More Keys to Holding a Successful Virtual Event

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I tuned into a live online concert a couple Saturdays ago on Facebook Live, and the flute and guitar duo dazzled. But the other exciting aspect was watching—and participating in—the comments section on the right side. Although I wasn't directly communicating with the people, it kind of felt that way when I responded to the music or played off of one of their comments.
 
When it ended, the flute player reached out to me—I was one of the organizers—and responded to a nice comment I made. And I reached out to a couple commenters that I hadn't spoken with in a while.
 
In an article last week on MarTech Advisor titled We Took Our 500-Person User Conference Virtual in Just 5 Days: Here's What We LearnedDayana Nevo, VP marketing, WalkMe, wrote about the importance of networking. "You need to create engagement throughout the event to make sure that people stay tuned. This includes finding ways to network on social media."
 
Sure enough, in Education Week's Online Summit testimonial section, you get this quote from an educator: "This real-time experience is incredibly helpful to school staff. I learned about new programs and approaches for how to bring and infuse SEL from folks across the country. What a wonderful way to meet people and hear how they are doing SEL."
 
Here are more virtual event tips from Nevo and from a how-to article by Corie Leaman, director of IT Nation Events at ConnectWise, on VentureBeat:
 
Create digestible sessions - Attention spans of virtual attendees is shorter. Nevo recommends sessions between 7-15 minutes. That could be a little too cautious. Studies show that 90 minutes is about the maximum amount of time someone can participate virtually without a break. But yes, in this current climate, people need to eat, clean up, check in with work, shop for toilet paper, walk the dog, interact with and check on loved ones, etc., so build in breaks.  
 
Include a mix of thought leadership, customer and vendor – "Just as at any event, the variety of content is crucial," wrote Nevo. "You need to keep a wide range of audiences engaged, so think about having a balanced combination of different types of content." And promote it that way.
 
Communicate and share details – "Leading up to the event, provide as much information as possible to the user. Make the user experience easy and seamless, that they can watch it from anywhere."
 
Wow moments matter – "Create multiple wow and peak moments throughout the event, including awards, customer promotions and a mix of face-to-face interviews and solo presentations." In a global Saturday Night Seder event I watched last weekend, Broadway star Cynthia Erivo sang and Stephen Schwartz, composer of Wicked and Pippin, played piano. That was a wow, and to reinforce that, celebrities came on after to say, "Wow!"
 
Decide if your content will be livestreamed or pre-recorded. "We've found that a mixture of both is most ideal for us," wrote Leaman. "We livestream our keynotes and our sessions that we anticipate having the most conversation around, and we pre-record other content, playing it either at a dedicated time with live Q&A in the chat room, or making it available strictly on-demand."
 
Take on the distractions. "The distractions... in a virtual event environment are unlike anything typical event planners are used to dealing with," wrote Leaman—addressing people who think an inviting hotel pool (or ocean as we had at BIMS in November) is tough. "...whether it's phone calls and emails, social media, kids, laundry—you name it—that's why it's absolutely crucial to design engagement points throughout each session. Speakers should be coached before going live to make sure they've built in audience polling, places for Q&A with the virtual audience, and even short quizzes."
 
Take polls. "Polling is the most interactive of the various Zoom features," American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians (ACOFP) Executive Director Bob Moore wrote last week after successfully converting their big event to virtual. "The chat function works well, but since not everyone has a question, polling is a nice way to keep all engaged." The Financial Times recently hosted the first in a series of online events, called "Digital Dialogues." And of the 4,600 who watched live, nearly 4,000 people responded to polls during the session.
 
Promote that the content lives on after. Funny, after I retrieved the link for the flute/guitar concert, I left it on for background music. It's nice!

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…