Some people fear virtual events because they are not familiar with anything more complex than Zoom and don’t want to embarrass themselves as tech-noobs, others don’t take virtual events serious enough as in missing out on all the opportunities and advantages online conferences actually offer. Therefore, I’m sharing some common planning mistakes I have witnessed or experienced myself to make you feel more comfortable and prepared to celebrate your next digital event success.
S – Substandard Planning
Virtual event planning is as extensive as you want it to be and depends very much on the event format and what you want to achieve with the event. This said, the time spent on the planning can vary greatly but is not by default more or less as you would invest in offline event planning. It is also as professional as you make it be.
If you only plan a live stream with no other features, don’t be surprised if the networking doesn’t hit off. However, over-engineering your event can also harm your event goals if attendees got lost along the way, were overwhelmed with the features, and therefore not making good use of anything. Leave enough room for creativity and collaboration (if that is part of your event) and don’t kill inspiration and brainstorming with too much structure. All your attendees need is some initial guidance to know how to use the platform or tools at hand, and then let them flow and come up with innovative ideas. Forcing a detailed table and to-dos on how to come up with the next scenario hack can kill any thinking spark right at the beginning – which will result in mediocre results.
Your content can be planned as best as possible but it is of no use when attendees cannot find it. Make your event easy to navigate with a clear menu and shortcuts to important areas or details you want to highlight. Consider what your audience will need the most and make it accessible in one click to get straight to the needed content. It’s always about the journey…make it as seamless as possible.
L – Lousy Communication
I heard hosts say that you lose a lot of communication options at virtual events, while others say virtual event communication is so much more than at in-person events. Interesting, isn’t it? But let’s take a closer look at it.
When you think about events in stages of pre-, during-, and post-event as I categorize it for myself, there is no difference between virtual and in-person experiences. Think back to your live shows and how you started to get in touch with your audience at first. All of them kind of start as virtual attendees before the event and remain in virtual touch afterwards as well. The only stage when communication differs between online and offline gatherings is during the event itself, when some will enter a venue for in-person experience. But even then they are still receiving emails or notifications reminding them of sessions on stage A or to visit booth B.
Keep the event stages in mind and how you can bring your event to your participants using this framework. The actual event – regardless of online or offline – is only the highlight for a crowd that you actually want to become your community. A sense of community is fostered by regular contact, valuable content, before, during, and after the event. Engage with them upfront and build strong connections within the community to have them engage more deeply at the event itself.
The day of event shouldn’t be the start of communication to form relationships, but to strengthen them. Same as the communication doesn’t end after the last session but continues to sustain the community afterwards. Make them enjoy the time spent with a great event experience and look forward to the next one.
O – Overlooking Delicate Details
It has been fairly easy to adapt and distribute your content virtually. But it wasn’t as easy with all event elements, such as networking. While you didn’t need to do much to facilitate a nice chatter in the coffee lounge, it requires more design and planning to achieve a similar human connection online.
Simply adding virtual networking sessions into your agenda and trusting the magic to happen by itself won’t do. In fact, it may be even more awkward for participants to leave those sessions as they don’t have the typical excuse: “Oh, I just saw XY, excuse me for a minute and let me quickly say hello.” Getting away online is much more delicate, especially when the organizer created 1-on-1 rotations and the person you left will be on their own until the roulette connects him/her with the next attendee.
Successful networking also lives from some basic rules. Be approachable. For a virtual conference this translates into great sound, good lighting, and please, a clean camera to actually identify who’s talking to you. Remind speakers as well as attendees to revise their background and be presentable before tuning in. It is such an easy icebreaker for virtual events to simply ask what’s in the background of the other and get the conversation started over that. So better make it interesting.
Also, plan various ways to connect with each other to accommodate different personality types. Extroverts are excited to get in front of their camera, while introverts may prefer to exchange via personal messages, chat, or even anonymously asking questions. Let them decide how to engage, and participation will increase automatically.
However, all of this effort will make or break with your host or presenter. This person plays such an important role that you are better taking a while to think and choose your presenter wisely. Engaging an audience online is not the same as on a stage with the attendees right in front of you. Ask for previous remote experience and find someone who deals with your specific target audience best. Offer training with an experienced online presenter in case they haven’t done it before.
If the presenters are good, they will be able to keep the audience engaged and make it so appealing that the attendees don’t want to miss a part of it. But this requires the presenter to manage the chat and Q&A sessions, all while looking into the camera to keep the direct connection and keeping energy levels high. Therefore, choosing someone who isn’t familiar with virtual formats or not experienced in keeping the attention of your audience for long can have a negative impact on your overall event success.
P – Poor Scheduling
Preparation is not only essential for the presenter but also for the speakers because the transition to virtual requires a different performance. Not scheduling any rehearsal and doing enough testing is a big mistake on the organizer side. Never take a speaker’s word of “yes sure, works fine for me with Zoom calls, so this will be fine too.” Events are not just a Zoom call. Professional online conferences work with easy, yet different to complex broadcasting software. Enough time for testing also gives you the opportunity to choose the best functions, create and change stream layouts, decide when and whether speaker or presentation will be visible, etc.
It is so easy to lose the attention of the audience at virtual events. Check out TV shows that capture viewers attention and learn from them. While it was easier to keep attendees in line with cool venues, the digital event experience is competing with other digital content as well as family or pets at home. There is so much else to do then just focusing on the action on stage, so you have to prevent or at least reduce fatigue to follow the live stream and design the online program in a way that doesn’t let them look away and get distracted.
Allow for enough breaks in between online sessions to give the audience time to check their emails, visit the bathroom, or deal with other urgent business matters before tuning back in with your event. These breaks are also essential for you as the organizer, too, as they give you time for a final soundcheck with the next speakers, make up for delays, or just allow you to take a deep breath yourself.
Breaks don’t necessarily let you lose your viewers attention. Implement funny break screens that keep the audience entertained or play songs to get them in the right mood. If used smartly, the ‘content’ of the breaks can also stimulate new conversations among people and kick-start networking sessions.
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Have an amazing day!