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Innovate in Your Events, and You’ll Be Rewarded – Now and Later on

We’re often told to think outside of the box. But a magician and a theater in Los Angeles decided to think about the box and have created a hit event. And it might just have a connection to our events.
In a new online show called The Present by magician Heider Guimaraes, ticket holders are mailed a box with surprise contents that they are directed not to open until their Zoom show starts. “How do you reach out of the computer and into the audience?” asked Matt Shakman, artistic director of the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, where the show sold out a recent extension in 26 minutes and is now going into July. “The idea would be to hold something in your hand and be part of the process. That’s how you make Zoom as interesting as a black box theater.” (The quotes are from a Washington Post article Sunday.)
I was reminded of the show when I saw this suggestion today from a Higher Logic post“Work fun swag into your [virtual event] plans. If you have the budget, you might be able to differentiate yourself and bring a little joy to attendees during a tough time by still including conference swag.”
This is a time to innovate—and if it’s good, it will carry forward to our new normal. Here are more virtual event suggestions that I’ve come across recently:
Facilitate learning over everything else. I’ve quoted Jeffrey Cufaude from his Idea Architects site before. In a recent post, he wrote that “It is too easy for presenters or facilitators to instead unintentionally privilege those learning formats and teaching techniques with which they are most comfortable, regardless of their potential appropriateness for participants.” Just as we put the customer first in our product thinking, he wants presenters to put their audience first in virtual presentation thinking. “Great content, poorly presented, sucks the life out of participants,” he added.
Make it easier for participants to engage. Seeing a steady stream of comments should be one of the advantages of a virtual event. Cufaude likes to “include short video segments featuring individuals with different backgrounds or perspectives sharing a quick case study or featuring a brief Q&A.” He also advocates using the poll function to assess learning. “Polls can be used effectively in several places: at the start as a ‘pre-test,’ throughout the webinar to assess needs or facilitate content application, and/or at the end as a review. Announce a response rate goal to prod recalcitrant folks to engage.”
Go further. Added Heather McNair, chief community officer for Higher Logic: “Insert polls, quizzes, audience participation and fun wherever you can. Use panel discussions, interviews and cameras so people aren’t just looking at presentations and hearing one person’s voice.”
Make sure the presenters get involved in the online discussions before and after their sessions. “This extra contact with experts is a huge value-add for the attendees,” McNair wrote. “Consider making it part of their speaker agreement. Invite speakers to do AMAs (ask-me-anything). Ask a couple of other subject matter experts to help your presenter field questions and keep conversation flowing. Also, have a couple of attendees at the ready with seed questions to get conversation started. If you have a live webinar, use the questions from your chat log that you didn’t get to so you can seed conversation in your community afterward.”
Share all follow-up resources in the community. “This way, you can continue to engage attendees even after your event ends,” said Kaila Timmons, Higher Logic’s community manager, strategic services. “They can discuss ideas with each other, ask for notes on sessions they couldn’t attend, and find all presentation materials in one place. Ask the speakers to share additional resources in the resource library that complement their presentation.”
“Going forward, the power of coupling a live event with a better built-out virtual experience is what we’re all about,” said Rick McConnell, president of North America for Informa Markets, in an article in Access Intelligence’s Folio: last week. “It’s a really difficult time to be in live events, as we all know. But once the dust settles, you’re going to have a much richer community connection through virtual vehicles coupled with a really great live event where it all culminates. That is the way the business is going to run in the future.”