Even before we started taking the necessary steps of social distancing by fully telecommuting, work was trending virtual. Zoom meetings were commonplace and webinars occurred regularly, but the current state of things has resulted in an even fuller reliance on digital methods of communication.
The in-person meetings we used to depend on to build connections are simply not an option. For now, learning, networking and socializing can primarily only happen online. How do we recreate those personal connections inherent to live experiences?
The challenges associated with producing a successful virtual event haven’t changed, but they’ve been amplified. As we continue to connect through screens, it will take something special to make participants absorb and engage with longer-form events. I’d like to share a few ideas I’ve picked up from association members and colleagues as you plan your next meetings in virtual settings.
1. Tell a Story
Even after a long day in front of a computer, many of us settle in for a night of movies or television. Why? Because this type of entertainment actively engages our attention using narrative.
“Virtual events are a really interesting hybrid of making movies or TV shows and in-person interactions,” says Sarah Shewey CEO and founder of virtual events producer Happily. “Anyone who’s trying to do virtual events now needs to understand that storytelling is the most important place to start.”
During in-person meetings, audience members are more likely to stay focused due a sense of politeness. We’ve all noticed ourselves losing attention in the virtual world. It takes something special to keep your audience engaged, so embrace all of the options the internet provides when creating a virtual event.
Some of the most engaging meetings play with the standard format and encouraged us to think creatively. Shewey advises to begin planning by writing a script to establish your narrative. Then take it to a more captivating level— maybe go nonlinear like an independent filmmaker might, surprising your audience with a finale in the middle of the presentation. Use the power of memes to grab attention. Remember, Shewey says, “You’re stepping into the wild world of the internet, so you’re going to be rewarded when you do things a little bit off kilter.”
2. Set the Scene
Once your meeting “script” is written, consult with your team to discuss which platform will help you deliver that particular narrative. Different virtual event offerings will have special features that will enable your ideas. But don’t get hung up on the technical aspects of the platform, advises Will Curran, founder of Endless Events.
The platform is the virtual equivalent of a venue in real life, so think about it more in terms of the atmosphere it can create. Try to avoid simply creating a virtual representation of what the event would have looked like in real life. Instead, consider the ultimate goals of your meeting.
3. Define the Result
“Get strategic,” Curran says, “and ask what you really want to do with your event. Why do you need it?” Then ask the tougher questions: “Is this content even worth showing? Are people going to sit through this like before?”
By keeping the end goal of meetings in mind and thinking creatively, we can find new ways to facilitate the digital interactions that will undoubtedly play an increasing role in this evolving virtual event landscape.
Joe Lloyd is senior director of communications at AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association. AVIXA represents the $247 billion global commercial audiovisual and live events industries and produces InfoComm trade shows around the world. For more information, visit avixa.org. Technology writer Kirsten Nelson contributed to this article.