“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect”
The best planning is no match for unexpected events. Be it a virus or a weather storm, there are many ways a conference’s plans could go sideways and throw your event into chaos. A plan to quickly pivot from in-person to virtual can mitigate that risk. Any plan needs to have a clear understanding of the differences in the delivery. Switching between venues is not always intuitive.
Technology is only an enabler. It cannot directly replace the human interaction people get from attending events in person. Some of the biggest challenges event planners face when organizing a virtual event are
It’s challenging enough getting attendees to participate when they are sitting in a conference room. Getting people to engage remotely is even more difficult. When a presenter is not in the room with everyone else, they are competing against the attendee’s attention to social media, colleagues, family, and, yes, pets.
An in-person conference often has a speaker or panel in the front of the room as the focal point of the session. They are either speaking to the audience or engaging in a Q&A sharing wisdom from the trenches. A virtual event has a presenter behind a screen with the inability to read their audience in the same way.
During an in-person event, the speaker or panel is able to respond to the visual and audio cues of the audience. This becomes more challenging during a virtual event with participants being limited by the tools of the platform. If a participant does not feel like they are part of the discussion they will check out and that will negatively influence their likelihood to participate in the future.
The opportunity is not lost for those who are prepared. To succeed, event organizers simply need to adapt to the new venue and format. Here are 5 tips on how to host a successful virtual event:
1. Engage, don’t lecture
A successful virtual event looks to engage the audience frequently. This can be achieved by using simple tools such as a virtual call for hands or through real-time polling of the audience. The most successful virtual sessions have their polling pre-built to follow the script of the presentation. This keeps a consistent presentation flow. In addition, it ensures that participant engagement every 3-5 minutes.
2. Change speakers frequently
While there is no established science regarding how long a speaker can hold someone’s attention, it is best to assume it is short when it comes to virtual events. One method to keep the attention of attendees is to change speakers. The change in tone and voice will draw participants back. It is suggested that if you are presenting slides, changing every 4 slides is optimal.
3. Dedicated room facilitators
Virtual events are not a one-person show. To be successful you need a team. Not only do you need multiple speakers, but a dedicated room facilitator will keep the event flowing. A facilitator is responsible for replying online to participant’s process questions and keeping track of the context of a question for a speaker. The facilitator can also unmute a specific participant to allow for the speaker or panel to directly address a question or comment.
4. Collaborate in breakout sessions
Build in transitions to move participants from speaker/panel sessions into breakout sessions. A breakout session will allow for further engagement where individuals are able to focus on a specific problem or topic. To be most effective, keep this time-boxed with a clear objective. Additionally, keeping breakout sessions limited to 10-15 participants allows for optimal group dynamics and engagement.
5. Manage centrally, execute remotely
Communication is a critical element of a successful virtual event. For this, the event organizers should rely on a centralized schedule that is able to update sessions in real-time. The ability of participants to quickly see what has changed and is coming up will ensure that they get into the virtual sessions they want to attend.