The business of event marketing hasn’t changed that much since going online. You still need to create a website, send emails, share content and engage attendees before, during and after the event. The whole physical setup and cleanup are gone, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But that makes the engagement part a bit more complicated. When someone is at a real-life event, their attention is turned towards the content of the event. When they’re at home, you are competing with their environment. So the question is: how do you keep people engaged in the era of virtual conferences?
And I’m not talking about the typical social media posting, email marketing, and other content distribution strategies that you would do anyway for a real-life event. You can find hundreds of articles out there reminding you how to do those things. No, I’m talking about building unique event experiences that will keep people glued to their screen. So, let’s dive in.
Step 1: Format
If you’ve ever attended a webinar, you know there are few things as boring. It usually involves a faceless speaker talking over text slides to a muted audience. It’s even worse when the speaker only reads what is on the slides. Puts me right to sleep. That’s why many people who register to webinars actually don’t attend. Instead, they wait for the recording to come in their email, open it and skip to the part they’re interested in. So here is a simple rule when choosing a format for your virtual event: create an anti-webinar.
Skip Theory and Get to Action
Most webinars focus on providing viewers with loads of knowledge about a field or topic. It’s like a classroom for adults, where knowledge is explained in abstract terms. But we know that humans are much more engaged when they get to *experience* knowledge. So forget about the theory, and focus on the action. Ask your speakers to do a demonstration of whatever it is they want to teach. If you want to make sure your viewers have the knowledge needed to understand the demo, give them some materials to review before the event. But don’t make the speakers go over that knowledge live during the conference.
If there is no demo to show, then ask your speakers to tell a story that showcases the knowledge in action. Here is for example one of the most popular TED talks of all time. See how the speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, focuses on sharing anecdotes to make his points:
So no matter how long the event, curate the content so that it only focuses on demos and anecdotes.
Having valuable content is a great first step, but it’s not all. Production matters too. It’s true that some of the most viewed videos are made by teenagers with a smartphone and no editing skills. But those are often a one-time thing. If you want to get consistent attendance to your virtual events, you’ll have to make sure they’re entertaining to watch.
First, you’ll want the audio and video streaming quality to be excellent. Don’t let your speakers use their 10-year-old webcam or their computer audio for their talk. Instead, send them recording kits with professional microphone, camera, lights and setup instructions.
And it’s not because your event isn’t IRL that you don’t need an AV team. Like in a real-life event, you’ll want to make sure you have someone dedicated to transitioning content throughout the event. That includes playing music between speakers, starting videos at the right time, and keeping the audience entertained. You can even go as far as playing animations and noises that match the content of a talk. The founder of RadioLab, Jad Abumrad, gave a TED talk during the COVID-19 pandemic. The production quality of the talk is so high, you can’t look away:
But streaming quality is not all, you’ll also want supporting platforms to be. Make sure your website is top-notch, works well on mobile devices, and is fun to interact with. Have your designers review your speakers’ presentation material and redesign them if needed. Yes for free, it will be worth it. Before the event, have your speakers record teasers of their talks and share them on your social channels. During and after the event, create short videos of fun or breathtaking moments and share those. Make sure every interaction the public has with your virtual event is valuable in some ways. So don’t overshare either.
Step 2: Interactivity
The other way to make your virtual conference stand out is by making it interactive. Remember webinars? They’re all about having speakers talk and viewers remain silent throughout. Sometimes they let you submit written questions. And hearing the speaker read your question aloud becomes the most stimulating part of the whole thing. So, let’s do the opposite of that.
Let ‘Em Speak!
The same way you’d give attendees a microphone to ask a question at the end of a real-life talk, you can give them permission to speak during a virtual event. Use a conference software that lets you unmute participants at will, like Zoom. And instead of only dedicating 20% of each talk to Q&A, make it 50/50. Let more viewers interact with the speaker. Or even, have them “apply” to be part of the Q&A, giving them a reason to be more engaged so they get selected.
But interactivity goes beyond the talk themselves. Create environments where participants can interact like they would during a face-to-face event. Give them “virtual rooms” where a small number of them can meet and discuss a presentation they saw. Zoom, again, offers such rooms where you can split participants in smaller groups to discuss. (I promise, this post is not sponsored by Zoom, I don’t even have a Zoom account). You can go even further: create a ChatRoulette for your attendees, where they get matched with other participants for short 1-on-1 calls. A sort of virtual professional speed dating if you will. The point is: give your attendees several options to share, instead of just consume content.
Build Your Squad
Your event being over doesn’t mean your work is over. You want to keep your audience engaged so they come to the next event, or whatever your goal is.
Now that you have all this AV gear you acquired to make your event happen, use it to keep the momentum. Create a weekly podcast where you invite attendees to discuss content from the past event or things they’d want to see in the future. Turn some of these podcast interviews into blogs that you share on your website. Enable easy ways for people to comment on all these pieces of content and interact with each other. Do Instagram lives with a recap from the event and see how people react. In short, use material from the event to keep the community engaged.
There are dozens of talented creators on the Gravitr platform that can help you make your dream virtual events come to life. Check out pricing and join the platform so we can help you build it in no time. Who knows, maybe we’ll be creating the next TED together.