3 Trends That Could Make Virtual Events Less Awful in 2021

If there was one common challenge that marketers and media pros faced in 2020—besides periods of existential horror—it was trying to figure out virtual events.

Maybe you had to change an in-person event to a virtual event on the fly. Maybe you sponsored a virtual event and still have no idea what the hell it means for someone to “visit your virtual booth.” Or maybe you spoke at a virtual event—trading the thrill of presenting on-stage in a windowless ballroom for screen-sharing over Zoom while wearing a nice shirt and gym shorts.

This year, virtual events were in their awkward teenage stage—not quite sure what they’re supposed to be, and constantly worried that everyone is a little disappointed in them.

Despite the promising news about Pfizer’s COVID vaccine, there’s a very good chance virtual events are here to stay for a while. COVID is peaking, widespread vaccine rollouts likely won’t happen until the summer, and most companies won’t lift their ban on non-essential travel until 2022.

As I’ve worked on my 2021 strategy, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can lift virtual events out of that awkward teenage stage, and there are three trends in particular that I’m bullish on:

1. Descriptor, Mhmm, and other production tools will help us up our “simulive” game

“Simulive” presentations—in which people pre-record their talk and then take Q&A live afterwards—have a lot of benefits. The audio and video quality is superior to what you get through a livestream. The presentations are smoother and tighter. And they allow for higher production value—music, graphics, animation, video, and other elements that are much more engaging than someone talking over slides.

The best virtual event talk I’ve given this year was at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum. They hosted the event through BigMarker, a new entry into the webinar world, which is easily the smoothest tool I’ve used.

I pre-recorded my presentation using the millennial content creator starter kit—Airpods, iPhone Pro, and a tripod. Then I asked my go-to freelance video editor to spend a few hours adding some simple graphics, video cutaways, and animation.

The end result was so much more engaging than it would have been otherwise. For instance, here’s a screenshot of me cosplaying as a Gorilla from a Cadbury ad. (Not going to provide any more context than that.)

Screen Shot 2020 11 11 At 12.09.00 PM

However, not everyone has a video editor on speed dial, which is where a couple of awesome new tools come in: Descript and mmhmm.

Descript is free (for now), and makes it shockingly easy to edit video, even if you have no prior experience. It works for podcasts too. As the kids would say, it looks SO COOL.

Mmhmm allows you to create Weekend Update-style videos. It works with Zoom and other streaming services, which means that it could make live virtual event talks much more engaging as well. The presentation-creation technology wave has just begun, and I’m optimistic it’ll help up our storytelling game in virtual events next year.

Of course, simulive isn’t the best solution for every virtual event. You lose a lot of opportunities for live interaction, as well as the intimacy a live event provides. Which leads me to the second innovation I’m excited about…

2. Virtual events that go beyond presentations and roundtables

This innovation is less technological and more creative. All the virtual events I’ve attended this year were either standard presentations or—if we were getting really crazy—roundtables in breakout rooms on Zoom. Because who doesn’t want to spend more time making small talk on Zoom?

There was one exception: In April, I attended a Zoom-based gameshow thrown by my creative partner, Shane Snow. He used Zoom’s webinar/panelist designations to create something between The Price is Right and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. There were music, prizes, trivia, sequin jackets, and fierce competition.

Inspired, I created a game show called The Smartest Marketer for our Customer Advisory Board (CAB) event, and in hindsight, it was the best thing I’ve done all year. Our CAB members loved it, and most importantly, I got to expense a disco ball and gold streamers.

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I wanted to bring more virtual game shows to the masses in 2020, but I got distracted doing the boring parts of my job. NO LONGER. We’ll be rolling out our first virtual gameshow to the public in February. I hope all of you join in on the fun and get inspired to break out of the virtual event box.

3. LinkedIn Events

Last month, I called on LinkedIn to create more tools for B2B content creators, and hundreds of you responded in the comments with a resounding HELL YEAH.

On October 20, we notched our first win when LinkedIn released an upgrade to LinkedIn events. Did we force LinkedIn to alter their product roadmap in just two weeks? Who’s to say? But I’m going to say … YES.

The big news: LinkedIn is now enabling free lead capture for events you create on the platform. You can either host the event on LinkedIn Live or point folks to another virtual event platform.

LinkedIn also promises to promote events to people in your network and those who follow your company’s page, and they seem to be boosting it much more than normal organic posts, which should help you capture attendees you wouldn’t reach otherwise. There tends to be a huge first-mover advantage with features like this, so let’s see how it goes: Sign up for my big 2021 Content Marketing webinar via LinkedIn events here.

And that, my friends, is how you end a blog post with a shameless CTA.

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