Here are some key points to guide you in designing your virtual event structure and shape.
Let Them Know What to Expect
Create excitement and anticipation prior to the event by communicating what your audience can expect to experience both in content and format of the event. A great way to set them up for success is with ‘Know Before You Go’ documents and videos. Assume that they are unfamiliar with the platform and guide them every step of the way. Give attendees time to orient themselves with the platform. We suggest opening the platform early for people to come in and look around, but be clear what time you are going to start the formal event and then start on time. Offer a help desk or phone/email that people can contact if they are having tech issues. Don’t make it more complicated than it has to be. Simplicity is key.
Set The Pace
Kick off your event with a welcome message that gives everyone the lay of the land with some navigation tips and housekeeping notes. Our instinct is to layer a program with content and activities so that people will stay engaged but too much of a good thing could just as easily have the opposite effect. You need to “let it land” – give people space and time between activities to absorb what just happened and move onto the next. Whether you achieve this by having an emcee offering a recap of what they just heard, adding some levity to the space or even doing some housekeeping notes, just give your content a minute to sink in and then move on. Designing your virtual event structure and shape should be easy.
Give Them a Break
Just like a live event, attendees in a virtual event need time to move from one space to another, especially if there are multiple options. In most cases, 5 min between sessions is reasonable. That being said you still need to build in formal breaks. Depending on the length and format of your event you may need to build in time for bio breaks, refreshing coffee or even grabbing lunch. During these scheduled break times you can offer space for open networking or perhaps have a musician play or even have fun with doing a 7th Inning Stretch style break where you have someone lead an energy boosting physical activity or 30 second dance party. Whatever you do, it should be simple and optional so as not to make people feel like they are missing out just because they stepped away to use the facilities or make a sandwich.
Create Shared Experiences
Whether your event is all about business or just a social gathering; you are creating a shared experience for everyone in attendance. Now more than ever the majority of our contact with others is happening in the virtual space, so it is important to create opportunities for people to connect authentically. Creating spaces and opportunities within virtual events for people to network, share ideas, play and collaborate is essential. With the right virtual event structure and shape, deep connections can occur.
Capture and Keep Their Attention
Unlike a live event where you can move around and have organic conversations with people, a virtual event is rather static by nature. According to Microsoft the average attention span of digital consumers is about 8 seconds. That need for instant gratification and quick shift into boredom is why it is so crucial to keep your agenda interesting and filled with lots of variety. Bite sized pieces of content are best. We suggest a shift in focus every 10 to 16 min with added visual stimulation at least every 5 min. By adding powerpoint slides with graphics to break up talking heads and encourage attendees to participate in live chats and post questions during a presentation you are keeping their minds engaged and active. Include interactive games and incentives with prizes during the breaks to keep the attention of your audience. One excellent way to break the monotony of sitting through a virtual event is to include movement; layering in exercise options like yoga, stretching and dancing will get the attendees blood moving and increase their concentration when the sessions return.
The Why of Event Design
Event design, whether it’s live, virtual or hybrid, comes down to one key question…WHY? Why are these people coming together? If you know the answer to that question then it is through that lens that everything must be viewed when designing your event. It sounds easy but for you to truly engage an audience, especially in a virtual environment, you need to be clear and consistent with your core purpose and message. If they don’t know why they are there or feel that there is value for them, your attendees will tune out and the experience will not be a positive one.
A Virtual Company BBQ
For example, let’s say your company always has a big staff BBQ in June and you are trying to think about what that might look like this year. Think about why this annual event happens and what it means. Is it because it’s tradition and you always throw a party in June? OR is there a deeper reason?? Is it about having fun together, about giving the social committee something to do or is it just an excuse for Jim to bring out the guitar and show off? Whatever the reason it’s become tradition you need to think about why you want to continue the tradition this year. What is at the heart of the purpose? Is it because this has been an exceptionally challenging year and your team has stepped up and you want to show your appreciation? OR Is team morale at a low and you want to foster some camaraderie, fun and lift the spirits of your team? OR Have you been thriving as a company despite the state of things and you just want to celebrate?
The Deeper Purpose
All of these reasons are much richer and more engaging than “it’s June and we always do a BBQ in June”. Focusing on the deeper purpose will give you much more to work with in shaping your event. Maybe this year it can’t be the tented BBQ in the office parking lot that it has always been, but maybe it’s baskets of BBQ necessities sent to everyone to enjoy with their families at home with a handwritten note of appreciation and a group Zoom cocktail hour. When selecting the right virtual event structure and shape, your event can be very successful. Maybe it’s a distanced drive-in movie night with a custom pre-recorded message played before the film that goes to the heart of the WHY. Whatever it is, the important thing is that you use that core purpose and message as the impetus for all your event design decisions. If you do that it won’t matter that this year it was different it will be a new and memorable shared experience that had meaning and connection.
Suddenly we find ourselves working differently. We went from commuting to the office on a regular basis, to commuting to the dining room table with our fuzzy slippers on. No longer are we grabbing a quick chat with our work colleagues by the water cooler or sitting around a table batting ideas around. Sure, we stay in contact via email, phone and on Zoom, but it’s not the same. In this e-book we hope to share some thoughts, insights and tools to bridge the virtual divide, to enhance engagement through these two dimensional mediums, and to make teams feel connected and valued again. Dropping a box of donuts on the counter in the lunchroom and sending a company-wide email no longer checks those boxes. It will take some thought and effort to bring the hearts and minds together but we promise you it will be worth it
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