Virtual events are dead

Through my own extremely unscientific research, I am making a declaration: We are reaching the end of virtual event effectiveness. They were a nice add on to events pre-March 2020 for people who couldn't travel and to share select messages.

They were a necessity to keep engagement alive with customers and prospects from March through November 2020. But now as the holidays approach and we all prepare for our virtual holiday parties and through-the-screen gatherings, we're seeing virtual event attrition skyrocket from the industry standard of 40-50% to upwards of 80%.

Why? We're hearing that it's one of these reasons:

  • People are busy and your event sucks. Slides and talking head or audio track? No thanks. Plus, they can listen to it later as a recording while working.

  • Your sales team isn't inviting customers. Why? See reason above. They are trying to build relationships with clients so inviting their hard-won contacts to an event that is boring is not going to cement them as great sales people.

  • Your event is too long. Even if the content is spectacular, if your event goes on for more than a few days, what's the point? Hate to break it to you, but your customers aren't excitedly waiting all year for your virtual event the way they used to get excited about your in-person event.

  • Your event is too short. Yes, everyone is busy, but calling it an "event" and making it last for one hour due to low attention spans won't cut it. If your content is valuable and the experience needs to be meaningful, make it a 2-3 hour experience, get commitment from your participants, and make it worth their time.

  • There isn't a reason for them to be there live. If it's just a webcast with a chat, what's the point? If it's recorded for later, why show up live? Those epic events that get millions of participants on Fortnite and Roblox draw crowds because of the buzz and excitement of a live event. A TV show airing at a certain date time is exciting as a shared experience. Your LIVE webinar about your product doesn't carry the same appeal.

How do you fix it? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Stop creating so many virtual events. Do the recordings, get your content created, then push it out as digital content through your digital marketing campaigns. Use On Demand content strategies so viewers can click start when they want to and it's recorded for everyone without the forced "live" aspect.

  • Scale your events back. 15,000 people watching a broadcast isn't really a virtual event. If you want engagement and conversation and buy-in and connections, go small. Like 15 people small. It takes more time and effort, but will make greater gains and return higher ROI. Oh, and you might even make a friend.

  • If you are going to create a virtual event, make it not suck. Here's the magic formula: Create shared experiences that evoke an emotional response and are anchored in conversation. That's the Haute Dokimazo secret sauce and we'd love to share it with you.

  • Stop making your content computer-screen dependent. Try creating podcast content. Try mailing your content in a box or magazine format. Try a kick-ass direct mail piece or door opener box. (Haute Rock Creative is amazing at these!) Try a live conference call event format (sans-screen). Local audience? Try a drive-in keynote event at a drive-in theatre or drive-in concert venue (like Haute Spot!). Go totally wacky and create an entire content stream via social media (imagine a series of 57-second Instagram posts instead of a webcast!).

  • Make your content big-screen dependent. Create living-room-worthy content that can be accessed on YouTube for your audience who can screen cast it or access through a Roku or other streaming device to watch on their living room TV. Create content that unifies the family or your audience like a live concert or an incredible virtual experience that you can enjoy together.

As we create our 2021 plans and help clients plan their investments in customer outreach, we love ideating on new, more impactful ways to engage audiences and share content. Keep in mind what you are actually trying to achieve as you plan your content delivery method. If you want to inform and education, print or podcasts might be a viable option. If you want to engage and network, small virtual events or phone calls might be right for you. If you want to entertain and generate loyalty, a great boxed experience might be the best option. We LOVE brainstorming!

Liz Lathan, CMP is co-founder and CEO of Haute Dokimazo, a "spontaneous think tank” company that bridges the gap between sales ad marketing by creating shared experiences, anchored in conversation, that drive genuine connections. Haute Dokimazo is part of Haute Companies, a family of companies that believe in human connection, from events to media (podcasts, videos, and more) to direct mail to swag to entertainment talent management to strategy session facilitation. Contact Liz at