Humans have always needed to convene and connect, but how to fulfill that need when travel restrictions, budgets or world events limit the physical options? Virtual you say? Hybrid you hear? Absolutely, but just because your attendees won’t be physically with you, it doesn’t mean there is less effort needed to craft the human emotions that you seek.
In fact, virtual events may require human connection planning even more.
The empathy needed to imagine your attendees’ experiences from behind their screens, solo, from their home office, is even more important than what you’d normally envision for guests you’d welcome at an in-person check-in desk. Do not make the mistake of thinking that selecting a technology (Zoom! Vimeo! Glisser!) will be the answer to the entire experience.
Technology is important, but it can’t overshadow the humans involved, with their needs and emotions. How many of us have felt disconnected during a poorly planned virtual meeting? When was the last time you felt the speaker as engaged in a hybrid event - where they are in a broadcasting environment but with only a cameraman - as they would be in a physical event with a full audience’s energy to feed off of? There is a reason why the great live shows film in front of an audience: it takes significant planning and work to build up the energy to feed a speaker the way an audience can.
Some may chalk up the limited connection to a screen-based reality: nothing can replace the emotion of in-person. And yet, some digital experiences do achieve that emotional connection. So what are the key ingredients to the screen-based secret sauce?
Audience curation: Invite-only (make them feel special) or open-attendance (with media to ensure awareness)? Or an elegant mix of an interacting select few, with possible random selection of a few “listening-only” attendees from the wider audience.
Format structure: Based on your audience format, the experience then needs to be crafted around both the objectives for your brand but also the value created for the audience. When your audience was attending in person, what were they hoping to get out of it?
Knowledge: Interactive speaker sessions with broadcast elements
Networking: Breakout sessions with virtual meeting rooms
Personalized content: AR and digital experiences
Access: In-home content creation and broadcasting
Technology platform: Once you know who you are talking to and what value you want them to derive from your experience, we can then establish the correct technology. Questions to determine the right tool include:
Are you looking for awareness or direct sales?
Do you need to create content or build your community?
Are you broadcasting to a wide audience or narrowcasting?
Are you more budget-conscious or brand-protective?
For a deeper dive into the virtual/hybrid experience tech options, see our ecosystem overview here.
Speaker preparation and engagement: A natural stage speaker will not have the same energy in front of a screen, and panelists will not have the same flow of conversation when separated by oceans. Prepared conversation flows, careful speaker briefing, in-home studio set-ups with live screen connections… There are many tricks to creating a seamless virtual conversation between the speaker and an engaged audience that feeds the energy and the conversation flow.
Viewer participation: Finding ways to engage the viewers beyond the message board is key for strong participation. Live polls that direct the conversation, rated audience questions that bubble up top questions, random “winner” selections that get integrated into the conversation…
Program Flow: Flow is just as important in virtual as it is in a physical environment. Creating planned peaks with a strong apex at the start, one or two more during the experience/day and climax towards the end - keeps everyone engaged throughout. You are putting on a show. Plan it as such.
Sound/Music Strategy: In the same way sounds can make or break a movie (Jaws anyone?), your virtual event soundtrack can truly personalize the experience.
Pre/Post Experience Mailer: If planning an exclusive event, what could you send your attendees before or after the virtual experience that will allow them to better participate? Virtual headsets? Comfortable headphones? Adapted glassware? Printed keynote summaries? Bring the experience to them if they can’t make it to you.
Content strategy: With careful pre-planning the virtual experience can be captured and repurposed for extended communication, either on protected microsites, or social, depending on the audience.
Just like with any physical experience, conference or event you’ve planned, winging it will get you only meager results compared to the budgetary and time investment requested from your team and speakers. However, a carefully planned activation can create true connection with your audience, and generate leverageable content for memorable communication, and strong ROI.
The challenge to connect with your audience emotionally and engage them in the conversation is particularly complex virtually with all of the potential distractions on their end (news in the background, meal prep in the kitchen, children in the next room). The above key tools and tactics are essential to getting your message across.