Virtual events are a mere translation of physical events to the virtual world, right? Oh no. Big mistake. We at Boothted know very well that virtual events are very different from normal events: they come with their own challenges, with their own benefits, and with a whole different flair. While many things are different, here’s the ONE single thing that most organizers are getting wrong about virtual events.
Recently I observed my wife participating in a virtual-conference hosted by one of the big four. She sat in her home office and connected for 2 half-days full of speeches on Webex. It was interesting to see how she grow more and more distracted, annoyed by one presentation with a particularly bad sound and lengthy speeches. Eventually, her attention shifted away from the conference and she replied to urgent emails and did other stuff (here’s how to improve events hosted on Zoom, Webex and Co.).
Let’s not beat around the bush: keeping the attention of attendees is hard enough during normal events. Who hasn’t seen most of the audience sitting in their chairs, staring at their smartphones instead of listening? That’s a hard fact. Now imagine how less focused attendees will be attending a virtual event where nobody will see how often they open a new browser window, get up, chitchat with others, or even leave the room.
The root of the problem is the attention span. Does truly anyone believe that it’s a pleasure sitting for hours in front of a screen watching more or less interesting presentations? Honest answer: usually it’s not, especially not for attendees who are easily distracted by their surroundings or are only vaguely interested by the topic of the presentation. So why shall organizers stick to long-hour events if obviously, attendees prefer shorter events? Why not break up a day-event into digestible chunks? Why not break up the whole event into various sessions placed over several days?
So this is the biggest mistake virtual-event organizers do:
Organizing long hour events, instead of spreading it over several days, in chunks of one to a maximum of two hours. Give attendees the chance to choose what sessions they wish to attend while not entirely disrupting their entire work-day. Few people will anymore allocate an entire workday to join a virtual conference. Face this reality and adapt to it.
Let’s go for a clear action plan on how to make your event compatible with the new habits of your attendees.
The first thing to do:
Break down your event into thematic groups
If your event is longer you will inevitably find topics that match together so that you can quite easily create individual sessions. The word “sessions” already gives you quite a good indication of where to start your work as many events are already grouped into sessions.
Most of the existing virtual event platforms (Boothted doesn’t make an exception here), will allow you to add a schedule to your event so that attendees can easily navigate your event.
Create a compelling mix
Make sure that each session contains a really compelling topic, speech, or panel-discussion. This will motivate attendees to flock in and to hopefully stay even for less compelling presentations. The idea is that compelling content leverages even less compelling content.
Creating a compelling mix means also combining various formats and media. Your event doesn’t have to consist only of presentations. Make sure a presentation is followed by a short video, a panel discussion, a more interactive format such as a Q&A session. Attendees who are participative are attentive.
Play with the timing
The shorter the better? Not always, but truth to be said: keep things as short as possible and as long as really needed. I’ve seen it way too often, that long presentations of 45 minutes to one hour are being hosted. Sometimes the content requires such durations, but most of the time it should be possible to break down such presentation monsters into smaller chunks. I always recommend to at least add one or two Q&A sessions to keep the attendees awake. A short break might also do wonders.
Overall I recommend having short presentations, 10-15 minutes at a faster pace. This will give your event a whole new dynamism, but of course, requires tough guidance and planning.
Leverage the power of the replay
Let’s be honest: watching a live-presentation only makes sense if you wish to interact in a Q&A-session or to see what other people are asking. Most of the time watching a replay will just do fine. I signed-up recently for two webinars but couldn’t attend because of scheduling conflicts. I supposed I could comfortably watch a replay of the webinar. As so often: supposing is not a good idea. No replay, just some slides do download with little value for me.
Especially virtual events are pre-destined to come with replays. It’s almost a sin not to provide attendees with replays and to give them the possibility to choose when they wish to consume the content. That’s one of the reasons we at Boothted allow organizers to keep an entire booth open for a longer duration so that replays, Q&As, resources, etc can be consumed at any moment by the attendees.
Explore new formats
Virtual events allow you to create a whole new attendee-experience. Consider your event more to be a TV-broadcast and try to add elements that made these broadcasts so popular. Adding a moderator providing professional guidance through the event, add intros/outros, stinger-transitions, and professional lower-thirds to show your speaker’s names. You can as well easily add videos or other pre-recorded elements to your event. There’s an almost unlimited choice of elements for all budgets. At Boothted we built into the DNA of every booth the flexible choice of the live-stream. From a simple unbranded live-stream to a fully-fledged broadcast. Sometimes it can be so easy. Be creative!
What have your experiences been over the last months with virtual events? Have you been fully focused or been distracted? Happy to learn more from you!