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Photo Credit: Royal Experience

THE WORLD OF VIRTUAL EVENTS

Meeli Jaaksoo, Business Tourism Manager at Visit Tallinn, asked Estonian event organisers about their views on the most popular event format at the moment. At least a year of experience in organising almost exclusively virtual events gave the event professionals a direct and detailed perspective.

Leho Valmas, CEO of Global Productions Estonia, Lehari Kaustel, CEO of the Global Virtual Solutionsconsortium and CEO of Royal Experience, Taavi Puuorg, CEO of the event management company Frank Events, and Neeme Kari, leader of the event marketing company HYPE, answered the interview questions. Based on the answers, we published a four-part series of interviews, where professionals in their field describe their experience and vision for organising a successful virtual event.

What are the benefits of virtual events?

Leho Valmas: Considering the current social norms, a virtual event is currently the only way to communicate the desired information to the listeners and viewers. Virtual events have gained popularity over the year and we have accumulated a lot of new knowledge and experience. Our clients have expressed a wish to use video technical assistance in addition to the standard format in the future due to the fact that very detailed information in medicine, agriculture, or mechanical engineering can be better acquired by a larger number of people thanks to high video quality. At physical events, the detailed study material was displayed on only a few screens and only the people standing next to the speaker received the best overview and information. At a virtual event, each viewer usually has their own personal screen.

The ability to provide quick feedback and ask questions is also considered important. It is also not insignificant that the virtual event can be watched later which means even more viewers and the possibility of better remembering the information or knowledge already acquired through watching the video multiple times. In addition, in the digital world, if the client wishes to, statistics can be collected, including the number of viewers, the average viewing time, and the location of the participant.

Taavi Puuorg:
With a virtual event, you can bring together those parties who otherwise might not be able to be together in a normal situation. Especially given the COVID-19 situation. There is no direct contact and the audience can access the material no matter where they are.

Lehari Kaustel: Virtual events provide the opportunity to spread your message easily and flexibly to a much wider audience than would be possible with any physical event.

Participation in conferences, trainings, concerts, and even song festivals is possible for people in different parts of the world. They can attend the event in any place they want – the office, the park, the kitchen, or the sauna. In addition, virtual solutions provide the opportunity to organise events with performers for whom it would otherwise be difficult to attend the event. For example, imagine the preparations and expenses needed to invite the US Secretary of State to Estonia. Now think about how much is needed to get him to participate in an Estonian virtual event. This difference is huge.

Physically getting people together from different parts of the world is much more difficult and expensive. However, it is possible to bring important people to a virtual event despite the obstacle of distance. Another important advantage of virtual events is that they do not have to be cancelled. As virtual events allow the organiser to save a lot of money, the use of this format will continue and certainly grow even after the pandemic.

Saving money and time, protecting the environment, ensuring security, and inviting the maximum number of participants are important aspects for all of us, and the virtual solution provides all these benefits.

Neeme Kari: The most important thing is the possibility to participate from anywhere (for both performers and participants). Other factors are the contactless nature of the event and the fact that costs do not directly depend on the number of participants and that the size of the room does not limit the number of participants. For the agency, however, the cost of time and energy is still largely the same.

Lehari Kaustel

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Photo Credit: PlayDay 2020

“At the beginning of the crisis, operational and innovative solutions had to be found extremely quickly.”

What are the main challenges?

LV: Organising events is full of surprises and challenges. This is what guarantees the most outstanding solutions in our field of activity.

We want to create a personal broadcasting and visual style for each client. It all starts with the content of the event, on which the visual features created around it are based. Consistent handling of all details related to the organisation of an event can seem a challenge to a bystander, but it fuels the creative team. So far, we have not encountered any impossible tasks. The most important requirement of any virtual event is having a high-quality Internet connection. We always think of plans B and C to ensure good connection.

LK: Initially, the main challenge was to find the right technical solutions and opportunities. At the beginning of the crisis, operational and innovative solutions had to be found extremely quickly. The format of multi-directional virtual events is still relatively young and there are likely to be a number of technical developments in this area.
More and more opportunities become available over time. The main challenge now is to have sufficient time for testing and preparing new technical solutions.

TP: High-quality internet connection, technical issues (audio and video), and the involvement of participants. The latter has been a particularly painful issue for many of our clients. Everything has become virtual but now, we must think of the nuances that would keep people in front of their screens. This is the biggest challenge for an event marketing agency.

NK: The biggest challenge is the limited perception of socialisation and the lack of direct human contact – we can work with only two of our five senses – seeing and hearing. The limited possibilities of making demos in the expo area, where after establishing human contact, real transactions are often negotiated at informal follow-up events. People want to do business with people whom they know and trust.

In addition, there are challenges related to the use of technical platforms – reliability, integration of different platforms and systems, and the skills and proficiency of the participants in using them.
Screen fatigue has also certainly become a challenge, as well as ensuring the technical quality and spontaneity of the performers – charismatic live performers may not always convey their message well in a virtual event.

Neeme Kari

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Photo Credit: GTD Estonia

How can the destination be introduced both before and during the conference?

LK: For example, with a drone camera. With a drone, you can give an overview of the city – just fly to the room where the event is taking place with the help of cameras. In some cases, a virtual platform offers more opportunities to promote the destination than a physical one. It is possible to make a virtual tour of the whole of Estonia in a short time, introduce its history and culture, and also show places that no one would otherwise visit. All of this can be done interactively, adding a smart chat robot solution to the virtual tour.

TP: Mainly through a virtual game or virtual reality. Those are pretty much the only options. Here, the production partner has a big role to play in keeping people in front of the screen and getting them interested in the destination. By creating content together, we will find ways to introduce your destination.

NK: There has been no major revolution here. It is important to tell a story that matters to people. This can be done with different experiences, either virtually or physically. If we disregard our ecological footprint for a second, we recommend sending a piece of Estonia to the participants to arouse positive emotions. By that I mean sending physical things, such as something edible, but also words of wisdom. Not to mention the success stories of Estonians in various areas, where participants can also contribute in the form of investment or becoming an ambassador.

In addition, it would be good to create new and attractive virtual tours that can be both live and pre-recorded. You can also use playful solutions for introducing our homeland and which would allow people to compete with each other if they wish.

LV: This could be done when the video is buffering and during pauses.

Taavi Puuorg

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Photo Credit: Frank Events

The interview series continues. In the next part, we will ask event management experts about the costs that should be taken into account when organising a virtual event and the added value that virtual events offer.