Virtual Conferences and Events

Part
01
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Part
01

Virtual Conferences: Audience Engagement

Unlike in-person events or conferences, virtual engagement can prove to be complicated as audiences are easily distracted. However, best practices such as keeping the meeting short and concise, and creating engaging content can maintain healthy audience engagement.

Keep the Meeting Short and Concise

  • Unlike a physical event or meeting where attendees may find it difficult to leave, virtual conference participants can quickly leave or skip virtual meetings. As such, speakers who wish to get important points across must keep the event short and concise. The presentation's real value must be packed in the first few slides, as opposed to the last few slides. Speakers must get rid of fluff or unnecessary points and maintain only relevant content.
  • Speakers can use clear and simple messaging to help them reach a maximum relevant audience and inform attendees about the value and knowledge they will acquire from the meeting or event. When attendees learn of the pending value and expertise they stand to gain, they can strive to stay attentive, and speakers should make the points as short and concise as possible. Speakers may also lay down clear business objectives for the virtual conference to help them stay on course instead of overextending the meeting with additional points or fluff and boring the audience.
  • Speakers who wish to keep the meeting short and concise may plan the agenda carefully and share pointers in advance. Having a plan with specific items listed to cover can help save time and stay on course, so the meeting stays relevant, short, and concise. The speaker may share the schedule ahead of time to the attendees so they can prepare in good time.

Create Engaging Content

  • When designing an online meeting or event, speakers can take a maximalist approach to produce engaging content with the help of a creative team. For instance, personalized messaging can be a sure way to see that the audience stays engaged. Alternatively, the use of different techniques may be used to provide every attendee with a space to connect and interact personally, thus keeping them more involved.
  • Icebreakers are also a sure way of creating engaging content that can ensure that the audience participates fully and stays interested in the meeting. In-person meetings can help speakers derive more engaging and organic material that will create a virtual connection with the audience.
  • While introducing icebreakers for virtual audiences may prove to be a challenge given attendees may be located in a different part of the globe with different cultures and language barriers, speakers may get creative with finding a central point to foster organic conversations. Trivia questions, for instance, are ideal icebreakers and can form natural connectedness that can promote engaging content.
  • Keeping the audience engaged throughout a session is not easy. However, speakers may split the roles between attendees and the timekeeper. Having everyone involved can be a great way to keep everyone attentive and give the speaker ideas on the right content to keep an audience engaged. More so, speakers may opt to change roles between participants from meeting to meeting for purposes on the ideal and engaging content. Alternatively, participants may play a game before the meeting and be a great source of ideas for the kind of content that will keep the audience interested.
  • Once speakers list down their points, they may consult with the creative team or run by the team to ensure that the content is short and concise and engaging and in line with the agenda of the meeting.
Part
02
of four
Part
02

Virtual Conferences: Experiential Elements

A trend around the use of experiential elements during a virtual conference or event is increased adoption of augmented and virtual reality to create immersive experiences. Two best practices in this area include gamification and networking opportunities.


Findings

Augmented and Virtual Reality

  • The increased use of augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) to create immersive experiences during virtual events is one of the key trends, according to AccelEvents, NexTech, and G2 Planet.
  • Those technologies can provide 360-degree experiences during virtual events, conferences, or expos, which can be beneficial for branding, engagement, and overall experience. Augmented reality experiences can be activated through a mobile device, while virtual reality features can only be used with a dedicated headset.
  • Such immersive experiences can virtually transport attendees to a different place, allowing them to interact with others, walk around an expo hall, as well as take part in a training session. According to Nutanix, such technologies are the most interactive way to conduct a virtual event.
  • HTC's 2020 Developer Conference was hosted with the use of virtual reality. A video of the virtual event can be found here.
  • According to Brandt Krueger, an event technology consultant, the trend is driven by investments and advances in AR/VR technology, which increase the quality of the experience, while lowering the costs and minimizing the required equipment.
  • At the same time, Travis Stanton from the Exhibitor Magazine says that augmented reality is a more suitable technology that grows faster within the virtual event space because it doesn't require a headset, though the quality of the experience is often similar.
  • Social distancing during the pandemic is an additional driver, with companies looking for creative ways to engage their events' attendees in a virtual environment. Several types of events that have recently moved to an online space and use AR/VR include product launches, awareness campaigns, conferences, and meetings.

Gamification

  • Gamification is a best practice in the virtual event space, according to RedHat, AccelEvents, and PCMA.
  • According to those experts, keeping audiences engaged and making them interact is much easier during a physical event. Gamification is among the most effective ways to engage attendees during a virtual event, which is beneficial for event management, sponsors, and exhibitors.
  • AccelEvents also believes that gamification can increase sponsor engagement and brand recognition, facilitate data collection, and create new networking opportunities.
  • Gamification is a process of adding game mechanics to a virtual event by asking attendees to complete challenges in return for certain prizes.
  • Such challenges can include virtual escape rooms, scavenger hunts, trivia quizzes, puzzles, and polls. Their results should be noted on a leaderboard to keep attendees engaged in the game.
  • At the same time, it is important to choose the right rewards, so potential participants find the contests worthy of their time. Prize packages can be created with the help of event sponsors. Typical prizes include Amazon gift cards or food delivery service, though appropriate ones could also be determined with a pre-event survey.
  • When designing a gamification portion of the event, it is crucial to consider what additional goals it is supposed to achieve, whether there is enough staff to oversee it, whether it will run for the whole event or just for a part of it, and if there will be one or more games. The game shouldn't be too complicated or too simple for the event.
  • It may be beneficial to send push notifications and popups during the game. They will not only remind people to stay engaged but also make it easier to collect data.

Networking Options

  • Networking during virtual events is a best practice, according to Brella, PCMA, NexTech, and Hootsuite.
  • According to Brella, 74% of event attendees choose to go to find new leads and business contacts. Therefore, fewer networking opportunities are one of the major downsides to online events.
  • PCMA thinks that it is important to give people an alternative option to interact with other attendees. At live events, they can just run into people or meet at the reception.
  • Hootsuite believes that choosing the right networking tools is a crucial step to organize a successful formal virtual event. Such formats may even require multiple networking events if attendees are located in different timezones.
  • Some platforms that facilitate adding networking opportunities to a virtual event include 6connex, Brella, Run the World, Hop In, and Vfairs. Those tools offer different ways to hold networking sessions, including chats, conversation starters, virtual cocktail parties, and fireside chats.
  • NexTech also names dedicated platforms as one of the best ways to replicate an in-person networking experience. Other tactics recommended by the company include social media communication that supports interactions between attendees, using additional networking tools such as Slack, implementing event apps with people matching features, setting up coffee break chat rooms for fun sessions, and combining networking with gamification.
  • According to PCMA, another way to organize networking during a virtual event is through live video rooms for small groups. They can be divided into specific topics and open networking. Each room should be moderated, with a moderator ready to revive the conversation if it gets awkward.
Part
03
of four
Part
03

Virtual Conferences: Speaker Best Practices

Virtual conferences are becoming popular, especially with the outbreak of COVID-19. As such, virtual speakers at online conferences or events must adhere to best practices such as prioritizing sound and lighting basics and creating an online navigating system.

Prioritize Sound and Lighting Basics

  • Virtual speakers can create successful online conferences or events by prioritizing sound and lighting. Dysfunctional lighting and audio can make or break a virtual conference, especially if they are dramatically different from one speaker to the next, even within one session. In some instances, headset microphones and a small amount of post-processing may improve sound quality.
  • Speakers and organizers may run a test drive to ensure that the light and audio functions are in perfect condition before the day of the event. Doing a test run beforehand ensures a smooth and seamless conference as any glitches are noted and rectified to ensure a user-friendly experience on the day of the event. Alternatively, virtual speakers may provide other options other than video conferencing in case of poor connectivity. Audio options may be used to run the virtual conference.
  • Dimly lit rooms can be a distraction and may look unprofessional when running a virtual conference or event. Speakers must, therefore, create a soft light that can illuminate their faces during the virtual meetings. They may use two LED lamps with adjustable hue and intensity on either side of the webcam to create soft illuminating light. Speakers may also use external desk microphones for better and more audible sound. Alternatively, they may use earphones to create a more conversational and intimate sound profile.

Create an Online Navigation System

  • In virtual conferences, speakers should highly consider navigation systems, just like in the case of physical conferences. Creating virtual navigation systems make it easier for attendees to find and get into the live sessions. An ideal navigation system provides information on when and where the sessions will take place (for example, Zoom meeting links, Slack channels, and webinar links).
  • All this information should be presented using user interfaces that are easy to use and understand for both the speakers and the attendees. A navigation system provides links that “teleport” participants to all the places they want to navigate.
  • Hosting a virtual event demands the same care and attention as a physical event. Just like in the case of in-person events, organizers or speakers must prioritize the basics by considering the virtual event as more than just a small one-off presentation. Creating value-added and engagement driven experiences requires employing all the necessary tools, such as a navigation system, to make the session enjoyable and impactful.
  • A navigation system ensures that the visual and verbal cues, such as raising a hand to contribute to the meeting, is established. Further, a navigation system ensures that all participants in all locations have smooth access to tools and alignment, for a seamless meeting. A navigation system enables all the participants of the meeting to access online tools such as Google Docs, whenever possible.
  • A navigation system creates a sense of inclusivity as attendees can access touchpoints and feel free to ask for additions such as captions where necessary. Attendees can also access sites that include page narrations and allow text character sizes to be adjusted to their comfort.

Part
04
of four
Part
04

Creating Virtual Communities

Based on the recommendations of marketing and communication experts, as well as event solution providers, some of the best practices for creating strong and engaged virtual professional communities include creating innovative opportunities to promote engagement, preparing highly-relevant agenda and content, and allotting time for break-out sessions and networking. More details on these best practices were provided in the section below.

Creating Engagement Opportunities

  • Based on an article from an established marketing and communications company, one of the best practices for creating a strong and engaged virtual professional community is to ensure that organizers are deliberate in putting in place opportunities that can promote engagement among the participants.
  • This can be done by encouraging the audience to send in their questions or comments through a messenger tool. There is a big chance that those who send in their questions are going to stay and wait until their questions get a response. Organizers should also assign a moderator who will handle the Q&A process.
  • Another opportunity to encourage interaction is to have polls or quizzes.
  • Participants can also tweet live while the discussions are ongoing. Organizers can also set up a process to encourage everyone to send in their ideas, comments, and feedback.
  • Enabling this feedback loop can also keep the communication lines open between the organizers and the audience. These interactions can somehow replicate those engagements that are happening in live events and can make the audience more engaged and connected.

Preparing Highly-Relevant Event Agenda and Content

  • Meanwhile, a virtual event technology provider stated that one of the proven best practice to engage audiences during virtual conferences is to ensure that there is an established agenda for the event. The agenda should be readily accessible in the promotional materials of the event.
  • Knowing the conference topics beforehand can enable the participants to choose to attend those sessions that are highly relevant to them. This can help ensure higher engagement from the participants as they are already interested in these topics. This is also a strategic way to keep their energy up during all-day events as they can opt to attend only certain sessions.
  • Meanwhile, a survey of 2 million professionals revealed that "content is still king."
  • Having content topics that are highly relevant and interesting can organically engage the conference participants.
  • This is a challenge for virtual events as there is a need to level-up the content to ensure high engagement from remote attendees.

Setting up Break-out and Networking Sessions

  • Based also on the recommendations of the professionals who were surveyed, another best practice to establish a solid and engaged virtual audience is to ensure that there is an allotted time for the participants to break out into smaller virtual groups.
  • This approach can encourage more discussion as the groups are smaller. More relevant, interesting, and new perspectives and topics might also emerge from these smaller groups.
  • This way, the participants can have a venue to really interact and engage with others instead of being passive observers.
  • Once the allotted time for breakout sessions is over, a spokesperson from each team can then be assigned to summarize and present what they discussed to the rest of the audience.
  • In live events, break-out sessions are a given. However, virtual events need to be deliberate in ensuring that there is a time slot allotted for these small-group sessions.
  • On top of these break-out sessions, there should also be an allotted time for the participants to network and connect with each other. This is usually the main reason why people go to these events. However, this interaction does not organically happen in online conferences as most people are joining in remotely.
  • It is then up to the hosts to devise creative ways to incorporate "community-building moments" into the event.
  • The professionals also recommend having "virtual lounge spaces" that can enable the participants to network with each other between the sessions.
  • Other recommendations include organizing "trivia events and happy hours" and requesting the attendees to show pictures of their home offices.
  • Organizers can also refer to the participants' roster to create networking opportunities. They can link those with common interests or meeting goals. They can also encourage random connections.
Sources
Sources