How corporate events succeed in the digital space

Digital corporate events are here to stay. But how do you put on a great show? The FS Parker agency uses examples from its clients and seven tips to show how digital events achieve impact.

Last year, the learning curve for companies in terms of digital competence was characterized by trial and error. One of the most important lessons learned: there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to digital presence.

Why does employee motivation via digital events deserve at least as much attention as an analog event? The days when messages from management were patiently digested by employees and implemented as desired are over, at the latest since Millennials started working. Informing and, ideally, inspiring requires more than terse instructions. Genuine commitment cannot be bought in the long term, but can only be developed through appreciation. The community within a company wants to be nurtured, understood and involved. It is not enough to decorate bullet-point overloaded slides with colorful pictures.

Christoph Schmidt, Managing Director of FS Parker, sees it as follows: "To create a sense of community, interaction in the digital space is even more important than offline. The earlier and the more employees are involved in the process and perceive themselves as part of something big, the more powerful the effect - in the short term as well as in the long term. Employees are a company's most valuable ambassadors. If it is not possible to communicate internally where the journey is going, it will also be difficult to convince the outside world. Stories of strategic spotlights or milestones along the way to the big vision are essential. Numbers and KPIs are important, but they only represent the results of what has been achieved together. They should be presented accordingly."

Ringier CEO Marc Walder sends a clear signal in the age of digitization with an annual fixture. The multimedia presentation "Speak" brings figures, data, facts, and developments of the publishing group to life through stories and moving images. The presentation is storytelling and infotainment with lasting impact. "If we are brave and try to learn together every day in these fast-moving times, it makes us stronger," says Walder. FS Parker helped the publishing group build "Speak" into an impactful event.

It starts with the message. What does the management want to convey and why? With strategic communications consulting, impact-strong and brand-affine graphic implementation, and reliable service providers also in the technical area, the leap into the digital water can be made without much headache. "Holistic consulting is important here in order to translate strategic plans into effective communicative solutions - in terms of both content and visuals," says Stephanie von Mentlen Ramunno, Head of Strategic Communications at Raiffeisen Switzerland.

A digital event offers opportunities that go beyond the traditional format. A larger group can be reached and involved. Messages can be conveyed with pinpoint accuracy. Contrary to all prejudices, the networking aspect can now also be experienced digitally with various tools.

7 tips for a successful digital event

1. brevity is the spice

A traditional event that used to stretch over several hours shines digitally when the content is condensed to the point. What is really relevant? The rule of thumb is: no more than 90 minutes at a time. In the digital space, viewers lose their attention even more quickly than was already the case offline. Important topics can be explored in greater depth, for example, in workshops held before or after the event.

2. professional appearance instead of half measures

"Do it right or don't do it at all." Participants staring into a too-small screen in a suboptimal home office setting are far less forgiving than those sipping a glass of champagne in a beautiful off-site location. In 2020, awkward attempts to perform through homespun slides still garnered sympathetic smiles. In 2021, there will be no more sympathy points for that. But why isn't content alone everything?

Content remains king, but without supporting visuals, the king is left without clothes. Noelia Blanco, COO and Key Account Director at FS Parker, is convinced that "in the few moments during the year when the management addresses employees, shareholders or important stakeholders on a grand scale, content as well as speakers can definitely stand a touch of high gloss".

Martin Nydegger, Director of Switzerland Tourism, was also aware of this: "Switzerland Tourism's Holiday Day is the biggest and most important industry event of the year. In 2021, the association faced the difficult challenge of showing ways out of the biggest crisis in recent history and inspiring and motivating the entire industry with one event." According to Nydegger, this goal was well achieved in a virtual setting.

"For Switzerland Tourism, the story line was about credibly communicating prospects for better times and getting people excited about the industry's comeback in an entertaining, high-energy way," explains Hannes Sigrist-Thompson, ECD at FS Parker, which managed the event. "Special challenges require more than traditional presentations. In this case, being able to run the show in a TV studio allowed us to deliver content at a fast pace and with a high level of professionalism, while showing the speakers in their best light. A professional performance is a form of appreciation. In the end, everyone wants to be proud of the work they've done together; of the company; of the management team."

3. think through dramaturgy

Where do I pick up my audience mentally and on which journey do I take them? How can information be best absorbed and remembered? How much entertainment is necessary to keep the attention via screen? How does the event retain its appeal even in replay? There are many questions to be answered in the run-up to the event. Teasers before the event arouse interest and increase the number of participants. Strong openers form the foundation of the digital stage. Follow-up communication after the event deepens and anchors content.

"A digital event is not just an analog event plus a camera. The digital space has its own rules. The distractions in the digital space are enormous. Emails want to be answered, Instagram is worth a look, the next notification is buzzing on the cell phone. The trick is to keep the audience's attention. If you communicate digitally, you need content that inspires," says FS Parker ECD Sigrist-Thompson.

4. appeal to emotions

"It is important to send messages that will be remembered. We did this particularly well with the Kickoff this year successful", says Katarina Rösinger, CEO of BSH Switzerland. This point may seem like old wine in new skins, but it is actually more relevant than ever, because emotions are to be weighted twice as heavily in the digital world. The sterile environment of the digital world does not yet trigger cries of jubilation per se.

Johanna Walser, Chief Communication Officer at Ringier, always asks herself: "How can you trigger enthusiasm and create opportunities for identification despite all the sobriety? Storytelling is an important tool in the communication magic box and must be digitally reinforced." But beware: a story only makes sense if you know why it's being told and what connection you yourself have to it. Authenticity, transparency and honesty are key factors here. "Without storytelling, the consumer is hardly able to absorb the wealth of information," adds FS Parker MD Christoph Schmidt. "We implemented this at Raiffeisen with a mountain climb or at BSH with a visit from the future."

5. plan topic blocks

Digitally, you have more opportunities to play the main messages in a variety of ways, to repeat them selectively, and to anchor them in the memory. "It's important to have a thread of the main messages running through - from the invitation, to digital content with video, animations and presentations, to the look and feel of interactions with the audience, to pre- or post-event workshops or surveys," explains Noelia Blanco of FS Parker.

6. Consider content recycling at an early stage

To ensure that a successful digital event doesn't turn into a flash in the pan, it's best to think about the further utilization of the material right from the planning stage. How can the message be sustainably anchored both internally and externally? Which excerpts do you need for social media? Which parts can be included in an image film about the company? The requirements of different channels influence the production. For example, the presentation of an annual report does not necessarily have to be a "one-shot". The valuable content can easily fill other formats and channels after the launch of the report.

7. Thorough planning, organization and implementation

A few seconds of radio silence due to technical difficulties or insufficient rehearsals have a much longer effect in the digital space than at an offline event. So thorough preparation is important here, too. How do I supervise the speakers before the performance? Who is responsible for adhering to the schedule? Is there moderation?

"Minute preparation is important. The choice of the right technical tools needs to be considered early on," Noelia Blanco is convinced. "What interactions do you want to offer? Do you play videos? What content needs to be produced in advance? How do you guide interactively through the Q&A session? An important element is also aligning the expectations of the different partners and service providers in advance."

Volker Klodwig, Head of Sales Europe at BSH Hausgerätegruppe, adds: "A well-functioning team, top preparation and a clean storyboard that doesn't overwhelm consumers but takes them along on the journey are essential and almost more decisive in digital implementation than analog. This shows in the quality of an event."

Conclusion

Sooner or later, the digital event format will win a prominent place in the corporate communications orchestra. "There is no substitute for contact with people. Hybrid and digital events excellently complement and underscore the analog communication of content. This can be very helpful for large organizational units that want to emotionally pick up and inspire employees across regions, language borders and countries," concludes Christoph Schmidt.

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