Reinventing Virtual Events

Aug 20, 2020, 21:04 PM by Alejandro Smith
Following the pandemic outbreak, the world has seen virtual events produced with rapid succession. However, virtual event organizers have struggled with attendee engagement.

Following the pandemic outbreak, the world has seen virtual events produced with rapid succession. However, virtual event organizers have struggled with attendee engagement. At in-person events, the interaction between speakers, vendors, and attendees is two-way, making networking and interacting easy and efficient. Whereas, sitting in front of a computer ‘attending’ a virtual event is primarily a one-way experience with speakers presenting and attendees listening/watching. With lower engagement, attendees are more easily distracted during virtual events, which can lead to a reduction in the overall value and takeaways.

The key to a successful virtual event is engagement.

The Presence Summit a first of its kind event was designed to help professionals take their video communications to the next level. This 100% virtual conference put engagement top of mind and encompassed a full day of professional development while utilizing important content delivery vehicles that have become extremely relevant in today’s highly virtual world: Facebook, YouTube and Zoom.

Our goal with the summit was to break the virtual event ‘mold’ by providing a greater sense of engagement that went beyond a typical one-way experience. To do this, our team challenged speakers during the planning phase to create engaging experiences that could only happen in a two-way communication environment.

Kicking off with our keynote speaker Joseph Pine, the author of “The Experience Economy”, we not only brought a big-name speaker; but he also helped us to design a “Virtual World Cafe” experience that used Zoom breakout sessions allowing attendees to collaborate in small groups and dig deeper into their learning experiences.

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While the summit was free to all those who wanted to attend, those wishing to have a professional development experience were invited to additionally purchase a ticket. Charging a nominal fee ensured that attendees felt invested in the event and would, in turn, join the sessions. From that main meeting, our moderator created breakout sessions consisting of four people. To do this effectively, we had to limit our overall meeting to 200 attendees. We found that keeping the meeting at or fewer than 200 attendees worked ideally for collaboration because most attendees were able to interact and network with one another at some point throughout the day.

With the small break out groups of four, speakers could be strategically placed within each group to say hello and answer any questions. The idea was to allow attendees the chance to connect with others and reflect on what they learned from each session in small groups, while having access to the main stage/live stream headliners. Once the virtual world cafe sessions were over, the members from each small group were placed back into the larger meeting to share their thoughts with the main group of meeting participants.

What Went Well?

First, the content was designed to keep attendees engaged and interested – both from how the content was presented to the length of each session. Presentations and discussion points were specific and relevant to the intended audience. We ensured there was an even balance of technical and professional development content to appease a wide range of viewers. Each presentation was approximately 35 minutes long, keeping listeners engaged and interested. Event attendees do not have time to waste, they want to walk away from an event with new knowledge and perspective so content should be relatable, insightful, and engaging. Different kinds of speakers discussing a wide range of relevant topics will keep attendees interested and inspired. And from a survey of attendees, more than 70%of respondents said they were satisfied with the networking opportunities the event provided.

RELATED: How to Create Authentic Connections with Customers during COVID-19

Presence Summit Group Chat | AVIXA Presence Summit Group Chat

Perhaps the most surprising successful element of the summit was the continuous collaboration that happened within the group chat channel set up in the Zoom client. The chat provided all attendees with a communication channel they could use before, during and after the event to share and discuss their thoughts and experiences from the event and keep the momentum going.

Future Improvements

While designing the event, we felt it critical to maximize attendees’ opportunities for networking. However, many of our Summit attendees expressed FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) because we had the livestream, breakout rooms, and interactive meetings happening simultaneously. In retrospect, we think small schedule tweaks will enhance attendees' experiences in the future.

We also recommend a half day of presentations/education, followed by a half day of networking, to achieve the highest success and engagement. In addition, while our event ranked high on the networking scale, we enabled multiple layers of engagement. While those opportunities were unique, we could have been clearer about the value of each engagement tool, whether it was the overall event chat feature, the Zoom meeting itself or the live stream chat areas social media.

Despite the first-time challenges that many virtual events face, survey results showed that 83% of attendees would recommend Presence Summit to a friend or colleague, and another 75% said the event gave them the tools they needed to achieve better video “presence” in their online meetings. So ultimately, we consider that a success.

A behind the scenes technology setup guide is available here.

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Now that we’re moving beyond short-term technological fixes for a socially distanced reality and making plans for a longer-term hybrid of remote and in-person communications, how can we design AV communications systems that will foster better connections between people?

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