Social distancing is proving more than ever that people are meant to be together. Of course, the current context is likely to have a long-term impact on people's desire to personally attend conferences or events. But the situation has also created an unprecedented laboratory to learn new ways of aggregation.
After the first few weeks of confusion, during which many events were simply postponed, the realization that many events were canceled or moved digitally. This change in approach has led everyone to reconsider how they reach the public on a large scale and the experiences they are given through virtual events. Here's what comes to mind from these months of experiments:
1 More cinema than theater
Online or in person, people show up at events to learn, network and discover. This will not change. But meeting these needs on a digital platform as much as possible requires some key strategic changes. Starting with production. While in-person events are more theatrical and off-the-cuff in nature, virtual events require a cinematic approach. An on-site conference does not translate into a chat room.
When producing virtual events, it would be good to think of "episodes". The audience isn't captivated by an hour-long stream of a single camera aimed at a person on stage. Instead, plan that hour in segments. Use multiple cameras and frames to change angles. A dynamic experience can be created to give rhythm and focus attention, even if the various guests are seated three feet away (or in their homes).
2 Adapt to the format
Just as the production strategy has to be adapted, presenters should adapt their style to the camera, and no longer to the idea of a stage. This takes practice. Many experienced presenters are theatrical, trained to project and fill the room with their presence. Now, the screen to fill is that of a monitor. There isn't (and shouldn't be) a PowerPoint projected as a background. There is no crowd, so you have to learn how to have an engaging conversation with the audience directly via the camera - a lesson that even the news presenters are learning firsthand right now.
3 Turn a one-way event into a conversation
There are several ways to allow event attendees to interact with presenters and the audience during a virtual conference. Again, the best results come from planning ahead. For example, connect through your own communities social where viewers are already engaged can help build a conversation leading up to the event and get people to participate more, or ask questions. Allowing attendees to interact with each other and ask questions in advance can also help presenters prepare to address what's important to their audience.
Either way, moderators play an important role in building the conversation. More than just virtual chat room monitors, they should work with presenters to engage the live audience. Instead of a 45-minute presentation followed by 15 minutes of Q&A, for example, encourage real-time participation. Use a moderator to encourage conversation and build a dynamic experience.
4 Have a global audience in mind
Virtual events break down the geographical barriers to participation. It is also possible to create (or extend) an event to different time zones so that participants can experience it live wherever they are. You can take advantage of digital conferencing platforms such as Microsoft Teams that enable subtitles and translation for speaker remarks so audience members can view subtitles in their local language.
It also serves to make the sessions and conversations visible after the event, especially if they are internal training events. Publish event recordings on platforms such as Yammer o Facebook Workplace allows people to relate to them when it is most comfortable for them.
5 Pay attention to the audience path
Events are important and intense moments of the relationship with the public, or with its customers. There is a clear road map to involve participants in physical events: from pre-event communications to on-site engagement, through to in-depth information at the end of the event. Digital events also require different methods of engagement before, during and after.
For example, the virtual medium is great for autonomous learning. A good way to engage attendees would be to encourage them to complete "homework" before the event starts. An opportunity for further online learning or a chance to get certified later.
6 Entering a growth perspective
Although the way to go is uncertain, the demand for large live conferences is unlikely to return to previous volumes anytime soon. Event organizers, producers and marketers will need to find new ways to engage the public. From planning to production to the actual event, the positive aspects of virtual events must be valued, and each platform maximized for the benefit of customers. Even in light of the challenges many face, this time of significant change can help clarify why we are asking an audience to spend their time with us.