In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, digitalization took hold of nearly every industry as life went virtual. Many companies had to shift to remote work and virtual conferences essentially overnight. This rapid shift came with a host of challenges for businesses of all sizes, one of the biggest being how to continue creating educational and memorable events, while still offering an engaging experience for attendees.
Avalara, a cloud-based tax compliance automation company, hosts an annual tax conference that brings together hundreds of professionals and practitioners at the forefront of the complex world of tax compliance, commerce, and technology. This year Avalara partnered with 82 South to impactfully deliver the event’s extensive content, while also creating a unique and engaging virtual experience. The result was Avalara CRUSH Virtual: The Future of Global Tax Compliance, featuring a walkable virtual 3D city environment broken into 18 different “neighborhoods” that each focused on a different industry or offering. Attendees were able to explore the city on their own, choosing between scheduled keynote speeches, networking appointments, and resources and tools that solved their own personal pain points.
Through the process of producing Avalara CRUSH Virtual, there were several lessons learned that other event teams and production companies can use to navigate virtual events in the future, including:
Opportunity to scale
The bright side of hosting an online-only event is the opportunity to grow and scale our audience. There are fewer barriers to overcome when you don’t have to coordinate travel arrangements and overall costs that are associated with in-person events. This enabled us to grow 2021 CRUSH registration by more than 620% from over 900 to more than 6500, with an online attendance of over 3,000. Shifting to virtual allowed us to expand a traditionally North America-focused customer and partner event into a global thought leadership and demand generation event. The audience mix at this year’s event also expanded to include Avalara prospects, customers, partners, accountants, media, and investors.
Immerse and engage
Virtual events have reprogrammed the attendee experience, which means reimagining live events for the virtual environment is not just a pipedream, it’s an imperative. The Avalara and 82 South teams collaborated to assess virtual event trends and resources in the COVID-19-era, in order to identify a strategy that would deliver content effectively while also defying the zoom fatigue that quickly spread during lockdown. This required the teams to assess what traditional components we could keep and the areas we had to disrupt and innovate to drive a successful online experience. In our research, we noticed that the most common issue plaguing virtual events were challenges with engagement and interaction and we knew that we’d need to think outside the box to avoid that issue.
For the creation of Avalara CRUSH City Virtual, we selected the ATTND.LIVE platform, which made possible a customized interactive environment that provided a visually organized “structure” for delivering our extensive content. Attendees enjoyed self-discovery within the CRUSH City neighborhoods based on what was relevant for their business – whether by industry or business size. As a result, our virtual environment boasted over 27,000 total engagements offered throughout CRUSH City, consisting of activities such as downloading documents, watching videos, using our tax tools, and participating in live round table discussions. According to ON24, a leading webcast vendor, the industry average of engagements for marketing events is 3.8. By prioritizing the interactive component of our event, Avalara CRUSH Virtual achieved an engagement score of 8.5, more than doubling the industry average.
Less surveying and more polling
When it comes to virtual events, attendee expectations are increasing, while attention spans are growing shorter. Moving forward, event organizers will need to adjust for new habits, norms, behaviors, protocols, and ways that attendees consume content. We learned this firsthand during Avalara CRUSH Virtual when it came to surveying and polling—long story short, the traditional “post session” survey is a thing of the past.
There is a complete lack of motivation and desire to discuss how the speaker performed or if the content was delivered effectively. Overall, our post-session survey response was very low and continually diminished throughout the event (we suspect due to an eagerness to get away from the computer). In the future, either we will look into gamification of surveys, or we will turn away from them altogether and leverage industry-insights polling where an attendee can participate in more insightful question sets and see where they stand against peers in their responses. Polling is also a great source of unique data that can be used in post-event reports and future communications to event attendees. Showing participants a complete and holistic view of all polling results during the event will provide them with useful industry insights and also facilitate interesting follow-up discussions.
Virtual events will continue disrupting the next generation of live events. Whether it’s a hybrid setting or completely virtual, the task for event organizers is to not only find ways to keep attendees engaged but give them a reason to rise from their armchairs and board their plane. As such, the use of immersive tactics, like 3D virtual environments or gamification, as well as easy-to-digest run of show formats will help capture limited attention spans, keep attendees engaged, and convert them into prospects. Future change in the world of events is inevitable, so adapting to the changes as they happen in real-time will hold the key to successful events moving forward.
Danielle Cote is Director of Corporate Events at Avalara
Brian Riha is CEO & Executive Producer at 82 South