By Elizabeth Horkley
Martech veteran Jeanne Hopkins shares her thoughts on how organizers can improve digital experiences and prepare for the return of live events.
Like the rest of us, Jeanne Hopkins is tired of staring at a computer screen. But in the short–term, she’s not anxious to return to a bustling convention center, no matter how at home she is onstage and on the floor at industry events.
“I think people are nervous, legitimately so,” she offers.
The current CRO of Happynest—an eco–conscious laundry service app—and former CRO of Lola.com and VP of Marketing at Hubspot, is an in–demand speaker at industry conferences. Over the past year–and–a–half, Hopkins has attended her fair share of remote meetups and observed with interest how organizers have adapted to virtual environments.
From her vantage point as speaker, sponsor, and attendee, event organizers are still struggling with the question of how to inject energy and personal touch into digital gatherings. She points to a dearth of the sort of buzzworthy announcements that used to make events unmissable to journalists as well as industry–folk.
“I always like to use events to launch something big,” she says, citing major developments like funding and acquisitions news as examples. Event marketers may be holding out on high–profile releases until in–person gatherings return, but in the meantime, they’re missing out on opportunities to set themselves apart and make a splash at a time when few others are even making waves.
Digital Event Organizers Need to Pay More Attention to Sponsors
Another notable absence in the digital realm is the sort of white–glove customer service that sponsors tended to receive pre–2020.
“I’ve always made it a point to go to all the sponsors and thank them,” Hopkins provides as an example of the type of interaction she hasn’t encountered much of lately.
The necessity of following–through bears repeating, and Hopkins adds that she’s fond of soliciting feedback in casual conversations with questions like: “Is this what you envisioned?” In addition to making sponsors feel appreciated, the information is valuable for issuing meaningful make–goods, should they become necessary.
What might merit a make–good, aside from lackluster customer service? Technical glitches, for one.
“It always amazes me that no webinar, or no other kind of digital event ever goes without a hitch.” Hopkins says.
Again, she suggests that presenters treat digital presentations with the same seriousness they would an in-person event, which means showing up early—literally.
When speaking at live events, Hopkins likes to scope out venues the night prior. She also makes sure to “warm up the crowd” in the minutes leading up to showtime by introducing herself and to guests and asking them questions about what they hope to learn from the session. As it applies to digital, a quick greeting and soundcheck ten minutes before start time isn’t just polite—it’s a safeguard against the time and embarrassment that simple tech problems incur.
The Return of IRL Events
As for when in–person events do make their return, Hopkins foresees sponsors and attendees becoming choosier about the engagements they participate in. For one, the normalized practice of asking sponsors to sign up for multiple years’ engagements will likely become a relic of the past.
“It’s a big expense,” Hopkins says plainly, and pre–2020, companies that weren’t active on the circuit risked falling behind. “Many events that we go to as marketers or revenue people, we usually go because we’re afraid not to,” she elaborates.
Needless to say, the perception of events as can’t–miss occasions “to be crossed off a calendar” has been upended, and savvy sponsors are planning for the future with an emphasis on planning. For an Atlanta–based conference in 2022, for example, Hopkins is already in talks with organizers to begin setting expectations on ROI.
“ I want to be able to plan it out properly to make sure we have the right coverage, and that we have goals, objectives,” she explains.
Event marketers would be wise to anticipate more questions than in years past, and to work with sponsors to shape strategies that are sure to influence the next era of events.