Joanne Brooks is president of Creative Impact Group, a full-service nationwide production company that specializes in live, virtual and hybrid events. With an extensive background in show-business, Brooks is an event planners’ resource for seamless events that bring together talent, technology, marketing and design. With more than 40 years of experience, Creative Impact Group understands that the platform might change, but entertainment and impactful messaging remains at the core of a successful event. Visit CreativeImpactGroup.com.
By now, most people have attended at least one virtual event. While some offer engaging content and feel like a welcome escape from reality, others leave participants bored and blankly staring at their screens. The difference? Engaging virtual events make people forget about the word “virtual.” They succeed by tapping into something more real.
Memorable events have the power to deepen trust, inspire change, and build lasting connections that continue long after guests have gone home. But behind all the careful preparation, most events come down to something pretty simple: people. The secret to a successful virtual event — whether it’s a conference, trade show or fundraiser — is to recreate an authentic sense of human connection.
Virtual event planners have to strike a careful balance between regularly scheduled programming and space for social spontaneity. Good events don’t just educate and entertain guests. They also offer attendees the room to relax and reconnect with familiar faces.
Here are some ways to make your virtual event feel — well, a little less virtual.
See Your Event From the Attendees’ Perspective
Good virtual events shouldn’t feel like another meeting. They need to give space for participants to breathe, get to know each other and take in the programming.
A jam-packed virtual information dump is not the same thing as creating an event to which people genuinely look forward. While the impulse might be to create a choreographed experience that anticipates every transition or potential tech glitch, now more than ever, it’s important to remember the value of realness.
Careful planning is important, but try to avoid over-scheduling programming, which can lead to virtual event fatigue. Take a holistic look at your agenda. Ask yourself: Do the activities, presentations or panels all circle back to the reason your attendees are participating? Is there space to reflect, or are participants just bouncing from one break out session to the next?
Remember, people can only process so much information at time. An event with a full agenda may offer more information but actually feels less engaging. Make sure the items on your agenda do more than fill space. Reading from slides will cue your audience to zone out. Consider hiring a professional moderator who will have great storytelling techniques and be able to capture your audience’s attention all while keeping the flow of the event moving.
Survey Your Attendees and Their Expectations
Your guests are taking time out of their day to attend your event. Make sure that the topics you’re covering include what they are interested in. Open up the opportunity for deeper conversation and participation by allowing your event to be partially shaped by your attendees’ input. Conduct an online survey beforehand to allow your attendees to express topics they want to be covered and their preferred format for raising questions.
Don’t just meet your attendees’ expectations, aim to exceed them. Successful events offer a space to learn about a topic in the company of others while also adding an element of fun. Incorporate elements of a live event by delivering catered food to your attendees or including a special celebrity appearance. Add interesting social activities such as a live performance or yoga break between sessions.
Look through the screen, not at it
To encourage networking and conversation, go out of your way to introduce individuals who are attending the event and take time to spark small talk and conversation.
It’s easy to forget that virtual attendees are real people. Instead of talking at the screen, make sure that presenters go out of their way to interact directly with participants. This is a simple but effective way to make attendees more comfortable and to increase the likelihood of engagement at your event.
When an actor looks directly at the camera to address their audience, they use a technique called breaking the fourth wall. This is also a great tactic for virtual presenters to develop a genuine sense of connection with their attendees.
Give your attendees room to roam
Networking is a big reason people attend events, so get creative to help facilitate authentic conversation at your next virtual gathering. Provide breakout rooms at the beginning of the event where fellow attendees can socialize with one another. As a host, you can move from one breakout room to another to make sure you introduce yourself to every attendee in a smaller setting. Be sure to create a more personable atmosphere that puts human connection at the forefront of your event.
Or, consider shipping a swag box to each attendee including many of the perks people have come to enjoy at conferences and live events. The packages could include everything from branded items like masks and sanitizer, to appetizers, to mini bottles for mixing up a Manhattan during a networking cocktail hour.
Virtual events might look a little different from live, but the goal is the same: To create a memorable experience that lasts long after the attendee logs out. Small details can help participants genuinely enjoy their virtual experience, rather than feeling like your event is just another online meeting to attend.
Effective follow-up & continued conversation: what happens after the laptops close
The work does not end once the camera light goes off and the laptop closes. Following up with your attendees provides a final opportunity to showcase the value of attending an event.
After the event, send a video compilation featuring key quotes from hosts or panelists, or an animated infographic on the main topics covered, or the official slide deck that was presented during the event. Whichever you choose, following up with a summary allows the attendees to walk away with physical forms of the event that they can use as resources in the future.
Make sure attendees foster the connections they made with one another by sharing a related hashtag that can be used to connect attendees on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. And consider conducting a post-event survey to gauge what they enjoyed and what they think could be improved upon. When your attendees know you listen to their feedback and have their interests in mind, they are more open to considering attending future events — live or virtual.
To ensure your virtual experience feels like more than a last-minute replacement for a canceled event, keep your objectives in sight and your attendees in mind. Log onto the screen in the same way you would take center stage at a live venue. Provide memorable moments for your attendees with solid content delivered by highly professional presenters. And, most importantly, remember to keep it real by providing ways for attendees and presenters to connect. | AC&F |