I won’t lie: the virtual events I experienced over the last year regularly leave me feeling… meh. Often, I felt great anticipation for promises of illuminating content and remarkable interaction which in practice fell flat. And as an extrovert, I missed people.
That said, not everything about virtual events was bad. There are things virtual events do really well – data gathering, information distribution – and they demonstrated there was room for improvement in how we planned engaging live events. These 5 things I hope can hang on to as we return to live and hybrid events and experiences.
Enhanced Pre/Post Event Experience
One of the smartest things I heard last year was that in virtual, registration was the new attendance. I took that to mean event planners needed to become event marketers. Virtual removed the boundary of time-based experiences, and the producer’s obligation to engage their guest began the moment the attendee clicked submit on the registration form. Pre-event touch points built a sense of belonging and drove excitement about the event forthcoming. Networking events, facilitated conversation and peer-to peer collaboration, weeks before the meeting were possible. Access to review content post event will extended the value of the experience. In short, the “event” became just a milestone on a greater timeline of engagement and community building. And I think that lesson is one to take forward into live events and experiences.
Virtual events taught us that more wasn’t always better. Presentations, meetings, keynote addresses all got shorter. Content was king and the task was to deliver it succinctly, and compellingly. General sessions, once 90 minutes, could be covered in 45. Pre-COVID we were already experiencing attention deficits and I hope we can keep quick, compelling content delivery part of the in-person experience.
Tools to Participate in Real Time
Platform technologies offered a suite of options for attendees to participate and provide feedback in real time. Audiences shared emoji-love with speakers, offered up questions and shared new ideas in the chat box. Direct interaction with presenters and peers was possible and there was tremendous potential for data capture. When we go back to live, this doesn’t need to go away, especially in hybrid events with remote attendees. Why not empower your in-person guests to continue participating through a platform on their mobile devices? It ensures the virtual audience doesn’t become second class “viewers”, and can instead engage with their colleagues and cohorts sitting in the room.
Netflix changed how we watched TV. Virtual events changed our expectation for how to attend a conference. In pre-COVID times, one of the struggles I faced when attending an industry conference is it always seemed three really great sessions were scheduled concurrently, and other session times featured nothing I was curious about. Or, one session would end with engrossing conversation, or a small group of attendees diving deep into the topic, and I’d miss the beginning of the next session. Attendees desire conference organizers to put their experience in their hands. With virtual events, we learned that about 50% of content consumption happened later, or not live. Let’s remember that and design our events so content can be consumed by attendees when they want, how they want.
Commitment to Sustainability, Accessibility and Inclusion
Virtual exploded the potential attendee base for events and conferences. The move to digital forced our collective hand to use less paper, stop flying, and to start really recognizing the diversity of our attendees. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I hope as we go back to live events we remain progressive in our efforts to be sustainable, more inclusive in our selection of content and service providers, and accessible to all in the design and activation of our events.
I believe – through good event design – each of these virtual event learnings can be strategically employed to ensure a better experience for live attendees at events.