Fortunately for the latest technology and innovations in virtual meeting platforms, event planners and marketeers alike have been afforded an opportunity to continue generating leads despite the ongoing pandemic. In the last year, we have witnessed virtual events replacing their in-person equivalents. This has significant benefits as in an instant, we can convene thousands of individuals from across the globe and at a small fraction of the typical event operational costs. Yet, as we fast approach a full year since the imposition of social distancing measures and the adoption of near back-to-back Zoom calls, it comes as no surprise that we are all facing a bit of virtual event fatigue.
Many of us are growing despondent of the hours of screen time that our new normal demands, both to socialise and work. Indeed, a survey that Eskenzi PR commissioned of a thousand individuals working from home in 2020, found that 47% of respondents felt that their colleagues were distracted on video calls. The vast majority (91%) have admitted to being distracted by their own image on screen, while others have sneakily worked on their emails (85%) or sent texts (77%). Recognising this, we will need to master the art of reinvention.
It is no longer enough to slap together a number of powerpoint slides, stick a speaker on screen and call it a day. You may just as well broadcast some white noise or a lullaby and watch as your viewers doze off. Rather, we need to design an experience, one that is unique and will captivate your audience without sacrificing the sense of intimacy we might have had in person. Here are a few points to consider before planning your event.
1) If you can think it, you can do it!
We have come so far since the bog-standard powerpoint deck. Today, there are platforms to bring just about all your virtual event dreams to life and there are a myriad of ways to deliver content. So, be sure to think out of the box – you could even mix and match mediums. From podcasts and round tables, to 3D immersion rooms and real-time illustrations, the opportunities are endless.
2) Engage, engage, engage
Remember that we want an event that enthrals participants, one that transports us out of our makeshift offices and into a fun, albeit brief, escape. Take the time to brainstorm ways you can gamify the experience, for example. Could you have a running virtual scavenger hunt or bingo game? Perhaps use multiple choice questions to garner audience sentiment on different issues, which speakers can reference in their talks. What about conveying your message through an interactive presentation that sees audience members take on a new persona, making observations as they are walked through a fictitious scenario. This is exactly what we did for one of our events held over Security Awareness Week. In collaboration with Professor Danny Dresner, audience members took on the personality of Sara, a young adult who finds herself invited into a game chat room. From there, we navigated through numerous messages and the audience was enlisted to spot misinformation and other cyber threats. Without a doubt though, enable chat rooms. We have found that these have often been the breeding grounds for insightful debate and discussions amongst both bold as well as more camera-shy participants.
Another means of ensuring engagement is simply through entertainment. You could organise to have cocktail kits sent out to participants and invite a mixologist for a portion of the event. We did this for several of our events, including the European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards and the Security Serious Unsung Heroes Awards, and it worked out to be a great hit! Alternatively, you could have magicians, comedians, DJs etc. come on board.
If you can’t afford to hire external entertainers, why not create the entertainment yourself. For instance, you could host an interview where the interviewee has to take part in a marshmallow challenge or even a hot wings challenge as they are answering questions. This is the time to get creative.
3) Keep it snappy and short
Once the ideas start to flow, it is easy to fall into the trap of creating an event that runs far too long. There are few individuals who would be willing to sit and stare at their screen for a whole day.
As a rule, do not exceed 90 minutes for any one event. Any longer and you risk losing viewer engagement. If you are hosting a big conference, try to break it up into manageable chunks of a few hours with breaks, over a period of days.
Finally, while this may be the least fun aspect, preparation is nevertheless key to a successful event. It’s great to have a whole list of creative ideas but that means nothing if your speaker’s audio malfunctions or if your event coincides with another major event. Check in advance for any issues with lighting or sound quality, and ensure speakers have a charger on hand for live events. Let’s not forget to find a quiet spot free from interruptions and meandering toddlers. Start the planning process early so that you have time to prepare for any and all eventualities. And as we know, practice makes perfect.
This preparation will make all the difference in creating a seamless event. Just don’t forget that attention needs to be paid not solely to the event itself, but everything leading up to it and after. This includes registration, answering queries and sending follow-up emails.
At the end of the day, we want to capitalise on these events too, using the opportunity to start mutually beneficial business relationships, even friendships. Our ability to manage a well-planned event from start to finish, and offering an experience that leaves them wanting to know more about your company, your product, your service, is pivotal to that.
We hope this serves as a useful guide and wish you lots of luck. Happy event planning!