Welcoming the Virtual Attendee
In part one of this series on creating content for digital events, I outlined the tasks you should complete before your event. Now that you’ve followed a standardized process for analyzing, designing and developing more compelling content, you’re ready to implement your program. But your content challenge isn’t over. It simply shifts now to content delivery.
The greatest challenge with digital content delivery isn’t the content, it’s the digital environment itself. How do you engage folks during your digital event? How do you deliver value? How do you minimize distractions and keep participants motivated?
The good news is that by following the standardized process outlined in part one, you’re in a much better position to address these questions. Still, the digital environment presents unique challenges you need to address as well.
The Status Quo
Today’s digital event experience is pretty pathetic. Generally speaking: They’re poorly marketed. No one really knows what to expect. They overpromise, under-deliver and often skirt over crucial or complex topics.
Moderators are lousy at moderating. They ask generic questions that elicit generic answers and spend too little or too much time on a topic. Presenters certainly share responsibility for generic answers, but they bare sole responsibility for not understanding their audience’s needs and customizing their content accordingly.
But the worst thing is when you ask participants what their key takeaways were immediately following an event, and they struggle to answer. That speaks volumes about your content, the delivery and ultimately, the value of your digital event.
All those anecdotal comments you receive like "great job," "loved the speaker" and "thank you" are great, but they’re no substitute for actual outcome data. When it comes to your digital events, if you’re not determining the impact on individual or organizational performance, you can’t say with any certainty whether you’ve delivered any value at all.
Delivering an Exceptional Experience
There is a better way. Meeting professionals looking to wow attendees must prioritize content delivery during the planning process and be open to trying new tactics. Adopting best practices will make it easier to create a standout event and rise above all the noise that’s out there competing for your audience’s attention. Following are some top tips to consider.
- Use an MC/moderator/facilitator. Ideally, you want someone who’s very experienced or a certified professional. Many event professionals fancy themselves good moderators or facilitators, but professional moderators and facilitators are simply more efficient and effective at leading conversations, especially virtual ones. There’s often a cost to hiring a professional but it’s likely less than the cost to your brand and your reputation of a bad digital event experience. Alternatively, you can have one or more of your internal staff get certified. There are good programs out there for both face-to-face and online moderation/facilitation. For those of you hosting multiple digital events or who want to elevate your digital game, consider using a professional producer. You need to start thinking of yourself as a media channel now because you are, you just don’t know it.
- Set the right tone. Be sure to start and end on time and move deliberately through your agenda. Out of respect for your audience, always allow time for Q&A.
- Briefly cover any housekeeping issues. Before the first session kicks off, take a few minutes to review platform navigation, sponsor information, etc. Then, review the event description, objectives and presenter bios.
- Consider starting with a polling question. This can help you and the presenter better understand who is attending and what their needs are. The question should be fairly straightforward, simple to respond to and easy to interpret. Avoid too many response choices. This is just a quick pulse check.
- Don’t let your virtual platform get in the way. This is not about the tool you’re using to deliver content; it’s about you delivering content using a tool. During rehearsals, you should familiarize yourself with your platform in order to deliver a seamless experience. You should also know what to do in case of a technical glitch. Your team should anticipate all possible scenarios and prepare for them accordingly.
- Use the platform features wisely. This includes chat, Q&A, breakout rooms, etc. The features you utilize should have been identified during the design phase and rehearsed during the development phase. Don’t get carried away with all your platform’s bells and whistles. If you want to use some of the lesser-known or rarely used features, introduce them sparingly over several sessions and allow time for your audience to acclimate to them. Make sure to focus on your content delivery, not the delivery tool and make it as easy as possible for your audience to participate.
Aside from content, the quality and quantity of participant engagement is the most critical element to manage — and it’s even more critical for digital events.
Experts suggest including at least one interactive element every three to five minutes. Engagement, of course, comes in many forms. It could be more polling, a suggestion or reminder to submit questions in the Q&A feature, soliciting responses to a posed question in the chat feature, etc. This is where you and your presenter can get creative. There are dozens of opportunities for engagement in a typical event. Granted, these interactions take time away from a presentation. However, they also contribute to a more engaged and informed participant who is likely to come back for more.
Here are some suggestions for increasing participant retention and application rates:
- Make your content as relevant as possible. Nothing kills retention faster than meaningless information. Remember your event goals, objectives and your participants' needs.
- Keep it clear and concise. Tell participants what you’re going to say, say it and then remind them you said it. I cannot repeat this enough.
- Break content into small, bite-sized pieces. Each content chunk should be covered and consumed in three to five minutes. Notice how this syncs up with engagement opportunities; that’s no coincidence. Be sure to use storytelling, images, video and other media to complement text.
- Summarize key takeaways. This should be done before, during, at the conclusion of the event and in follow-up communications. Repetition is key to retention.
- Get feedback. Encourage participants to share key takeaways, action steps or follow-up questions in the chat feature or elsewhere at the end of the event. Don’t miss this opportunity to tap into the wisdom of the crowd. You’ll be surprised by the depth and breadth of ideas generated, and might get some great fodder for future events.
- Leverage Q&A time. If you get to the end of your event and there are no substantive questions, there’s something wrong with your content. Good content raises more questions, not less. Remind folks at the beginning and throughout the event to submit their questions in advance. It's also a good idea to prepare some logical follow-up questions in advance or write down any that come up during the event.
- Finally, don’t bite off too much. We overwhelm participants with too many programming choices during in-person events. The same tendency is true for digital events. Good content and the conversations they stimulate need time to breathe, like a fine wine. Participants need time to listen, process, reflect and respond to what they’re hearing. Allow for that to happen and your participants will walk away with more insights and more value.
John Nawn is the founder and CEO of The Perfect Meeting, an experiential design firm focused on optimizing the attendee experience and meeting outcomes. This piece is the second in a series on how to improve your virtual content. For a free digital content audit, email [email protected]