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Virtual events are here to stay: key takeaways from Babel’s panel featuring the BBC, PA Media and All Day DevOps

As a result of the pandemic there has been a significant increase in the number of virtual events – and specifically virtual conferences, press conferences, and virtual roundtables. But these virtual events present different challenges and different opportunities from their physical counterparts – particularly when it comes to engagement. Physical events present a valuable opportunity to meet clients, prospects, and journalists face-to-face. To bump into contacts in corridors, or discuss deals over coffee. So, in the absence of these physical trade shows and press events, how can businesses harness virtual events to engage customers, prospects, and the media?

On Wednesday 17th June Babel hosted its own virtual panel event – Beyond the Webinar – to  address this question. Joining the discussion was Technology Reporter for the BBC, Zoe Kleinman; Technology Correspondent for PA Media, Martyn Landi; the VP of Sonatype and Co-Founder of hugely successful virtual conference All Day DevOps, Derek Weeks; and our Managing Director, Jenny Mowat. The panel was chaired by, Associate Director at Babel, Katie Finn, and speakers shared a host of valuable insights into how to optimise virtual events.

We kicked off the webinar by asking the audience how many were planning to have, or planned to host, a virtual event. The answer? A resounding 93%.

Whilst it’s hardly surprising that an audience made up of people keen to find out more about virtual events is planning to host their own one day, it was still very interesting, and reassuring, to see the appetite in real-time.

The panel then dived into insights from Weeks – who launched All Day DevOps five years ago – on what the benefits of virtual events over physical ones are, how long it takes to plan, and his recommendations to make a virtual event a success. “Know what your measures of success are. Are you trying to generate brand awareness? Know you goals and be very upfront about these.” said Weeks. Weeks also discussed how to keep your audience engaged not just during the event itself but in the months before and after – highlighting how All Day DevOps has achieved this through dedicated hallway tracks, Slack channels, and even pizza parties.

We then asked the BBC’s Zoe Kleinman what success looks like from a media standpoint, and more crucially for the PR and marketing industries, how can companies and brands attract journalists like Kleinman to their events. Her answers centred around having a succinct point and clear takeaway which is newsworthy, and providing the media with information or insight they cannot get elsewhere.

For tech journalist Martyn Landi, his thoughts were very aligned with Kleinman’s. Both receive – on average – four to five event invites to virtual events every day. That means, to cut through the noise, the content needs to not only be engaging, but something new. Landi said: “No journalist wants to get to the end of a virtual event and realise that all they’ve got out of this is exactly what they would have got off the press release and the WeTransfer link at the bottom that had a few assets on it!” He advises making use of the virtual model to attract speakers who might not have been able to attend a physical event, such as those in different regions, enabling panels to be as compelling as possible. Kleinman also highlighted the importance of diversity on panels, and that she wouldn’t consider attending an event comprised exclusively of white men. As she rightly noted, those running panels have a responsibility to encourage inclusivity, and open the door to a wider selection of people.

The panel finished off with Babel’s Managing Director, Jenny Mowat, offering her advice to companies looking to launch a virtual event. “Really think hard about whether an event is the right mechanism for you, and for this focus. Ensure you have a clear take-away for the attendees and make sure your event and the content it produces work hard for you – by effective promotion, engagement throughout and the follow-up – it’s not just about the event itself,” Mowat said.

Following questions and answers from the audience, we concluded the webinar with the fact from what was discussed, virtual events are very much here to stay! And with advice and insights from our webinar, you too can equip yourself with an understanding on the expectations from media.

These are just a snapshot of the insights shared during the discussion, but the good news is, if you missed yesterday’s live webinar – or you just want to watch it again – we will be sharing a recording via our website shortly. In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like to speak with us about how to launch a virtual event, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Jen Kelham, Senior Campaign Manager, Babel

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