Organizing a virtual event is done easily, you may just open Zoom and ‘go live’ with your audience. Per se you can call this a ‘virtual event.’ But is that what you are looking for? Does that represent the value and quality of your brand? Will a Zoom call stay in your customers’ minds?
Organizing a memorable virtual event requires some extraordinary experiences. Something that stands out from the daily life and thus, remains in their memories. But this doesn’t require ‘higher, faster, further’ as, in fact, there is a danger of oversaturation for the target audience. Sometimes all it requires is some minimalism or inspiration for creative exchange, changing the perspective of what we see every day. To achieve this, here are five interactive ideas that will sure keep you in the game.
Send out experience boxes
Don’t mistake these boxes for the usual swag that attendees collect at exhibitions or take away from sponsor booths. As the name already hints, they provide an experience – or help you create one while everyone joins from the comfort of their home/office. Fill it with items that are interesting and surprising, and above all, let them interact with your virtual event.
Deliver the experience box before your event (or just in time if you have a small, exclusive audience) and label it so they know not to open it until you say so. The box can contain items that are taken out one by one throughout the different sessions, or unboxed at once to prepare for the day or enjoy the social gathering afterwards. Whatever you pack inside that supports creating a connection with your participants, remember it doesn’t need to be anything expensive. Visit a gadget (online) shop and think about ways to integrate useful items like a dice or pack of cards. Share your grandma’s secret recipe, or seeds that will grow with your new-built relationship. You don’t want to send them a box of single-use items that will be trashed once your event is over, but prolong the memories of the joined experience.
This experience box is a great way to get your sponsors involved as well. Is there something more exclusive you would like to send out to your attendees? Let your sponsors brand it and improve the audience participation with this sponsored giveaway.
Remember that this kit doesn’t need to contain items for the attendee only. If your target audience has kids, partners, or pets, grow the experience for the entire family by including items for them as well. This can range from tasks that involve the entire family using the box items, to giving your pet the treat that was sent. If used smart, you may even reduce the distraction by kids during your event when you provide them with a drawing kit, learning game, or mug that can be painted that will occupy them while mommy or daddy are following the conference.
How will you know what to send? Include targeted questions in your registration form.
Include fun games and challenging contests
If you have read my previous blog articles you already know I’m a big fan of great event gamification. It’s not just me loving to play games, but competition is one of the easiest and highly successful tool to increase levels of interaction at your event. From simple quiz games over trivia challenges to competing over sharing ‘The World’s Worst Pun’, sometimes it is surprising which game becomes the next hit at your event. When following these basic rules, you can see the engagement going up immediately:
- Know your target audience and choose a suitable game/competition.
- Create a leaderboard to boost engagement and encourage attendees to explore many parts of your event.
- Celebrate award winners and offer prizes.
Most of us are competitive people, and providing a sweet incentive to participate will get us all pumped up and excited to try and reach the top. And the funny thing about it, the prize doesn’t even need to be big or super expensive. Sure, prizes can be cash or gift cards. But fun trophies, digital badges, or simply bragging rights will motivate us just as well. It’s all about the spirit.
Have you ever considered converting earned points to euros, or a specific amount per certain actions, and then donating the final amount to charity afterwards? The more your audience engages and interacts, the more your company will donate. All of these activities and incentives will achieve the same results: a boosted engagement level and morale of your attendees while at the same time they are making the most of your event by playfully networking, working together in teams, and feeling more connected to each other overall.
Allow for breaks and plan plenty of them
While you may think that breaks only interrupt the content of your conference, they may actually boost your attendees to stay focused and engage even more. Virtual conferences can be quite dragging and it is so exhausting staring on your screen all day. Plus, as we may attend from home or the office, we are still in our usual environment which distracts us non-stop. While in-person events place us in a venue that provides a new environment that is unrelated to our daily tasks, and also visibly shows our colleagues that we are not sitting at our desk and are unavailable during our absence, virtual events are so tricky and feel like a double-burden. The phone keeps ringing, email notifications keep popping up, and colleagues or family keep walking in on us.
Plan enough breaks to let your attendees deal with distractions, answer their emails, empty the dishwasher, or simply allow for a relaxed visit of the bathroom. Give them more breaks than they would expect – two coffee breaks and a longer lunch – and they will be grateful and reward you with higher attention. It is not about the length of the breaks but the frequency. The human’s (virtual) attention span is sooo short. Give it a break, shift the focus, and then allow us to concentrate again.
The breaks are no lost time from your conference but can be used in many ways to stay related to your company or content while not feeling as demanding as speakers’ sessions. Prepare a little treasure hunt through your virtual event platform and give them an incentive to explore and benefit from all its features. Unlock questions and give them time to answer those or fulfil tasks of the event gamification during the break, which might be more valuable than losing quite a few people jumping back and forth in the platform to find all the answers while sessions are running, obviously paying less attention to the live stream at the same time.
Short interactive energizer exercises are also very useful to stretch muscles and get the oxygen flowing again. But don’t worry, not every break needs to be filled with things to do as we want to allow for the audience to deal with their (offline) distractions, too. Or actually let them take a mental break from everything. Play videos during the breaks showing dogs playing with their trainers as everyone loves watching that and disconnect from business a little. Play some music, natures sounds are always really appreciated as we are stuck with tech so often, and shift to some animated, vivid music shortly before resuming the session to get the audience in the right mood again. Whatever you decide for, don’t miss the opportunity to design the break in a way that balances and favors your event sessions.
Overcome social distance with proximity chats
The worst for me at virtual events is when the organizers plan especially networking as a big video call for everyone. You enter the area by a click and then the room’s host immediately calls you out two seconds later and puts you on the spot in front of everyone. You bet, I’m out of there immediately without having said anything and rather stay by myself until the next session starts. Sure, this scenario might apply rather for introverts than extroverts who love being highlighted and in the spotlight, however, you want to cater for all of your attendees and be inclusive.
In my opinion, proximity chats overcome this difficulty for successful networking with the comfort level everybody needs. At in-person events attendees have the option to join the big group in the middle of the coffee lounge, others can stay at the sides mingling with only a few, or find a separate space to discuss a private topic that leads to business afterwards. We all know how valuable coffee breaks at in-person conferences actually are, generating leads and contracts. But with 50-100 people in the same video call? Forget about it.
Proximity chats can be integrated in most event platforms and mirror traditional coffee break areas in the virtual world. Instead of being in one call with everyone who decided to join, you can see avatars running over a map or meeting in themed areas to discuss specific topics. The visual component of seeing who is here, who is talking to whom, and what seems to gather lots of attention – many avatars grouped together – helps the attendee navigate him/herself through the virtual networking, just as in real life. Get an overview of what’s happening and then choose who to talk to, where to join, and when to leave. Give the choice back to the participants.
There are even proximity chats that allow you to move closer to people and listen in to what they are talking before actually moving right next to them and actively joining the conversation. The closer you move, the louder the conversation becomes. I personally find those type of proximity chats a little dangerous and uncomfortable though, as you probably wouldn’t like to be eavesdropped and not realizing it because you zoomed so close into the chat that you don’t see who is in proximity to overhear your conversation.
Other proximity chats, on the other hand, add you to a circle when close enough and open your video (camera doesn’t need to be turned on) to signalize everybody who is currently in the conversation. With the option to set your circle private, attendees can also prevent others from joining their conversation and discuss sensitive topics right here and now instead of having to schedule a call for after the conference. All proximity chat providers differ in their features a little, so let us know what you are looking for and we recommend you the suitable tool.
Introduce custom avatars and audio-only
If you have been in video meetings and events a lot then you know how tiring these virtual gatherings can be. Even a two-hour video call can feel more exhausting than what you remember from meeting face-to-face. But why is that? The answer is simple: video.
We are not necessarily talking about the video of our conversation partners, but about our own! At offline meetings and events attendees only see the speakers and other attendees. At virtual events, however, they suddenly see themselves as well all the time. While it may differ with different tools and platforms if you see your own video in the same size as the other participants or only as a small thumbnail somewhere at the side, your focus will remain the same. You are constantly looking at your own video, or glancing over at it while desperately trying to focus on the others speaking.
Who looks away when seeing themselves in a mirror or window reflection? Not many if not nobody. We are drawn to our own image, checking how we look like and what is visible to the others. That is a very unnatural aspect of human interaction which has been introduced with virtual events compared to in-person events, and it is actually quite stressful watching ourselves all day.
Remedy can be found in event platforms that allow you and your audience to create avatars instead of participating with your video camera. While seeing somebody’s facial expression is crucial in some meetings and discussions, there are occasions when you don’t necessarily need to see the other’s real face to make good conversation. Casual networking or virtual campfires are some of those occasions.
By creating your own, customized avatar instead of joining with video, attendees still have a way to feel present, be seen, and engage in the virtual event. Avatar events may even foster networking and interaction for attendees who are a little more introverted, or when the event topic is very sensitive and some participants don’t feel comfortable sharing their opinion when everybody can see and identify them. With the option to choose hair, outfits, and more, it becomes a very personalized experience and makes the event more inclusive and free of (racist) prejudices.
The other alternative to video conferences I’d like to recommend would be audio-only sessions. Whether you use your chosen conference provider and simply let everyone turn off their cameras, or opt for specific tools that are designed for audio-only conversations, don’t include camera, and can be easily integrated. The important thing is rather to actively plan video-free sessions to give our eyes some rest and focus on listening only. Also, sometimes it is such a relief when you don’t have to watch yourself continuously and try to look good, but can show up in sweatpants, chill on your sofa, while still focusing on what is being said. Maybe even better than while being distracted by your own image before.
In the end, to make your virtual event more interactive and engaging, give the audience something they can connect with. Reflect how you enjoy attending a virtual event, and fulfill a need your audience didn’t know they had. This will increase interaction with your brand and company even more, and leads to a loyal and long-lasting customer relationship.
Have a lovely day!