September 8, 2020

This is What You Need to Know About Virtual Wine Events

By Sean Jolley

In the current climate, engaging audiences in an online environment has been a hard road for the wine industry to tackle. Engaging people to attend a virtual event in the first place is one thing, but engaging them enough to maintain their attention and get your point across… that’s a whole other barrier to overcome. Whether it’s the kids running around in the background of Zoom call or a webinar that slowly fades to 10% audience retention, anyone that has hosted a virtual event knows the struggle of engagement and retaining participant interest. However there are strategies to make the most of your virtual wine events that I am going to share with you, based on my experience running these events through Hydra Consulting

The special sauce – your unique story

“Just like there is a multitude of other wines and beverages competing for consumers’ eyes, so too is there vast competition for consumers’ attention. Wineries aren’t owed attendance or engagement at a virtual wine event, they have to earn it.” 
-Amber LeBeau, Virtual Wine Events.

With the rise of online and virtual wine events, you cannot simply send some wine out and hold a virtual tasting, there needs to be ‘the special sauce’. Approach these events as brand building opportunities and collaboration prospects. This can help you create an engaging experience like no other, that in turn will give you consumers that are ready and rearing to come back. Think about merging your event with a local creator – just like you would at your winery or cellar door. The special sauce is the difference between people coming back and buying your wine or simply treating this as another virtual meeting. 

Photo by Rafael Leão on Unsplash

Leveraging platform capabilities

Zoom has been a particularly popular platform of choice to host wine events. At Hydra Consulting this has been because Zoom has many features to help further engage tasting or workshop participants. Here’s a few tools that we have used on Zoom to keep participants engaged throughout an event:

  • Use the poll function and use it often – we have seen this become a critical part of our virtual events as it gives a great sense of inclusion and involvement to the audience.
  • Always have someone working the chat – we have found that people are keen to chat but not to interrupt, and having someone talking in the chat function has added another level of engagement. Exchanging ideas and experiences has been priceless for some of our audiences.
  • Use the virtual breakout rooms for engaging people in smaller groups – we have used them when the main event room has a large audience, and it improves engagement significantly
  • Ask for feedback throughout the presentation – this is an opportunity for further engagement
  • Get people to have their cameras/video turned on – this forces them to stay engaged 

More than talking heads

We have all seen the talking head in virtual event rooms far too often, over and over- which is why people’s attention tends to drift. What we have discovered is that people focus more during virtual events where we are filming in front of a green screen, or a backdrop, and talking to the backdrop. This is because it encourages people to focus on the video as well, rather than just the audio – enabling another level of engagement. This also works with screen sharing if you don’t have the production abilities for green screening. Just make sure that what you are showing your audience is worthwhile and adds value to their experience.

Beth and Amber LeBeau saw a gap in the market when COVID hit them in Paris, and quickly pounced on the idea of Since launching the initiative, they have steadily grown to have 30-40 events on their site per day, with a peak of 70-80 when wineries across the globe were most affected. This site has been a great platform for our own events, and we look forward to using them more in the future.

“Ultimately, wineries need to realise that consumers attend virtual events to fulfill a need. Most often, that need is to ward off boredom. Wineries have to be realistic about this and keep entertainment at the forefront of their event planning. Your wine may be great, but great wine is never going to be a need. 

Now this doesn’t mean that wineries have to feature comedians and music festivals with an event, but they need to step back and look at what they’re offering with brutally honest eyes. They need to ask themselves–if I didn’t have a personal connection to these wines, would I be interested in sitting through this for 20,30,60 minutes?” 
-Amber LeBeau 

Photo by Zachariah Hagy on Unsplash

New challenges for engagement

We are now seeing that consumer engagement is taking a new, digital form known to many as virtual wine events. Simply obtaining an audience, let alone maintaining their participation and interest during these online events, is difficult at the best of times – but an absolute necessity. So by default, in order to successfully engage people through virtual wine events many factors need to be considered. 

One of the most essential factors contributing to an audience’s level of engagement is the time frame of a virtual event. We all know that to keep people tuned in you need to keep the time frame to a minimum. If you can’t shorten the length of your event to cover what you need to, then you will have to consider breaking it up over a few days or creating an intermission between sessions. 

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