Over the break I watched a live virtual event interview with the incredible cast of the new film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom starring Viola Davis. Tragically, it became the last film for Chadwick Boseman, and one in which he may receive a posthumous Oscar nomination for his heartbreaking performamce.
The moderator was an esteemed curator of a museum. At the beginning, however, she went into much-too-lengthy introductions of the many actors. If not for the promise of what was to come, I fear she would have lost many viewers—perhaps they did anyway. I recall this now because I’m reading a virtual event survey called the 2020 Redback Report. In it, they specifically advise to tell your moderator to avoid long bios in the introduction. Focus on “what that presenter will be bringing to the session, rather than where they have worked.”
This tidbit is also important because according to the report, 86% of respondents say they have abandoned a virtual event early—up from 66% a year earlier. So it would seem crucial that the early pace of your events moves briskly and gets to the point.
Here are more takeouts from this event report.
Schedule early in the week… Tuesday is their favorite day to attend digital events, nominated by one in three respondents (32%), closely followed by Wednesday (29%). These two days are almost twice as popular as the next most popular day—which is actually Friday, with 17%. Thursday went from 27% last year to 8% this year. Maybe it becomes just too packed in our remote worlds.
…And early in the day. The time of day that respondents prefer to attend an online event is mid-morning, cited by two in five respondents (39%), followed by mid-afternoon (23%). Any other time in the morning ran third (15%), beating out lunchtime, which was preferred by just 13%. “I’m able to focus more easily and retain information in the mornings,” said one respondent. The problem for our east coast events is that mid-morning makes it pretty early for west coast people.
Book more than one presenter. According to this study, single-presenter events are declining in popularity, with close to half of us preferring two or more voices. Almost three-fourths of the respondents prefer a format with multiple people speaking. Only 18% prefer a single speaker. Interactive audience Q&As are also popular.
Talk with your moderator. In addition to shortening the intros, Redback recommends making sure that your moderator fully understands what the presenter(s) is presenting ahead of time. “You don’t need to know the topic in detail, but you should understand it at a high level.” If possible have the moderator and presenter speak to each other before. But “don’t script it,” they warn. “Have prepared questions that segue into each topic of the presentation, but keep the event free-flowing.”
Be clear in your marketing for the event. Remind attendees why they signed up for an event—looking at the email they responded to could help here—because the most common reason to leave a virtual event early is that it was “not what I signed up for.” Another big reason is when presenters are “too salesy and not educational enough.” Being live does seem to have an advantage as live viewing is increasing. More than four in five respondents (83%) attend at least half of all digital events live rather than on demand—up from 64% who did so in 2019. So they recommend that even when you pre-record a talk, presenting it first at a specific time is best, with at least a live Q&A if possible.
Get the sound right. “If you take one thing away from this year’s Redback Report, make it the importance of crystal clear sound,” they write. Besides the obvious, this is important because many people will switch to audio only as they do other things. Asked what’s most important for a digital event, 63% said audio quality while only 33% said video clarity.
Look for enthusiasm. Asked what makes a virtual event great, 49% of respondents said when “presenters are enthusiastic and engaging. Three in four respondents (74%) said passion and good online delivery were essential qualities in a great presenter—well ahead of being knowledgeable about the content (22%). To improve events, 51% said “being able to access the presenter after the event in an online forum” and almost a third said smoother technology.
This particular report, which you can download here, did mostly stay away from the ability to connect and interact with your colleagues. We will address that another day.