There is probably nobody that needs to be convinced of the benefits of virtual events more than the attendees themselves. Your members are likely used to attending conferences and events in-person, and are accustomed to the way things have always been. Now, in a world where things are exactly the opposite as they’ve always been, it has become all the more important to prove value to your members when promoting and executing a virtual conference. Read below for some thoughts on how to best serve your attendees virtually.
1) Show the Benefits of Attending
The first step to pulling off a virtual conference setting is communicating the benefits of attending the event. First, answer why you are meeting. Work with the stakeholders of your event to determine this and then communicate the message clearly and consistently to your audience. Be sure to include:
- Clear Objectives and Learning Outcomes: Make it obvious to the attendee why they are attending the event and what they will take away. Outline the information they will gain and how this will give them a competitive edge over those who do not attend.
- Collaboration: Make your event the single event attendees need right now. Consider partnering with like-minded or sister organizations to make your content and data the most relevant and valuable it can be.
- Peer Testimonials: Tap into your meeting stakeholders. Look to those who make up your organization and are working with you to produce the event. A message from your event chair or a board member can go a long way for those on the fence about attending.
Once you prove the benefits of your event and have your attendees, your focus needs to shift to execution. The success of virtual events comes down to how well you can engage your attendees through your format, design and content.
2) Tips to Engaging Your Audience
Design a schedule that works: One of the first things a potential attendee will do when deciding whether to invest their time and money into a virtual conference is review the schedule. This may be the first impression they get of your event and will determine their experience, so it is key this schedule is attractive and inviting. Below are some things to consider that may seem simple, but are easy to overlook.
- Start Time: Are you taking the different time zones of your audience into account? A 10 a.m. ET start time sounds good but is awfully early for the west coast attendees. Be sure to think through your conference times.
- Breaks: Even though your attendees are watching from their own locations it is still important to give enough time for meals and a general screen-time break. Offer suggestions to relieve some of the screen-time fatigue like a “stretch” or “refuel” break.
- Session Lengths: This will vary depending on your program content and audience, but do consider offering different session lengths. Not everything needs to be a full hour, while some things may warrant more time than that. Is it a robust panel discussion on a hot topic that will offer participant Q&A? Or a straight-forward lecture providing high level takeaways? Plan your session length accordingly.
- Flexibility: Design a schedule that accommodates your content while not overly consuming your audience. Virtual conferences are thought to offer more flexibility, which is something you need to consider while putting yours together.
Take advantage of technology features: Online platforms and tools at every price point are available now more than ever before. Think about your content and decide how you can incorporate these new tools to create the most engaging atmosphere possible. Here are a few basic ideas to get started:
- Polls: This is an easy engagement tool to slip into any presentation. Not only does it make the attendee feel like they are contributing, but it can also be used for the speaker to gain some insight into who is attending their session and what they are hoping to learn.
- Q&A: It may seem like a no-brainer, but the ability for attendees to have meaningful Q&A is very important to a virtual event. The lack of “in-personness” can be mitigated with engagement like this. Make sure it is easy to use and instructions are communicated at the beginning of each session. Identify someone to manage the Q&A to ensure a seamless interaction.
- Cameras: This will again depend on the content and objectives of the session, but consider creating opportunities where it is appropriate for attendees to see one another. This can help build a sense of community for your virtual events, providing a sort of networking that attendees are accustomed to in person.
- Chats: Enabling the chat function for your session is another great way to engage attendees. It is important to note the Q&A and chat functions should be two independent features used for their respective purpose. The attendee should have the ability to turn the chat function off if they wish as it can sometimes distract from the presentation.
This is the second part of our blog series on virtual events. To read the first post, follow this link: Setting Your Speakers Up for Virtual Success: 10 Tips