Hosting Virtual Events in the Travel and Tourism Industry, with Nicole Mahoney

Episode 190

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For Destination on the Left’s solocast episode, host Nicole Mahoney talks to you about virtual events. Our team has been working with several clients to assist them with virtual event planning, and so much valuable information has come out of our experiences. On our podcast, we talk about why you should consider virtual events, what a virtual event is, and how to host your own virtual event. We also walk through a virtual event case study that exemplifies the process of turning a live event into a virtual experience.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why you should consider virtual events for your business
  • What virtual events are and how they are structured
  • The different types of virtual events
  • How to host a virtual event, and the technology behind it
  • How to determine what type of virtual event is best aligned with your organization’s goals
  • The benefits and drawbacks of using the video feature in virtual events
  • The best digital platforms you can use to conduct your virtual events
  • Live content vs. pre-recorded
  • How to incorporate interactive elements into your virtual event

Are Virtual Events Right for Your Business?

For Destination on the Left’s solocast episode, host Nicole Mahoney discusses virtual events. Our team has been working with several clients to assist them with virtual event planning, and so much valuable information has come out of our experiences. On our podcast, we talk about why you should consider virtual events in the first place. Then, we look at what a virtual event actually is, and how to host your own virtual event from a technological perspective. We also walk through a virtual event case study that exemplifies the process of turning a live event into a virtual event. This is a huge opportunity for all types of businesses, and it will provide you with tons of useful skills and content as business resumes.

Virtual is Here to Stay

There is a lot of skepticism around virtual events. Businesses aren’t quite convinced of their longevity, engagement, and trackability. But the reality is that virtual events are here to stay. As hybrid events become the norm, there will be tons of new audiences to reach in new ways. Virtual events provide a one-on-one, intimate meeting style where buyers and sellers can plan for the future. In group settings, more people can participate in virtual events due to lower costs and lack of travel requirements. On top of that, all of the digital assets created for virtual events can be leveraged over and over again as time moves on. You can build on what you have, and repurpose content to build a robust resources library that will continue to generate business down the road.

Working with Strategic Partners

From virtual summits and conferences to consumer activations and award ceremonies, there are a bunch of different types of virtual events that your business can host. Depending on your organization’s goals, resources, and timeline, some virtual events are much more effective than others. Marketing agencies are in the best position to help you select the best option and put it together because they utilize content development and digital marketing strategies on a daily basis. Even if you don’t have most of the skills needed to develop a virtual event in-house. It is easy to collaborate with a strategic partner and create something memorable. Virtual events are a great way to build momentum as lockdowns are lifted, so we highly recommend incorporating one into your 2020 marketing strategy.

Nicole Mahoney: 00:17 Hello listeners, and welcome to another episode of destination on the left. This episode will be a solo cast, no guest, just me and you. On this episode, I wanted to talk to you about virtual events. Our team has been working with several clients, assisting them with virtual event planning, and I wanted to share what we have learned. As you may be thinking about them for your company or organization. During this solo cast, I will cover why you should consider virtual events. What virtual events are, including the differences between event types and how to host a virtual event. The details about the technology required and lessons learned. We will wrap up with a virtual event case study about how we helped a client pivot from a live event to a virtual one. So let’s start with why virtual events. There are many questions around virtual events.

Nicole Mahoney: 01:10 Will people stay engaged with them after lockdowns are over? Will they stay around past the pandemic? What are the benefits of the virtual event? How do I measure results and many more. Let’s see if I can answer some of those questions. There is a data story to tell for virtual events. One that is only starting to be told. There are a few stats that I find very interesting. First by 2021 video, including web conferencing is projected to account for 80% of all internet traffic. That is a short six months from now, 86% of participants in online meetings report equal or higher level of engagement compared to in person I’ve witnessed this firsthand, especially with the virtual conference that we have held for our clients conference delegates, we’re engaged through the business portion of the conference, but also with the fun and interactive elements that we included such as the evening, entertainment, yoga stretch breaks, and optional round tables, 15% of travelers plan to avoid public transport in large cities, even after restrictions are lifted, this will make the return of in person events flow to rebound.

Nicole Mahoney: 02:23 You will also see a new hybrid model of live and virtual emerge virtually that’s allowed conference organizers to invest more in programming and speakers. As organizers save money by eliminating venue and food and beverage costs. They can invest more money into programming, such as you note speakers, workshop, presenters, and other elements that will make the event more enticing for their audience. Large events have been becoming more expensive in recent years with the average ticket for some of the most popular tech conferences topping $4,000. When you add on expenses for attendees to travel to the conference and the number of days missed of the office, the decision to attend the conference can become financially out of reach or the number of conferences that people will attend in a year may be drastically reduced. This is why I think we will see hybrid events emerge in the coming years, virtual and live tendons.

Nicole Mahoney: 03:16 These are some key points to consider. If you are thinking about a virtual event, a virtual event will provide an opportunity for buyers and sellers to meet one-on-one digitally, allowing them to create business opportunities for future planning, with the cancellation of so many trade shows. This year, there are few opportunities for buyers and sellers to meet face to face. Even if the face to face meeting is over zoom, they will be thankful for the option to keep up with their business sales cycle. Despite travel restrictions. Another benefit of virtual events is that buyers and sellers can have multiple people in the meetings allowing for a greater reach and deeper relationships within an organization. People who may not be included in a live event due to the cost can now be part of your event. The virtual event lived on past its live dates, providing for increased exposure and digital assets that can be leveraged over and over again.

Nicole Mahoney: 04:10 Virtual events provide an opportunity for social connectivity, especially during a pandemic when there are so many travelers, addictions, but also post pandemic. These events allow for people from across the globe to connect. I hope you believe me. When I tell you virtual is here to stay. These are a few of the emerging trends that I’ve been watching. I was on a call with an associate prominent cyber security tech company recently, and he told me that the projections for the adoption of technology for remote work jumped from 2020, 20, 25 in three months time, that is rapid change and approves that people are open and ready to find new ways of doing almost everything virtual and digital experiences that have been developed during the pandemic will remain in demand, even post pandemic, everything from the virtual museum experience to the virtual cooking class, the virtual conferences will remain in play most of the data and the insights that we have been tracking point to late 20, 21 or 2022 for a return of large conferences.

Nicole Mahoney: 05:14 Even small conferences are getting pushed into 2021, leaving a lot of runway for virtual events to continue to fill the gap. Even once the larger events start to return, we will see development of hybrid events that offer a mix of live in person and virtual offerings. There are many companies jumping in to offer virtual event services, including AAV companies, tech platforms, and agencies. Of course, I believe agencies are the best suited for this work because we have the deep understanding of markets combined with content development and digital marketing expertise. But I could be biased more about that in a few minutes, there are a lot of different types of virtual events, virtual summits, virtual conferences, virtual consumer activations, virtual award celebrations. Just to name a few virtual summits, generally run two to three days long. You can host a virtual summit for one day only, but it is my belief that you will not have enough content to make the summit compelling.

Nicole Mahoney: 06:13 And the power of a summit is in its presenters. So the longer it is, the more presenters you can have, you want to be sure your summit is focused on a theme. And the more niche, the better presentations can be either prerecorded or a mix of live and prerecorded. There are generally live Q and a opportunities. Even if the sessions are prerecorded and Q and a can be offered through a chat box or as a live zoom meeting, summits can be free or paid, depending on your goals. Three summits will likely attract more attendees and cam have options for revenue through a paid all access pass. I’ve seen a few summits offer one or two presentations for free with the rest of the content requiring a paid ticket. A virtual conference is similar to a virtual summit and I’ve seen these terms used interchangeably in general.

Nicole Mahoney: 07:03 Conferences are one to four days in line or based on a theme or build off and established live event. The programming for conferences includes varied content such as B2B appointments, educational sessions, general sessions, round tables, panels, networking, entertainment, stretch breaks, and interactive elements. Content for conferences is a mix of prerecorded and live and sponsors and exhibitors are worked into the event. Conferences are usually paid events and offer an opportunity to generate significant revenue. We just finished hosting a virtual travel train show for our client, Victoria falls, regional tourism council. This conference brought together travel buyers with exhibitors from Victoria falls for three days of educational sessions, B2B appointments, networking and entertainment. Virtual consumer activations have been exploding since the pandemic started. They’re creative and innovative programs that we have been seeing are amazing. These are the types of digital activations that we see fitting into the marketing mix.

Nicole Mahoney: 08:04 Even post pandemic, they are creative online alternatives to in-person activations and can include online exhibit halls with rich content contests like scavenger hunts and trivia contest with prizes are mixed in to increase engagement and capture information for future marketing efforts. Many activations offer a pre-ordered event box for a group virtual experience such as a tasting cooking class or destination tour. And these activations can be either free or paid. For example, the New York state brewers association recently announced the peace love beer and music festival scheduled for August, 2020. The event is taking place on the 51st anniversary weekend of the original Woodstock event. And it is a celebration of New York craft beer and the extended community of musicians and artists. The festival will include three days of programmed live streams, music taking place from breweries across New York state in conjunction with the festival. New York breweries are brewing a collaboration beer titled summer of love, which will launch prior to the festival.

Nicole Mahoney: 09:10 Virtual award celebrations are taking the place of live in person events. These celebrations allow for award entries to be collected in the same manner as the live event process, but there is no need to wait until the return of live events to be recognized. Winners can be announced during a Facebook live or during a prerecorded presentation released at the same time, sponsor organizations are encouraging watch parties. Some are partnering with local restaurants to promote takeout. As part of the event, others are charging a ticket price and including the takeout and delivery as part of the ticket. This provides funds to the sponsoring organization through award entry fees, sponsorships and tickets, the Rochester chapter of public relations society of America held their annual prism awards event is a virtual event. The organizing committee prerecorded the award show and then released the video on Facebook and a set time on event night, they encouraged watch parties and my team had a blast watching together over zoom, especially since we won four awards.

Nicole Mahoney: 10:13 Okay. I’m sure. You’re really wondering how to host one of these virtual events next. I’ll get into the nitty gritty details for starters. It’s not rocket science, not only that, but marketers are the best in the best position to put these together. Why? Well, because it is content development combined with digital marketing, it’s a series of website landing pages. You can use webinars or zoom meetings to support your content. You can use live or prerecorded content and interactive elements will help make your virtual event memorable. You may have most of the skills needed to create amazing virtual events. If you don’t have the skills in house, you’d likely have partners who can help the virtual event is a content and digital marketing strategy. Yep. That’s right. Virtual events can be considered part of your content development and digital marketing tactics. If your team knows how to build email marketing funnels and how to write emails that get opens and clicks, you are well on your way to success.

Nicole Mahoney: 11:12 Much of the virtual event experiences based on video, even the live sessions eventually become video assets for the event. Many AI companies are getting into the virtual events game because they know how to create highly produced professional video content. They are offering services where they send event presenters, lighting, camera equipment, and green screens, but explicit instructions on how to set up the mobile studio and record their presentation. The raw video then gets uploaded for a highly produced finished piece. Then the equipment package is returned to the AB company. Video does not always need to be highly produced. A lot of times presenters can record their presentations on zoom meetings and upload the video files for the event to add in an intro and outro to sell the event you need great promo copy to create the event experience you need excellent content descriptions to enhance a sponsor’s exposure.

Nicole Mahoney: 12:05 You need awesome. Copy marketers and communicators can usually cover this one. I recommend that virtual events are built on an existing website or a new website that will be owned by the event organizer. The skill set needed for this includes building landing pages. And it may also include some programming or development. If you need to add in plugins for WordPress sites. For example, the success of the event will also rely on promotion and the Mexican panels needed to support it, including social email, web and PR. When thinking about organizing a virtual event, I described the event venue as a series of landing pages instead of a conference hall with a general session room and break out rooms off the hall, you will use a website landing page to create the virtual hall to start. You will need a promotional landing page. This is where people go to register.

Nicole Mahoney: 12:57 You will include your sponsors events, schedule, compelling reasons to attend, and an FAQ section if needed this page can be converted into the meeting hall after registration closes, or you can build out your meeting health pages separately. One key decision that you need to make is how you’re going to gate the content for the conference. You need to start thinking about whether you want to require logins to access the content, or if you want to use a hidden URL within your website, that is only given to conference delegates after they have registered your meeting hall is going to consist of a series of landing pages. There will be event content pages, such as presenter pages, exhibitor hall pages, a video library, a schedule of events with links to live events and links to Q and A’s or a chat box. There are several considerations to make when choosing a format for your live events in general, you will be thinking about the differences between webinars and zoom meetings.

Nicole Mahoney: 13:52 Each format has its place, and I suggest using a mix of each one. Let’s start with considerations for webinars as your format choice. This format only allows panelists and presenters to be live on camera. Your event, attendees will not be on camera or allowed to use audio. The webinar format provides an organized way to host a moderated live Q and a through the chat box feature, depending on the platform you choose. This can be a better choice for long form. Video go to meeting is better at this functionality because you can load your video files onto the platform and play from there versus zoom webinars, where video is played from the meeting, host computer and strained through the webinar service, depending on connectivity and internet speeds. This may affect the video speed and thinking issues can arise. My team has found a work around for this.

Nicole Mahoney: 14:43 We upload videos to Vimeo and stream them live to the webinar from that platform to help with connectivity challenges, the feature should be weighed with the downside for GoTo webinars, which is that it requires all attendees to register for each webinar. This requires a double registration once for the event and a second time for the webinar session, which can be a clunky process. And they impede engagement. What my team likes most about zoom webinars is that you can use a direct link to the webinar without requiring anyone to register a second time. Zoom meetings is a fantastic option for hosting live events. It is extremely affordable, especially for events with 500 or fewer participants, and they offer breakout rooms, which is a great tool to help mix up your event format in zoom meetings, all participants can be on video and sound, which allows for more interaction among attendees.

Nicole Mahoney: 15:37 Even when there are hundreds of people on a zoom meeting, just scroll through the screens to see everyone who is attending and it helps create a personal connection to the conference. One of my team’s favorite features of zoom meetings is the breakout rooms. These can be used for round tables, networking events or one-on-one meetings. The attendees can be pre-assigned manually assigned or randomly assigned to the rooms we use. Each of these features, depending on the programming for one on one appointments, pre-assigned breakout rooms makes for a faster process to get everyone into their meetings on time zoom isn’t perfect and pre-assigned breakout rooms will only move about 60 to 80% of your participants. There are many glitches that prevent a pre-assigned attendee from automatically moving to a breakout room, including the email address they registered for the event, which is not the same email address they use to log into zoom, or they are using a tablet phone or Chromebook to access the conference, or they entered the zoom meeting late for those participants who do not move automatically.

Nicole Mahoney: 16:38 You can still get them move to their breakout room manually. A hack that my team discovered to make manual movement more efficient is to have the attendee rename themselves with their name and the name of the room they are going to that way. They will show up on your list with the room name listed, and you can quickly click on the correct room. In addition to B2B appointments, breakout rooms are great for networking. It is difficult to mingle in a zoom meeting with 100 or more people. Zoom offers a random assignment feature, which will randomly place attendees and breakout rooms. When we added this to a networking event for a conference, we hosted attendees raved about it. They liked not knowing who was going to be in the room and they commented that they met people. They would have never met at a live event because we tend to gravitate to groups of people that we already know.

Nicole Mahoney: 17:26 This functionality is also very good for round tables that are run simultaneously. And you would use the pre-assigned feature, the hosts. Those you will need to decide if your event content will be delivered live or prerecorded. Many events use a mix of both and knowing which type is best will help you with your event. Plan. Live content allows participants to interact with each other and with presenter live sessions also provide options for one on one meetings or smaller networking groups as described with the zoom breakout rooms, live events, provide attendees with a stronger connection to the event and the emotional feelings that go along with being part of a bigger community in turn, making the event more memorable. If you choose live content, there will be more opportunities for technical issues, making technical rehearsals for all participants, presenters, exhibitors, and attendees, a must live content is more labor intensive than prerecorded.

Nicole Mahoney: 18:22 My team had a good laugh during our first virtual summit because the office was buzzing along with client work like a normal day. Even though we have nearly 200 people attending our summit, that’s because the majority of our work was done upfront as the event was all prerecorded with only live Q and A’s through a chat box with live content though, you will be attending all of the programming just as if you were live onsite at an in person event. Prerecorded content provides less stress during the event because the content is loaded in advance and viewed at attendees discretion. Even though with prerecorded content, you may have an event schedule. We did for our summit attendees have more flexibility for when they actually consume the content and they are not required to watch. During the lifetimes. Prerecorded content is harder to track for actual engagement.

Nicole Mahoney: 19:11 We monitor video views, chat participation, and content downloads as a way to gauge how many attendees interacted with a particular session. Unlike the live event sessions, where you can see how many attendees are actually participating live. There are opportunities with prerecorded sessions to host live Q and a either through zoom or through a chat box. If you are hosting a Q and a, that will start at a published time. And anyone who wants to participate will show up at that time when Q and a fellow’s a prerecorded session. There is no guarantee that everyone attending the session will participate when Q and a is part of a live session. More attendees seem to stick around for it. Next, I want to talk about interactive elements that will make your virtual event memorable, which will lead to that coveted word of mouth that will in turn, add value to your event and build credibility and hopefully attendance for the next one.

Nicole Mahoney: 20:07 When thinking about interactive elements, be creative, it can be as simple as using zoom meetings and breakout rooms for networking, or as elaborate as adding live entertainment, such as music, comedy, product demonstrations, or virtual tasting event boxes are becoming a popular way to provide swag to attendees or to offer sampling opportunities. To event sponsors online games and contests with pricing, how to create engagement, provide opportunities for sponsors and make it memorable. We used a virtual photo booth from snap bar at a recent virtual conference, and it was a huge hit event. Attendees could visit the virtual phone booth. At any point during the conference, they could select a background and stickers to help dress up. Their photo photos were then stored in a gallery downloaded for social sharing. And we used, we use them to create a daily video event. Attendees loved it and included their pets, children and spouses in the photos.

Nicole Mahoney: 21:03 The photo booth was sponsored that the sponsor’s logo appearing on the border of every photo. You can also look for experiences that you couldn’t get at a live event. For example, for one of the stretch breaks at the virtual conference, we held recently, we had virtual yoga with a live video stream from Lake Sianna in Finland. It was a beautiful setting with a wonderful instructor that we could not have replicated in a convention hall. Attention to the details will make your virtual event really stand out as an event organizer. You need to set expectations early and often when hosting a virtual event, you are relying on everyone’s personal technology. This includes the event, host presenters, examiners, and attendees. And one thing we know for sure is that no technology experience is the same connectivity, berries, tech smarts, very environments, very iPads, iPhones, tablets, Chrome books provide different online experiences.

Nicole Mahoney: 22:00 So establishing expectations provides for a smoother event experience. You should plan to provide technology resources on the conference. Website include technology, how tos and best practices and registration emails, post tech rehearsals to help ease uncertainty and set the stage. During the event with housekeeping announcements, I’ve mentioned type rehearsals several times. Let’s dive in a little more because they are critical just like a live event. You will need tech rehearsals for everyone involved, including presenters event, attendees sponsors and event organizers. When scheduling the tech rehearsal use the platform that is relevant to that segment of the conference. If it is going to be a webinar that the presenters will be pointing, use the webinar platform. If it is a zoom meeting, they will be using schedule it as a zoom meeting. You will want to schedule these rehearsals and a few days in advance and they can be done in groups or individually based on needs.

Nicole Mahoney: 22:58 In addition as an event organizer, you need to prepare a run of show with all details included. You should identify timing platforms, speakers, camera on, or camera off videos being used. Slide deck being used, all detailed summarized in one document. Then hold one big tech rehearsal with the event organizers and your empty or event hosts to run through the entire conference, depending on the length and variation of content for the show, you may want to hold morning tech rehearsals each day of the event. In addition, you’re going to want to have a plan for post event followup. It is generally much quicker for virtual events than the usual lag that a live event may have things to consider include daily recaps for multi-day events, a video library, or other event assets that can be shared post event, a post event survey to gather feedback. And you should plan for post event engagement and upsell opportunities.

Nicole Mahoney: 23:55 After hosting several virtual events for our clients and two summits for my agency, there are several lessons learned that I want to share with you. The first lesson learned practice, practice practice. The more you rehearse the better the outcome. Second lesson learned content is King virtual events are a content strategy. Third lesson learned you can create the same level of engagement in a virtual setting as an in person setting fourth lesson learned you must create a plan for your event, including goals, target audience, strategy, tactics, timeline, and budgets. Fifth lesson learned there’s tremendous SEO value to hosting it on your own website. And the sixth lesson learned is that virtual events can be profitable. Now I’m going to share a case study from our client travel Alliance partners, who we helped turn a live event into a virtual event. Tap had already received roughly 100 registrations for their live events scheduled for June.

Nicole Mahoney: 24:56 By the time the pandemic started, once lockdown started and travel restrictions were taking effect registrations completely stopped coming in and we knew the event was likely not going to happen live. We had three objectives and taking me about from live to virtual first to create an event that would allow tour operators deemos and suppliers to connect, to ensure business development for the year ahead. Second, to provide the traditional level of value to event participants, including tour operators, suppliers, and sponsors, and third to ensure a profitable event resulting in revenue to the organization. Our strategic approach to the event included providing guidance to the client and stakeholders that holding a virtual event was feasible and would solidify them as an innovative industry leader to develop an event plan designed, to create compelling interest for attendees and sponsors, to deploy technology, to support the virtual experience in an efficient and cost effective manner, and to ensure unique elements from the live event continued in a new virtual format.

Nicole Mahoney: 26:00 The event was held June 15th through the 17th. The same dates as the live event would have been. We have resounding feedback from attendees tap tour operators and sponsors. The event far exceeded expectations with more than 500 private virtual meetings, hundreds of attendees, entertaining videos, international guests and fun virtual activities. Uman was a welcome reprieve from the distance that the pandemic and put between people who are used to seeing one another every year. Some of the result highlights include conducting 546 virtual meetings over three days for travel professionals from five different time zones that connect for business development, creating 22 hours of varied event programming over three, including general sessions, round table educational sessions, B2B appointments, a wellness break, happy hours, networking and evening entertainment, developing unique virtual events, sponsorship to sponsors, including the virtual photo booth online trivia contest, happy hour cocktail recipe, demonstration, and onscreen sponsor logo overlays for added exposure, creating an Adeline event.

Nicole Mahoney: 27:08 Content gallery, including 13 videos played throughout the event. Photo gallery and digital brochure and exceeding attendance goals and executing a profitable event that replaced what would have been a revenue shortfall for the year. We also solidified the organization as a bold and innovative leader in the industry. Thank you for sticking with me to the end of this episode. If you are thinking about a virtual event, we can help, whether you need a confidence partner to lean on full service event, planning and consultation or a technology partner. We are here for you. Or if you have questions, I am an open book. So feel free to reach out to me directly if you don’t already have it. My email is We will be back next week with another fantastic guest. Thank you for listening all the way to the end of this week’s episode. This gives me a chance to ask you for a favor. We have a goal to reach 100 ratings and reviews on our podcast. By the end of 2020, we are already well on our way to meeting this goal, but need your help. I love sharing my interviews with you, and if you enjoy them too, I would a greatly appreciate you giving us a rating and review click the iTunes or Stitcher link on destination on the or leave one right in your favorite app where you listen most often, it only takes a minute and your support means a lot.

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