Pivoting events to virtual is lazy thinking

Pivoting events to virtual is lazy thinking

Pivoting events from physical to virtual has been the cry of some in the events space since the COVID-19 impact took hold.

The idea is that you take your physical event where delegates meet face to face and change the experience to a virtual one, or in other words, hold the event online. Some companies claim that this can be done seamlessly. I hope they are right but, in my experience, this isn’t the case.

To pivot means to turn on a point, to spin in a new direction, if you like. Let’s imagine, you are in a basketball match. You were about to throw the basketball to a player in front of you, but that opportunity has gone as your teammate is now blocked by the opposition. So you turn on your heel and throw the ball to a teammate who is behind you. That’s pivoting.

In our analogy, the basketball would be our event. So, can we move our live event where people meet, network, eat together into the same event one that goes easily online? The answer is no, you cannot. There are bound to be differences. This idea of pivoting doesn’t work in my opinion.

But more than that, it could encourage lazy event design thinking. If you were to take your event online by copying and pasting it from the original, you would be unlikely to have many happy virtual attendees when it has ended.

To be successful online, you have to design the virtual event from scratch. To be fair, I think the pivoting idea comes from organisations seeking to hold on to their good work to create the event. The last thing they wanted was to have to come up with a new design.

Let’s take a look at what can be saved. Saved not pivoted. Ticket fees possibly could be flipped for a new physical event at some time in the future. The same could apply for sponsor income. After all, planners need to be managing the expectations of delegates throughout so there are promotional opportunities in there for sponsors. It’s also possible that the venue contract could be kept the same but with a different date.

Could you pivot those items? Ticket fees, not really. The costs will be very different and most delegates will want refunds for the physical event and then they can decide whether to register and pay for the virtual event. Sponsor income, not really. New contracts would need to be drawn up. The opportunity has just got bigger for the sponsor. Venue contract is a resounding no. It’s not needed in the same way.

But when it comes to the social media activity, the emailing communications etc. could be adjusted and pivoted for your virtual event. Therefore, nothing is lost and it’s super important to be talking to all your delegates especially in a period of uncertainty so the more you communicate the better.

Then you have decisions around speakers and content. Some content translates well for a virtual event, but not all. Therefore you need to work through your programme and make decisions. How long should your virtual event be? Should you hold it on the same day as the original event was planned or move it to a different day? An online experience is very different to a physical event and your design thinking needs to embrace that. A copy and paste of the original event is not going to work, regardless of how many companies might tell you otherwise.

For pivoting to work the basketball (your event) has to be moved quickly and easily to a new player (virtual format). You may be able to pivot some elements, but certainly not all of your event.

Rather than pivot, let’s really change the game by thinking about how virtual (remote) attendees enjoy an event and plan meticulously for them. It’s best not to go down the lazy thinking route.

Paul Cook will be moderating a panel on The Future of Venues at IBTM World Virtual this year as part of our IBTM TV content stream.

Find out more here.

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Paul Cook has been immersed in events for over 20 years, as a writer, researcher, speaker, facilitator, educator, advisor and producer. He is a content writer for the events sector. When he is not writing, he is a producer of virtual or hybrid events. Paul has been nominated as one of the 100 most influential people in events by the Eventex Index. Building on his event risk management roots, his experience at Pinewood Film Studios and working with new technologies has naturally led him to working in and developing virtual and hybrid events for business growth. He is the author of two books. His first book, Risk It! Is all about event risk and his second book, Remotely Engaging is a guide to how to engage virtual attendees at events.

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