The last in our four-part series with Henrietta Balint, Senior Director, Global Meetings & Events, Radius Travel covers the similarities and differences between traditional and virtual meetings, as well as the best ways to launch your virtual meetings successfully and keep attendees engaged.
In what specific ways are traditional and virtual meetings similar? How do they differ?
While face to face meetings are obviously different from a virtual meeting, it’s important to remember the event journey or the overall process is very similar in terms of the thought process and the endpoints, such as how you market the event, how you send out registrations, invitations, how you build the content, how you create engagement around it, and afterward, the reconciliation and reporting. While the actual pieces of it may be different, the actual journey and the overall process is the same.
There are obviously differences in how you maintain engagement in a virtual setting, like how you address time zone issues and how you scale for attendee size. We believe the consultation and stakeholder engagement is key to ensuring that you have the right solution and the right strategy in place.
What should you be doing to evaluate your virtual meetings strategy right now? How can buyers or planners be forward-thinking?
As a buyer or a planner, you must continue to show short and long-term value within the organization. You need to look at how COVID-19 has changed the way that an organization interacts and operates, what learnings they’ve been through, and how they’ve pivoted.
You should also examine whether compliance policies, supplier partnerships, contracting, or processing of data needs to change or be addressed. Right now is a perfect time to be forward-thinking and reevaluate the contributions to your organization as it relates to your meetings program.
With everything that’s going on now, there is a need for companies to activate virtual meetings strategies quickly. What do you suggest?
We have some great learnings and expertise, having worked with various clients now, and we can certainly apply these to accelerate the process. I think it’s important to say though that speed is not always the right way. You should be methodical in the process and the strategy you build or incorporate into an existing meetings strategy. Your strategy needs to align with your meetings activity – the type of meetings, suppliers, policies, available technology, and so on.
Typically, when you’re building a meetings management program or strategy, there are some key fundamentals to apply, such as getting the data and getting visibility into it, and how you go about doing that.
It’s about creating a plan to get senior leadership approval and stakeholder buy-in while aligning your strategy with your company’s goals. Then, when you’re rolling it out, it’s about having a test plan, win cases, and being able to track outcomes to ensure a successful rollout. I think all of those still ring true as you’re looking at a virtual plan or strategy.
In a virtual setting, do you advise buyers or planners to do a test run?
Absolutely. We’ve done a few virtual events, and dry runs are critical.
If you think about a panel discussion on a stage, you can take cues from the person sitting next to you, considering their body language to ensure a smooth flow. That’s really difficult to do in a virtual setting, so the rehearsal and preparedness are critical when you’re planning for a virtual event. Everyone needs to be comfortable with the technology. Testing and training on whatever platforms are being used are helpful. When people feel comfortable with the format and tools, they can focus on the content that they’re delivering.
On the other side, if you’re an attendee, there’s a worry that people switch off more in a virtual environment. They might get distracted with work or with family. How do you keep them engaged?
Engagement is tricky. I tend to multitask. I think we all tend to multitask.
Interestingly, I had someone the other day on a call say that we need to stop making multitasking a bad thing. That really resonated with me because it’s turning it upside down. That’s essentially how we help customers engage with their audience.
We tell them to create opportunities to multitask. Since people will naturally lose focus and lean towards checking emails or checking their phones while they’re on a call or videoconference, let’s encourage that by linking it to an action that improves their experience and meeting outcomes. Whether it’s via virtual one-to-ones, breakouts, video chats, or having audience members build their own avatars in a virtual venue – even asking them to answer a poll or take part in a survey on their cellphone.
A virtual event may have interactive capabilities where attendees are looking at a live feed at one point, then having to click on related links or taking a specific action. If you create those experiences, then you can limit the multitasking that’s not related to your meeting and the outcomes that you want to achieve.
Are you ready for a damn good virtual meetings strategy?
We’re ready to help! We’re offering a FREE virtual meeting strategy consultation with our team of experts to help you get started on your virtual meetings journey the right way. Visit our virtual meetings site and connect with a virtual meetings strategy expert today.
Senior Director, Global Meetings & Events, Radius Travel
Heni has a wealth of experience in both M&E and transient travel, having spent more than 20 years in commercial travel management company roles covering both sectors. A native Australian, Heni has lived and worked in Europe, Asia Pacific, and North America, and currently resides in the U.S.