Hosting Virtual Events

On Tuesday the 19th of May we hosted our Stakeholder and Investor night event online and it was brilliant! George our in-house tech-genius realised our guests would probably be feeling totally “Zoomed out”, so to keep everyone engaged for this event he trialled a new platform called Hopin! George has written a blog to tell you all the ins and outs of this new platform and how we’ve adapted our events due to the new restrictions.

Pete presenting at a Remarkable event in 2019.

We’re many months into the pandemic that has changed our lives as we knew them and despite not wanting to dwell on COVID-19 in yet another blog post, for many, it truly has changed the way in which we go about our daily lives. Here at Remarkable and the majority of many organisations, community events are at the core of our business and a fantastic channel that we use to reach new audiences, to empower, to inspire and to provide a platform for debate or knowledge sharing.

As the pandemic swept through the world events were one of the first to go due to their mass participation. Naturally, we all turned to technology to find a quick fix for hosting events in a virtual world and at first, I’ll admit, the virtual event landscape looked bleak. Of course, we have the likes of Zoom and it’s webinar function, we have google hangouts, Microsoft teams and many other video conferencing style products, we even saw the rise of video platforms outside of work with the likes of House Party becoming popular amongst friendship groups.

Although there were many options to choose from for video conferencing did any of them really tick all the boxes for events or would we need to change our event structure to adapt?

You see, the problem with many of these online video conferencing platforms is how much they suck the freedom and power from the attendee, yes you may be able to use a Q&A feature in a live webinar, update your webcam background or turn yourself into an AR robot, but as an event attendee is this what we really want? Let’s take a look back at what makes an in-person event so special.

A reminder to why we host events

We’ve all been to an event in some way shape or form, events come in all different shapes and sizes but normally they have similar core themes. We are among many who attend, we go there for a purpose, objective or outcome and we usually have to travel to get there.

Virtual events have been around for a while now but the majority of us will prefer to go to an event in person, and in some respect, the event organisers would rather this. It’s more engaging, it’s tangible and we feel more connected to the purpose. There are downsides to in-person events too. I’m sure we have all been there, it’s 5pm, you’ve just finished work and all you want to do is go home, have dinner and switch off. Then you remember you have an event to go to and it’s probably the last thing you want to do but you said you’re going so that’s what you do.

Chances are you actually enjoy it when you arrive but for an event organiser, attendee dropouts are the cause of many sleepless nights and something that virtual events in some way combat.

Replication, a personable virtual event

So how do you successfully pivot an in-person event to be run virtually? First things first, it’s not just about copying and pasting your run sheet and expecting things to just work, timings will be different, people’s attention spans will change, their motivation to attend will be less and most importantly their willingness to participate and engage will be impacted dramatically. 

A care package laid out on a carpet floor including toilet paper, webcam, sharpies, a Remarkable t-shirt, notepad, almond snacks and stickers.
Our Remarkable COVID-19 care packages included lollies, t-shirts, pens, webcams and most importantly toilet paper. Something similar would be great for guests of an online event!

One thing’s for sure, hosting a virtual event will cost considerably less than an in-person event but try not to just pocket the savings for a rainy day, think about how you can use some of this budget to enhance the event experience. You could send out a tangible ticket to all attendees in the post, you could recruit a videographer to ensure your event streaming looks awesome or maybe even send your attendees a take out voucher for the likes of Uber Eats or Deliveroo to get themselves some snacks or a drink for the event. Not only will these suggestions make your attendees more likely to show up but at the same time will make them feel more connected to the event community.

Creating accessible events

Here at Remarkable, we looked at what made our events so special, what drove people to attend and what is the core objective for hosting them in the first place. We then looked at the positives of hosting a virtual event and how we could use these to our advantage. Cost savings and having the ability to enhance the event experience with this budget was on the list but as we came closer to hosting our first virtual event it became clear that in the process we had created a much more accessible event. We were no longer bound by geography, by physical spaces or by timings and whilst Remarkable strives to host inclusive events in person we are also conscious that for those people living with a disability, attending events can be challenging.

By creating a virtual event you automatically open up your doors to a much wider audience, audiences you may have never considered previously such as those overseas and you will inevitably have created a much more inclusive event in the process.

With all of this said it’s important to think about how taking an event online may have an impact on those who rely on certain aspects of physical events. Some people may not have access to a digital device, they may be living with a disability that makes it hard to connect via a virtual medium or they may rely on physical events for a sense of human connection. Whatever event platform you decide to use it’s worth keeping accessibility at the top of mind and to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to attend.

Our virtual event toolbox

The "virtual booth" page displays the option to click on any of the #SYD20 startup booths to be able to talk with them virtually and ask any questions about their product.
The “virtual booth” page displays the option to click on any of the #SYD20 startup booths to be able to talk with them virtually and ask any questions about their product.

When doing research on the platforms that were on the market to allow for virtual events we stumbled across Hopin. A virtual event space that mimics the same core functions you may expect to find at an in-person event. A stage, the opportunity to network, live sessions and even expo booths. Yes, that’s right, picture a trade fair you have ever been to, a concert or even an expo, Hopin now gives you the opportunity to attend these virtually.

On further research, we found that the reason Hopin was founded was to combat the very thing we had discovered from hosting our first virtual event, accessibility. To the founders of Hopin they saw a gap in the market, they saw the opportunity to create inclusive events for anyone in the world to attend with limited to no barriers of entry.

Whilst Hopin is still in its early stages of development, it proved to be hugely successful at our most recent Stakeholder & Investor night. Not only did we see the largest audience at and S&I event but we were also able to give complete control back to the attendees. They were able to navigate themselves to our startup expo booths, they were able to network with other attendees and engage with event organisers and others in the live event chat. No longer were attendees bound to us the organiser putting them in virtual boxes.

Of course, being a new platform there were a few teething issues but we are confident enough in the platform to have decided to use it again for our Demo Day next month. Demo day is our chance to showcase our fantastic #SYD20 cohort made up of seven incredible startups solving real-world issues in the disability space using technology. If you are an investor or are just interested to find out more about our startups and their founding teams then please let us know by dropping us an RSVP here.

Conclusion

Whilst we are sure in-person events will make a comeback in the not too distant future we have found the silver lining amongst some very dark clouds. It hasn’t been an easy transition for us and there has been lots to consider but we’re happy with the resolution we have come to. We still see the value of in-person events but now see the true value in hosting them virtually too. We have thought about our attendees as humans and as a community and not just digital footprints sat behind screens if you can take one thing forward to your next virtual event, take this and consider how you can host them in a new and inclusive light.