networking bit. So create these sessions for your online event. Take the conversation outside of the passive Zoom webinar and take advantage of social media. Why not create a group on LinkedIn or a private event page on Facebook for attendees to engage with after the event and connect with other members?”

2. Get creative with your event formats

Connection is the secret sauce when it comes to exceptional events – and key to re-creating with online experiences. Michelle de Klerk, founder of Women’s Chapter, the networking and events platform for high-impact women has trialled a range of event formats.

“Our offline events take various forms. From intimate, invitation-only gatherings for our

Business Members to women-led brand showcases, breakfast seminars, Masterminds, and thought-provoking panel discussions. We pride ourselves on offering our community multi-layered event experiences which feel like a treat, from the high impact content and connectivity to delicious food & beverage from female-founded brands.”

“Our new virtual event series aims to offer the magic and energy of our offline events to women in business all over the world, regardless of their location.”

3. Work the room and keep it real

You want your event attendees to come away with that feeling of connection, feeling they’ve been seen and have had a meaningful human exchange. The Curious Lounge rapidly switched its flagship event programme online to help support its growing membership community. Sam Conniff blew me away at his recent Be More Pirate talk, when he deep-dived into the Zoom chat, thoughtfully responding to and engaging with the audience. It felt like he was working a room, creating that same sense of connection.

Kim echoes this, “A true event experience is all about gathering great people and making connections. Some of that interaction gets lost when you go digital, so brands really have to make up the difference by ensuring the session is properly interactive and provides real-time engagement. Cameras on really changes the level of attitude and engagement. Show your face and smile to bring the vibe up.”

4. Leverage your tech options

Tech Nation transitioned its annual Tech Nation Report Launch of 400+ attendees in 96 hours using Hopin, an all-in-one live online events space. The team also trialled another UK start-up, online community building platform Orbit for its regional roadshow. Elizabeth Corse explains, “Given our sector, we’re very willing to try new tech. We’ve learnt a lot about what works well – good wi-fi connections, shorter sections and engaging with chats. Our mission is to support 1,000 scaling tech leadership teams across the UK by 2021. Ultimately, we can now reach so many more people by hosting events online.”

Now’s a good time to experiment with new event platforms. Surprise your audience by thinking beyond Zoom and webinar-style broadcasts.

5. Create a constant feedback loop

Place your audience front and centre of your events programme. Ask them how you can help, build dialogue and create a genuine feedback loop. Design your events around that golden data.

Amy Johnson again, “The key to creating events at any time, but particularly now, is making sure that what you are creating is responding to the needs of your target demographic. The needs of the women I support are constantly changing at the moment, so keeping on top of how they are feeling and what their needs are day by day, then creating experiences that support those, is a key part of my strategy moving forward.”

Event design is like talking about Normal People for me – I can’t do it enough. If you’re looking for inspiration to take yours online, drop me a line.

Thank you for reading.
Stay healthy, shoot hoops and I’ll see you here soon.

Antonia xxx