5 Mistakes You Must Avoid As You Transition To Virtual Events
By Andrew Peters
Over the last 6 weeks, most publicly traded companies in America (and around the world) have had to re-think how they execute the live events they had planned.
The first quarter of any year is full of sales kickoffs, analyst events, and a myriad of other corporate parades of pomp and circumstance meant to rally the troops and ignite the market in optimism. But as the world has shuttered its doors to basically all travel and most of America is still under a ‘Shelter-In-Place’ directive, many executives have issued orders to their events teams to “make it virtual.”
We should know, as we’ve fielded a number of those calls from our clients, and assisted many teams in considering a move to virtual events. So as you and your team are being hard-pressed to get that EMEA Customer Conversations kickoff back on the books, please consider NOT making the following five mistakes.
Your virtual attendees will be physically grateful.
“Just make it virtual.”
1. “Our meeting was scheduled Tuesday, from 9am-5pm, so our virtual event will be Tuesday, 9am-5pm.”
Never ever forget the famed Peter Parker Principle: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This proverb, popularized by the Spider-Man comic books but found in sources as far-flung as the Bible and popular French Revolution writings, gives you everything you need to remember as you pivot to a virtual event. Just because you could technically subject your attendees to an all-day virtual Zoom-a-thon by no means suggests you should make that decision. The format of a live event has a whole trope of unwritten rules for how we as humans engage with one another, and most of those elements fly out the proverbial window like Spiderman’s web when you switch to virtual. Never, ever start your virtual event planning by copying and pasting your live event schedule. Pinky promise?
Never, ever start your virtual event planning by copying and pasting your live event schedule.
2. “I’m feeling frisky, so I’ll compete for my attendee’s attention against the world wide web of communication.”
How much time do you spend on the internet each day? Do you even think about it as “the internet” anymore? Probably not. The latest Digital 2019 report, from Hootsuite and We Are Social, shows we’re spending on average 6 hours and 42 minutes online each day. So we are pro’s at surfing the web, which means the virtual event you’re hosting in a browser tab at the top of someone’s Chrome or Firefox browser is only one of MANY open tabs at any given time. Have you ever tried to win against a Human Fails compilation on Youtube? It’s virtually impossible (heh heh). At a minimum, that means the information you’re delivering must not be available elsewhere on the web or on your website. The wrath of the Gods will befall any one who repurposes existing info delivered on their email blast last week as must-see virtual event content this week.
The information you’re delivering must not be available elsewhere on the web or on your website.
3. Use the same ‘event’ yardstick for measuring the success (or failure) of your virtual event.
Pop Quiz: Given the choice between a lightsaber and a wooden club, which would you choose in a battle against a Sith Lord like Darth Vader? A seasoned nerd would understand there’s no actual choice there. So why in the world would you take a wooden club of metrics into a Galactic-sized opportunity for measurement during a virtual event? Physical events have physical limitations (hang on for the science here) because we’re physical beings. We require a certain amount of space, seating, food, peanut M&M’s, etc. So we tend to measure success for physical events in size or attendee title or profile. Virtual events can offer way more sophisticated measurements, such as Zoom’s feature called “attention tracking” that identifies whether participants have clicked away from the active Zoom window for more than 30 seconds. Or real-time engagement in polls, breakout rooms, or digital reactions like raised hands, clapping, etc. Take the time to learn the engagement tools, then download the data post event to capture a better picture of the engagement during your virtual event.
Virtual events can offer way more sophisticated measurements of success.
4. Treat virtual event time the same as live event time.
While veterinary science has proved the term “dog years” is no longer supportable, the belief is still prevalent that 1 human year is equivalent to roughly 7 dog years. So if your furry friend just celebrated his 10th birthday, you’ve got a septuagenarian as a housemate. In an amazing coincidence, you should consider virtual event time on a similar scale. Every minute your virtual presenter monologues as they share their slide ware is roughly equivalent to 6-7 minutes in a live meeting. That means 10 minutes virtually translates to an hour sitting in that meeting room on campus, and everyone knows meetings always last an hour, whether they need to or not. In all seriousness, acknowledging the lack of human interaction decreases attention span and allowing for more frequent breaks and shorter, focused bursts of pertinent content will ensure your virtual attendees stay engaged for longer on average over the course of your virtual event.
5. Over-script the content and underdeliver the authenticity.
Since we were gathered around fires telling stories to ensure our species survival, humanity has deployed unique methods to convey and preserve information we find useful. I still thank Dr. Vogel and my Comms 135 class freshman year for introducing me to Marshall McLuhan. Born in 1911 and passing in 1980, McLuhan had no opportunity to experience the internet in its current iteration, but you’ve almost certainly heard his famous phrase, “The medium is the message.” This idea that the medium through which we choose to communicate holds as much, if not more, value than the message itself is widely accepted yet often forgotten. Your virtual event is a vastly different medium than a live event, and one of things it inherently lacks is authentic human connection, built through body language and shared physical experience. One way to exacerbate that deficiency is to overly script your primary communicators, removing all chance of human connection, foible, or spontaneity from their communication. I’ve seen many executives, glasses reflecting their selfie light and white Word doc on their screen, deliver a freshman theatre student’s level of read-thru of a script they clearly didn’t write, and content they obviously don’t connect with. Don’t make the medium of virtual even worse by killing the chance for authentic connection with the audience.
Take all five of these ideas with a grain of salt, and remember that we’re all in this moment together.
The most powerful virtual events and experiences we’ve audited have embraced this low production, high-connection, at-home moment we’re all sharing, and delivered powerful human connection and great storytelling. For a best in class example, check out this Salesforce “Leading Through Change” episode.
I dare you to try and click away from 3:00 minutes to 30:00 minutes.
Andrew Peters is the Chief Experience Officer at Hyperquake, a creative consultancy that builds stories, brands and businesses rooted in truth. Before joining Hyperquake he was the Chief Storytelling Officer at a (very) large corporation, where he traveled the world telling stories on behalf of large brands and creating experiences for their consumers. The most important job (and title) he has ever held is ‘Dad’ to 4 incredible kids and ‘husband’ to his wife of 18 years, Rachel.