In the inaugural post in this series, I made the case that while everyone is rushing to launch digital events during this indefinite in-person vacuum we're experiencing, content, which everyone agrees is the most critical element of any event, digital or otherwise, is being ignored. I also included this warning:
"If you choose to put your face-to-face content online without first modifying it for digital consumption and the unique challenges the digital environment presents, you may do irreparable harm to your event, your brand and your reputation."
No other element will matter more to your digital audience and their experience than relevant, meaningful and outcome-oriented content, provided you do it right.
Following is a task list based on decades of research for how to efficiently and effectively analyze, design and market quality content for digital events.
Analyze the Event Goals
Start by identifying a goal, challenge or problem you're interested in addressing. I strongly suggest you solicit input from your stakeholders and your target audience via interviews, surveys, etc., as opposed to making an educated guess. Guessing is no match for sound, data-based decision making.
Only content that's relevant to this goal, challenge or problem should be included in your event. Nothing more. Nothing less.
This crucial, initial phase should answer the following questions:
- What are the business goals and objectives for your event?
- Who is your target audience and what are their characteristics?
- What are your participants' goals and objectives for the event?
- What knowledge or skills do your participants already have?
- What knowledge or skills do your participants need to know?
- How will you determine the success of your business and your participants?
Create Your Content Plan
Synthesize the information you collected during the analysis phase and use it to design your event program. The audience and business goals should directly inform the content strategy. Make sure the content addresses all needs, wants and expectations of the attendees.
The design phase is also where you outline the most efficient and effective sequence for that content, and create interactive activities, exercises, quizzes, knowledge checks, polling questions, etc.
More than your content, these tools and techniques determine the quality and quantity of participant engagement, retention rates, and most importantly, the transfer of any new knowledge and skills back to the job, resulting in some measure of individual or organizational improvement. This is the ultimate goal of any event, digital or otherwise.
Finally, you need to consider your content mediums and how you will balance text, video, images, etc. to keep the audience engaged. This is also where you develop and test alternative approaches, pilot your program and address any outstanding issues before implementation.
The design phase is often overlooked because it's beyond the event professional's expertise. However, it contributes more to meeting and exceeding participant expectations than any other phase.
Promotional content should be considered part of your overall content strategy, not independent of it.
Create a short event description for the website that covers the specific objectives and includes relevant information on the speakers. Prospective participants want to know what specifically qualifies your presenter to address this issue. Keep this bio brief and on topic.
It is also helpful for managing expectations to identify the content level (beginner, intermediate or advanced) and what job roles might benefit most from attending. If there's any prerequisite knowledge that would be helpful, mention this or provide a resource to help potential participants get up to speed.
Consider asking the event speakers to record brief promotional videos on why they are looking forward to the event and what they plan to cover in their sessions. The videos should reference the event description, participant objectives and their relevant background. At the same time, have them solicit questions about the event and its content from prospective participants. Use any feedback received to refine and customize your content.
Share these videos and a registration link on social media. Facebook and Twitter are still the most commonly used events industry platforms. Make sure you know where your audience resides online and meet them there.
As this task list shows, there's much more involved in creating compelling digital content than simply moving it online. It's not easy, but it's not all that hard either if you follow a tried-and-true content development process. A standardized process will result in higher quality content, more satisfied participants and, of the greatest importance to your stakeholders, more effective digital events.
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 first in a series on how to improve your virtual content