Honest Insights and Lived Experiences from Hosting In-person and Virtual Events

Our signature annual event, the Public Sector Digital Marketing Summit was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic. In 2021 I really wanted to take it back, but as there was still so much uncertainty around public health restrictions, I decided to take it completely online.

The event happened on 22-23 September 2021 and on Day 1 we had keynote speakers, case study presentations, and panel discussions. On Day 2 we had 12 workshops – six social media themed and six digital marketing themed. The two tracks ran concurrently and attendees chose which workshops to attend. In fact, most attendees created their own personal agenda inside our event app.

So, in this blog post, I’m going to give you the inside track on my experience, insights from hosting both event types, and why it’s going to be different once again in 2022.

“In-person V online events. What about hybrid? Read our insights into how to host events in 2022.” @jstweetsdigital| #eventmanagement #publicsectordmsClick To Tweet

 

Top Takeaways From This Blog Post

  • >  The benefits of hosting an in-person event
  • >  Our pandemic pivot
  • >  The challenges of hosting a virtual event
  • > Our virtual event engagement metrics
  • > Thoughts on hybrid events
  • > 2022 and beyond for event hosts and marketers

Hopefully, you find this blog post helpful and if you do, please share it on social media.


Nothing Beats Being There in Person

If there’s one thing we are reminded of as a result of the pandemic is that human connection is vital in every aspect of our lives. Pre-COVID the Public Sector Digital Marketing Summit was in-person and lots of fun. Public sector pros from across Ireland came along and really enjoyed the time out of the office to focus on digital marketing for their agency.

The networking is always a hit and getting a chance to get off the work Ferris wheel and open your mind to new digital tactics, ideas, and trends.

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The Pros of In-person Events

  •  > Human connection
  •  > The emotional lift from being at an event with like-minded people
  •  > Improved attention because of ‘leaving work’ physically
  •  > A real intention to give the event your attention
  •  > Atmosphere and experiential benefits

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Our Pandemic Pivot

The Public Sector Digital Marketing Summit was cancelled in 2020 and I believe that was the right decision, despite speakers and a venue being provisionally booked. There was way too much uncertainty in March 2020 and our event was scheduled for mid-June.

Fast-forward a year and I wanted to bring it back and we usually need 10-12 weeks to bring it together, so I decided to bring it wholly online for 2021. A date was chosen and the waitlist was opened.

The June date was moved to September and the work started on understanding how our signature Summit would look like as a virtual conference. The theme of the event was easy for us. There was definitely an appetite to know how public sector marketing pros transformed their communications during the pandemic. So, the title from the outset was: Public Sector Digital Marketing Summit 2021 | Communications Lessons from COVID-19.

But here’s what we had to research and make decisions on (and fast).

  •  > The tech – how would we Livestream and on what platform?
  •  > The event app - how would we ensure that all attendees, speakers, and sponsors would be engaged and had an opportunity to participate in real-time?
  • > The attendee experience – ensuring that the reputation of our Summit would not be impacted or the brand devalued because of taking it online, so how to master this?
  • > Marketing messaging – how to communicate that the event, albeit online, was still worth taking the time to attend?
  • > Added value – what extra value could we add to the attendee experience and/or ticket?
  • > Agenda – so what will the agenda look like?
  • > Speakers – who will speak, is this an opportunity to get global speakers perhaps out of our reach when the event was in-person?
  • > Timing and duration – how long should each day be and should we host it one or two days?

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7 Wins and 5 Lessons from the Virtual Summit

There are no failures when you take action in your marketing. There are lessons! I love a good life and business lesson because it’s where the growth opportunity sits.

  1. WIN – Whova event app proved hugely successful to manage the online event
  2. WIN – Attracting global speakers with a different perspective from the Irish experience
  3. WIN – Attendee engagement was off the digital Richter scale (see our metrics below)
  4. WIN – Speaker access was a big win for attendees as speakers hung around to answer questions, engaged in conversation and listen to the other keynotes
  5. WIN – The replay and three-month on-demand access to the app and replay videos for attendees is great added value
  6. WIN – The content repurposing is easier from a virtual event
  7. WIN – It still looked highly professional with our dedicated studio and branded speaker frames and live photography and videography throughout the two days for social coverage

SUMMIT HIGHLIGHTS

  1. LESSON – One day is enough for a virtual event, our event spanned two days
  2. LESSON – The date in mid-September was too early as August is a month for extended annual leave in public sector so it left our lead-in time tight (even though we had been planning for three months)
  3. LESSON - There is a general feeling that committing to an online conference won’t work as you won’t give it your full attention, so this format simply just doesn’t’ suit some people
  4. LESSON - There will always be an element of attention-attack as attendees decided to dual screen and dual work, so not actually taking the time off from work to attend
  5. LESSON – There is not LESS work with a virtual event, there is new work and different work, and a bigger pressure to make it engaging and look and feel impressive online

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Summit 2021 in Numbers

I love diving into the data and so I decided to share with you our Summit in numbers in this very visually pleasing infographic.

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Thoughts on Hybrid Events

Given all of this event formatting lots of thought, I think there is a lot to be said for hybrid events. I do believe that virtual has a place in the post-COVID world, but we need to be mindful that this does not suit everyone. So, with great customer experience, we need to serve our audiences based on what they need and want, and not what we want to deliver.

I’m really happy I took the decision to host the Summit virtually in 2021. I am a firm believer that everything you read or learn is academic until you take action. I had to do this for myself and learn the lessons by taking the journey.


2022 and Beyond for Event Hosts and Marketers

So, what’s planned for 2022? Based on hosting in-person and virtual Summits I’ve made the following decisions already! The live experience combined with the attendee feedback has helped me make the following decision about our next Summit.

  •  > Book us in for one day in October!
  •  > It’s going to be hybrid
  •  > We will have an Irish venue > We will also have a Livestream for virtual attendees
  •  > We will re-use our event app for all attendees
  •  > We will continue to attract global speakers

 

Get on the 2022 waitlist!

Click here to be notified of the agenda and Early Bird tickets.


Thank you!

A big thank you to everyone who made the 2021 Public Sector Digital Marketing Summit happen! Without you it would have been just another Joanne dream. J

  • > Speakers
  • > Sponsors
  • > Attendees
  • > Team
  • > Social media followers

Until next year, happy event planning!

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