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Virtual Events are the New Normal

Everything changed when the pandemic hit last March. The only connections most people have beyond their bubbles are through the online world.

Zoom meetings and webinars have become increasingly popular, and nearly everyone has attended some form of planned virtual event. As Canadians watch numbers rise during the second wave of COVID-19 and wait impatiently for the vaccine, only one thing is certain: virtual events are the new normal. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I think that virtual events will always have a role now because of the reach and inclusivity and how it really broadens audiences in a significant way,” says Tara Wickwire of National Public Relations.

One of the benefits of online events is that anyone can attend. Wickwire worked on the conference Art of City Building: 2020. “It was initially focussed on Halifax, Nova Scotia, but we had people from all over the globe participate this year,” she says.

Rémi Lefebvre has been doing online events for the past 10 years with his company eSource Event Registration. He says that with a little bit of thought, virtual events can be ultra-accessible, especially to people with disabilities. “Virtual makes it so easy for us to be thoughtful of all the different people coming and to make sure they all get to enjoy the experience.”

However, there are challenges when it comes to online events. “When Covid hit, what happened was, events that would have never before considered virtual had to go virtual,” he says.

Lefebvre is also an executive producer at ZedEvents, an event planning business in Halifax. This fall, he helped plan the Atlantic Business Magazine Top 50 CEO awards gala, which had to be completely re-imagined. “We can still find ways to strategically deliver on desired outcomes and goals within a virtual space, but you have to really rethink everything.”

Money previously used on food and wine can instead be spent on swag boxes sent to attendees, or to bolster different aspects of the event. “You can reallocate that budget and put it into a really compelling speaker or two, and then, you know, deliver significant content,” says Wickwire.

Another thing to consider is what could go wrong. “The only thing you have with a virtual experience is the user experience. With an in-person event, you can distract from a few glitches with a really good menu, or really good wine,” Lefebvre says. “It’s easier to cover up the little mistakes.”

“In a virtual space, it’s not as easy. If your feed goes down, every one of your guests is getting the big red disconnect error.” He says investing in a tech support team is essential.

Lefebvre says they had one person call in during an event because they couldn’t hear anything. “After 10 minutes on the phone, we realized it was because they did not have working speakers. Their computer was broken.” After telling them it was a hardware issue, “they said, ‘Okay great, how are you getting me new speakers?’”

Though there are a lot of pros and cons to virtual events, this is our new normal. “Definitely we want to see people back in physical spaces,” says Wickwire. “You can’t replace the experience of drawing from one another’s energy, but I definitely think there will be a combination to come and it’s definitely an exciting new reality for communicators.”

“Now people have different expectations. They want to be wowed by the virtual experience and say like, ‘Oh, that was great. That was just as good as being there in person!’”

(Photo credit: via Unsplash)


About the Author:

Sara is a public relations student at Nova Scotia Community College and an alumna of St. Thomas University's journalism program.

Click here to read more about Sara.


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