Philosopher and essayist George Santayana was quoted as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. With virtual events, the “past” is fairly recent. However, the spirit of Santayana’s quote holds true – we need to learn from our prior virtual event in order to make the next one better.
In the virtual events I’ve worked on, the conclusion of the virtual event is very much like crossing the finish line of a marathon – you’ve worked and trained hard and now it’s time to unwind, rest and relax. The team that worked on a virtual event often has to move on to “the next project”, without much time to reflect on the event that just concluded. As a virtual event show host, it’s your job to round up the team for a debrief meeting – you’ve all completed the marathon, but now it’s time for the half-mile cool-down jog to reflect back on the race.
The keys to a virtual event debrief:
- Define, measure and review virtual event goals and metrics – the first step in the debrief has to occur prior to the start of the project. During or before your kick-off meeting, you and your team need to define the goals of the virtual event – and the associated metrics that you’ll use to quantify those goals. Whether it’s “maximize sponsorship revenue”, “maximize user engagement” or “generate leads for exhibitors”, you’ll want to define measurable and non-subjective data points to serve as the basis of your virtual event report card. So the first segment of the debrief is to review the data (i.e. the measured metrics).
- Review what worked – a combination of the metrics results – and, more subjective/anecdotal feedback regarding the overall event. The key here is to understand why (or how) it worked and determine whether you want to repeat that success in your next event. For the most part, what works in one virtual event should be carried over into the next.
- Review what didn’t work – again, a combination of metrics plus anecdotal feedback. This is one of the most important components of the debrief – be honest in your assessments of what didn’t work – so that you are not “condemned to repeat it”. My experience has been that when things don’t work, the reasons are usually “not enough lead time” / “too rushed”, “communications mix-up”, “human error” and “mismatch in expectations”. Another category is “technology issue”. I believe that all of these are correctable, with technology being the most straightforward and human error / communication / lead time being a bit trickier to nail down.
- Review and judge your constituents’ experiences – different event types will have difference constituents. In a virtual tradeshow, the constituents include yourself (show host), attendees, exhibitors and presenters. You may want to ask each constituent to complete a survey that’s specific to their experience. Did attendees find the content useful? How about the event experience – was it easy to navigate? Did exhibitors have meaningful interactions with attendees? For speakers, did they find the webcasting presenters’ interface intuitive? Each constituent in a virtual event is important – if they were not 100% satisfied in this event, make it a goal to achieve 100% in the next event.
With the growth we’re seeing in this industry, chances are that when one virtual event concludes, you’re rushing off to your next one. My recommendation is to stop and take a breath. Take the time to gather the team and do a debrief. Then, document the debrief and be sure to review it before you start planning the next event.