The Reality of Virtual Events in 2020 Prepare, participate, engage, and connect

Here we are in September 2020 and just about every event in every industry is going virtual. What does that even mean?

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According to Wikipedia – Virtual reality (VR) is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Applications of virtual reality can include entertainment (i.e. video games) and educational purposes (i.e. medical or military training). Other, distinct types of VR style technology include augmented reality and mixed reality, sometimes referred to as extended reality or XR.

But that isn’t what “Virtual Events” are. Virtual Events are really Online Events, that is, moving the live event experience online. In most cases, there is very little that is actually virtual. So, let’s define online events and understand what you can do today to ensure you and your team benefit from your participation in the right online events.

At Arival, what differentiated our live events and now our online events is bringing the community of creators and sellers of tours, activities, attractions and experiences together to learn, connect and have a great time. People in our industry talk about the “Woodstock moment” in 2017 during our first event – the first time this industry came together as a unified community. It was an amazing experience for everyone involved and continued with events in Europe and Asia leading up to March 2020 when the travel and event world changed instantly.

So now, our role in the industry is to keep the community together, and to do so in a compelling way online. We started by producing over 35 webinars, almost all free of charge, featuring industry thought leaders and some of the best minds in our business. The webinars were really well received and attended, but despite the success, they were lacking a key component: community. Attendees couldn’t really connect with each other. 

In May, we turned our focus to what we called Virtual Summits and Virtual Events. What’s the difference between a Virtual Event (which I really think should be called an Online Event) and a webinar? That was the branding and marketing challenge we faced. We knew and know that the difference is all about the community. It’s not just about the content. Although great content is critical, we have to be able to bring together the In-Destination Community in one platform and provide ways for people to truly connect. 

At an Arival Online event, everyone creates their own personal profile and company profile. If you are going to connect with someone, you need to know who they are, who they work for and why you want to spend time talking to them. While content includes the latest trends and insights, hands-on educational workshops, in-depth interviews and stories from operators, it is the interaction and connection with your industry colleagues around the content, just like at a live Arival Event, that provides the energy and enthusiasm. It is the opportunity to learn from others, to see what they are learning, and share your experience, and also do business, that makes “conferencing” so valuable.

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It is easy to find people to meet with. Attendees participate in small group roundtable discussions where they are with their peers and talking about areas of common interest. The more we learn about what people are looking for, the more we are able to customize the experience of our online events.

Do people come to learn how to grow their business and be ready for post-Covid? Of course! And are people coming to CONNECT with their peers in the industry as a way to stay positive and passionate about the industry we all love? ABSOLUTELY!

What we have heard during our first few events was how great it was to connect with new peers and re-connect with existing peers. I was struck by what Christian Watts an industry veteran had to say on LinkedIn recently:

“Big thanks to Arival for the Online APAC 2020 event. Between Rod Cuthbert and I, we’ve worked out there are 2 ways to participate in online conferences.

Christian Watts, CEO, Magpie

1. Passively. In the background. While you go about your day.

2. With focus (like you do in a real conference). Lots of participation, engage in chats, join roundtables, connect with new people…..

The second really works. Yes, of course, it’s not comparable to the real thing, but you really can get a lot out of it if you make the effort. It’s also really important right now to keep this community together.”

Marica Brewster put it this way:

“Since partnering with Arival to provide online workshops, Von Mack’s brand recognition has grown exponentially. You should have seen my Linkedin inbox after my first talk on local marketing!! A million thanks for leading the worldwide conversation, and for bringing us into the mix.”

Marica Brewster, CEO of Von Mack Agency

And I have talked to a few sponsors who literally expect more than 100x ROI from contacts they made at our initial online events such as:

“We have seen an unprecedented amount of success in this. In fact, our ROI is better on Virtual events than live. Considering the cost savings of travel, booths, etc. At least from a RocketRez perspective, we went all-in on maximizing the platforms to make new connections and set up meetings. We have 6 – very large attractions in our sales pipeline from Arival APAC. Being a smaller system against our competitive set, the nature of the virtual event gives us the opportunity to have a level playing field in terms of exposure.”

Joe Robinson, Chief Revenue Officer, RocketRez

The moral of this story is that virtual events, like real events, require planning, preparation and participation to get a great ROI. If the right community of people are online together and are there to meet and really connect, a lot of good can come out of these events. It is up to every one of you to take full advantage of relevant online events for you and your business. If you’re not going to really engage, it’s likely not worth your time and money.

At Arival, we can’t wait until it is safe to have live events again, but until then we plan to provide as many opportunities for learning and especially for connections as possible.

Have ideas for us? Things we can do differently? Let me know.

Learn more about our biggest Online Event yet – Arival 360, five days over two weeks, taking place at the end of October and early November.

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