The Virtual Event Evolution: The Intimate Audience Impact


After over a year of quarantine, strict social-distancing protocols and working remotely, COVID-19 vaccines are helping B2B organizations across the country enter a new era of business. In the first part of our blog series on the virtual event evolution, I discussed the importance of hybrid events and how incorporating virtual components into in-person meetings can strengthen your content strategy roadmap. The transformation of hybrid meetings continues to progress as the virtual event industry booms. Demand Gen Report’s 2021 State of Virtual Events noted that “Digital events today are booming, and the trend isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, this market is expected to grow nearly tenfold to $774 billion by 2030. It’s no surprise that Aventri research shows 89% of event organizers will continue to use virtual components even after lockdowns end.”

This fact is demonstrated by the countless online events you have probably been invited to attend in the last few months. B2B organizations have embraced virtual event platforms in the hopes of maintaining brand awareness and generating sales leads. The issue is the market is now saturated, and B2B virtual events are vying for people’s attentions and registrations. With virtual events here to stay, we as B2B marketers must continue to adapt our event marketing tactics to the new event form.

Illustration of person at desk on a video call

The Evolution Continues

As I mentioned in the previous blog post on hybrid events, before I came to The Mx Group, I spent many years in the event planning industry. I witnessed firsthand the quick transition from in-person to online events. There were many successes as well as mistakes and lessons learned, but the major takeaway I observed is that the event landscape is not stagnant. Virtual events continue to transform almost as rapidly as technology, steered by digital transformation. My previous post explored how offering a hybrid option for a virtual event is the next step in this process, but what about the advancement on content engagement? How can B2B marketers keep their audiences involved with virtual activities when those audiences’ schedules are flooded?

At the beginning of the pandemic, the focus was all on registration and how many people stay logged in. As our understanding of online events grew, so did our knowledge of the impact of virtual content. Suddenly, it wasn’t about registration numbers, but more importantly, conversion — the number of people who attended from the group that registered. The conversion rate showed us that the virtual sessions that boasted relative, timely content made a bigger impact with a more direct, but smaller audience.

Illustration of two people connecting virtually shaking hands as they come out of mobile phones

Relative, Targeted and Welcoming = Intimate

For some B2B marketers, it might seem counterproductive to focus on a small audience. After all, shouldn’t you want to spread your brand awareness as far as it can stretch? Spreading content across a vast range of personas does little to nothing in terms of creating personalization. The content can be spread too thinly, creating little to no impact. In some instances, it could feel like you are forcing the content onto apathetic attendees instead of trying to create an authentic connection. It is important not to let the word smaller distract you from pursuing this path. Instead, let the word intimate guide you. An intimate audience is a specific group of attendees who feel a connection to the content you are presenting. The content is relevant to their work, helps them problem-solve for their jobs and allows them to network with industry peers.

As we stated in our 2020 blog post, COVID-19: The Strategy Behind the Best Virtual B2B Events, think about structuring your events by industry, or for particular use cases or product lines. Two or three smaller online events with 50 of the right people, who are all very interested and engaged, can be more powerful than a bigger event with 200–300 invitees who have only a passing or modest interest and may or may not actually show up. Remember, the virtual environment is great for overhead cost and access to attendees, but it’s also very convenient for those attendees to simply click a button and leave a session at any time if the content no longer engages them.

Illustration of person at desk working on a computer

Making Room at the Table

Another advantage to hosting a more intimate content session directly benefits the more Zoom-fatigued and introverted in your audience. It is a common assumption that a computer screen creates a barrier that could help with stage fright (or rather, screen fright). However, there are still many folks who can be overwhelmed by the idea of 100-plus strangers’ eyes always staring at them. Also, let’s be honest, we’ve all been to at least one crowded, online event where multiple people had something to say but no one could truly be heard once everyone started talking over each other. You want to create virtual activities that encourage attendees to voice their opinions and interact. A more intimate audience fosters the idea that everyone in attendance at this session is there for a reason, has something meaningful to say and can positively contribute to the conversation.

Tips to Stay Engaged

Now that you have the right, targeted attendees in your virtual space, it’s important to use tactics that will help keep their attentions. Remember, your attendees are human beings. You need to consider the full scope of their day. No one wants to idly sit in front of a computer screen for hours on end. Here are some ways to encourage active engagement and make the biggest impact on your attendees:

    Incorporate interactive elements into your session. It can be as simple as enabling Q&A chats so attendees can interact with subject matter experts. Or loosen things up with wine tastings or maybe even a pet parade. In Demand Gen Report’s 2021 State of Virtual Events, Steve Daheb, CMO at ON24, shared, “We had fun with ‘petworking,’ which allowed attendees to enter breakout rooms to watch adoptable puppies and cats … People want interesting, interactive content. The more personal you can make it, the better.”
    Adapt opportunities from the physical event realm into the virtual world. Elements like breakout rooms can create openings for sidebar conversations like what an attendee would have experienced at an in-person conference. However, it is important not to force the networking. Let it happen organically. Take your already-intimate audience and create an even smaller, personalized group, and invite them to join a live mentor session that directly correlates to their needs and questions.
  • FOSTER FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
    Make your session too stimulating to miss by promoting the necessity for live interaction. Virtual activities that are discussed through live sessions like think tanks or roundtables help foster the notion that participation is key to making the session a success. Focus the think tank on one specific topic, pain point or question. Target audience members who share that challenge and pair them with attendees who have stories and lessons learned about their journey to a solution. Let your attendees know that their insights on the topic are valuable for any audience member in attendance. You never know if your story will answer someone else’s question.
    Sometimes, no matter how targeted or exciting your content might be, people just have busy lives and cannot attend. Don’t exclude them from the useful insights shared during these intimate sessions. Include them by disseminating captured insights, useful links and summaries of stories shared. Continue your event marketing by inviting them to reach out to you if they want to be introduced to a thought leader for follow-up questions. And be open to planning postscript sessions and inviting interested parties back for more Q&A to help continue the conversation.