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7 Deadly Sins Of Virtual Events

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September 30, 2020 13 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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“And I’ll tell you one more thing. A real sin…can’t be erased no matter what you do.” ― Ban The Fox Sin of Greed, Nanatsu no Taizai

While virtual events aren’t new, the sheer volume of such events is certainly something unique to 2020. Even without the sudden need to transition offline events, the online-event industry — and the platforms that facilitate them — was booming. However, as with anything else, an onslaught of new, inexperienced organizers creates countless opportunities for poor experiences.

Sometimes a poor experience can be ignored or forgotten. But sometimes, it’s possible for an event or event organizer to fail so spectacularly as to be considered a sin.

If you’ll forgive the hyperbole, there are several major missteps that online event organizers may make that, to the event attendee, could be considered unforgivable. The consequences of such mistakes could range from bad reviews to demands for refunds, all of which are easily avoided. These sins are Overwhelming, Unfocused, Untimely, Inferior, Sleazy, Silent and Unengaged.

In fact, if you study and work to avoid these seven deadly sins of virtual events, not only will you avoid angering attendees, you’ll likely create an event experience that is remarkable and cherished.

Related: Michael Franti Spearheads the Virtual-Concert Revolution While Keeping His Small Business Afloat

Sin #1 – Overwhelming

While an in-person event might rely on just a couple of emails to confirm your registration and attendance, and then perhaps an event guidebook while you’re there, virtual events generally have to communicate quite a bit more. After initial registration, online events need to share where sessions will be streamed, along with any other ways an attendee might be asked or encouraged to engage with an event.

This can easily slide into the realm of spam though, particularly if you’re notifying and reminding attendees about each and every session you’re offering. Don’t send so many emails that your registrants are overwhelmed and want to unsubscribe to silence you. 

This is a frequent issue with event coordinators who are using an online event platform like HeySummit for the first . Take the time during your event setup to review and consider each and every Template. 

  • What is it? What does it say?

  • How often will it go out?

  • Will your attendees find it valuable? Or annoying?

Taking the time to go through your event details and options from the perspective of an attendee is time well spent.

Tony Christensen, Ads expert, emphasizes how important it is for event organizers to make sure that when they do email, all of the information is correct. There’s nothing worse than emailing links to your attendees that don’t work.

Sin #2 – Unfocused

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. 

Your event needs to be focused on providing a specific audience with specific kinds of information. Just like any business or content strategy, the riches are in the niches, as they say.

Consider being as targeted with your audience as possible, and then limit the number and scope of the sessions you offer. While it might seem beneficial to offer dozens and dozens of sessions for people to attend, no one is going to sign up for your event simply because you line up 78 speakers. The topics have to offer something of value, and when you can combine a nice selection of presentations that are all focused on a specific area or theme, they’ll combine like Voltron to create something even more powerful and valuable.

Sin #3 – Untimely

There are a couple of aspects to this particular sin that both result in the same fundamental problem and mistake: a complete disregard for attendees’ time.

The first instance where this is apparent is when sessions and other event activities don’t start on time. Certainly, life can happen and delays or timing issues can crop up in any live event. But we’ve all been to events where everything, from the very outset, started late and ran late and activities got rushed or skipped or simply didn’t flow.

The second instance where attendee’s time isn’t respected is when an event with multiple sessions is spread out over days, even weeks, making it truly impossible for the average attendee to catch everything. It used to be OK to span a few days, even a couple of weeks, particularly if you offered a lot of content. But no longer. People are busier than ever and cannot schedule three sessions a day for 21 days.

That might sound like opinion rather than observation, so allow me to elaborate. In past virtual events that I have run, I might have scheduled 20-30 sessions over the course of five or 10 days, spreading them out accordingly. When I looked at the consumption rate of the sessions, it was abysmal. Most sessions were consumed by under 5 percent of attendees.

Alternatively, two events that I ran dropped all sessions at the exact same time and encouraged attendees to binge-watch them Netflix-style. People seemed to like the idea, but again, the stats don’t lie. The first session listed (alphabetically) received the highest consumption, and all others decreased dramatically from there.

So what worked the best? Scheduling all of your sessions just as you would a live event: back to back to back. My last event was a one-day summit with opening and closing keynotes and 27 sessions in between, separated into three tracks. Attendees were encouraged to block off the day and “attend” just like they would an in-person event. Consumption for that event now ranges between 20-50 percent.

Jen Cole, Account Manager at NOW Marketing Group, points out that timeliness applies to speaker as well. She elaborates, “For me, it’s the events who don’t provide speakers/attendees with all of the details up front. What’s the hashtag? How many pieces of content should presenters provide for promotion purposes leading up to the event? How can we attend sessions? Just…timeliness.”

Sin #4 – Inferior

It might go without saying, but what do you think happens if folks block out their day, cancel other plans and start attending your event sessions only to be completely and utterly underwhelmed?

Whether it’s a terrible speaker, awful content, or horrific audio or video quality, the end result is the same. Attendees will be disappointed and frustrated that they gave up their time, and perhaps even money if you’re charging for your event, just to sit through drivel.

Interestingly, the fear of these kinds of issues is what often drives event coordinators to call on the same industry speakers time and again. They’re a known quantity that has proven they can deliver a quality presentation in the past. Events that bring in relatively unknown or even first-time speakers are taking a huge risk. It needs to be done, but give events credit when you notice more diverse lineups of speakers.

Events can mitigate all of these concerns by communicating closely with speakers, doing dry runs or receiving recordings in advance and assisting with the technology. While most everyone today can join a video call, not every speaker is experienced at broadcasting in high quality or even recording their own presentations in a way that’s presentable.

Flossie Hall, COO of ASME, adds, “Bad tech is going to happen, but have a plan B. And plan C. And a team to help you trouble shoot. When you have dead silence and a person fumbling for minutes, it feels like a lifetime on a virtual conference. Test your tech!”

Sin #5 – Sleazy

If you read “sleazy” and immediately conjured an image of the old used car salesman trying to pawn a piece junk onto you, you’re on the right track.

No one wants to be sold to, least of all a session attendee who was looking forward to learning something they could take back to their team or business. Imagine their surprise and disgust then, when, instead of educational content they’re served a demonstration of someone’s lousy product.

When I’ve stumbled into such sessions at past in-person events, such as a “sponsored lunch & learn” that was nothing more than “come learn about my product,” I’d simply get up and leave. I still had countless other sessions and event benefits to enjoy. A virtual event doesn’t have quite the same luxury, and a disgusted attendee might bounce out for good.

A smart approach is to have a policy communicated to speakers at the outset that their presentations should be largely free of sales pitches, but that they’re free to present an offer or freebie at the end. This needs to be carefully balanced against what, if any, compensation you’re offering the speaker. If you aren’t paying them or sharing leads, then you’ll have less freedom to dictate content.

Sin #6 – Silent

Having run numerous online events, I can completely relate to the level of sheer exhaustion that hits once the event is over. Between all of the work that goes into an event and the real-time anxiety around the potential for problems, you will be useless to everyone for at least a day or so afterwards.

And yet, the 24-48 hours after your event may be one of the most critical periods.

Remember the last great event that you attended? Maybe it was the sessions or perhaps it was the conversations you had, but put that event and your memories firmly in mind. Now think about how you felt as you were leaving the event, and into the next day. It was probably a combination of excitement and alongside a little bit of sadness or even emptiness.

This is because the best events fill us up with incredible ideas and information, while simultaneously surrounding us with human connections and excitement. We get to bring home the ideas, but not the people. This is a fragile time where our own real lives re-assert themselves and we risk forgetting the relationships and realizations we just experienced. And in so doing, we forget about the event that made them possible.

This is the time you cannot afford to be silent and rest. If you aren’t actively working to help your attendees keep that level of excitement and interest, maintain those relationships and implement those ideas, you tragically lose momentum and potential for future engagement and, ultimately, sales.

Whether it’s the event itself you’re selling or interest in your business, this is the moment where your audience is most primed to purchase from you. Do not let up.

Fortunately, it’s easy to mitigate your own fatigue and take advantage of this timeframe. In my case, I am blessed with a team that can assist, particularly an Inbound Manager who will have emails and other activities ready to go. If that’s not you, simply consider in advance that you want to do and set that up ahead of time. Typically this will be one or more emails queued to be sent after your event.

Plan what you want to accomplish and how will you do it as part of your overall event prep so that you can take that much-deserved rest the day after.

Sin #7 – Unengaged

And then we find ourselves on the seventh and final deadly sin of virtual events: the unengaged log. The stump that sits in the woods and wants to be interesting and wanted, but has little to offer besides the fact that it’s a stump.

The fact is, if someone wants to watch a video tutorial on how to do something they can turn to YouTube or an online course. An event is supposed to be special. It’s supposed to be an opportunity for attendees to engage with each other and the speakers. 

And while much of that came naturally to in-person events, virtual events and event coordinators can still offer attendees a tremendous amount of engaging opportunities….

  • Session attendees should be able to comment on and chat about sessions while they’re streaming.

  • Events should have a group or community that attendees can join and interact with each other.

  • Session speakers should be in the chat or in the community responding to questions and meeting attendees.

Events can even use commonly available technology like Zoom or Messenger Rooms to create networking events, table talks and more, where attendees, speakers and even sponsors can meet each other “face to face” and have wonderful conversations.

While using pre-recorded videos for sessions is a smart, safe approach, virtual events should also explore ways that they can incorporate at least some live video into their schedule. Because live video is inherently more engaging and interesting.

In addition to streaming some or even all sessions live, events can use live video for speaker interviews, panel discussions, mastermind groups and more.

The bottom line throughout all of these “sins” is that more and more people are attending virtual events, but it’s up to event coordinators to make sure that their events stand out and are a cherished experience for the attendee. It takes time and careful planning but is ultimately worth it, particularly if your organization wishes to run more events in the future.

Related: ‘Daily Show’ Creator Lizz Winstead’s Entrepreneurial Fight for Reproductive Rights

In my role at Agorapulse, it’s up to me to create an amazing virtual-event experience every quarter and one of my objectives is always to attract a greater number of attendees than the previous summit. I’m therefore constantly looking for ways that I can replicate and streamline past success, and integrate new, fresh ideas and techniques into the next event.

Fortunately, the technology and best practices surrounding virtual events continues to improve, so tackling these and other challenges will get easier in time. Until then, just make careful note of the advice I’ve shared here.

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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