4 takeaways from 2 years of running virtual events and experiences

In the last 2 years I’ve run all kinds of events and experiences using a virtual, distributed delivery method. Many of them were originally designed to be delivered in meatspace.

I’ve run a virtual conference for over 1200 people; twice. The strategy summit that was to bring together 300+ of my company’s most senior leaders had to be run hybrid at the last minute, and then subsequently as a 6 week distributed mixed-media experience for 800 with tiered access. I’ve done workshops and discussion groups across 3 time zones and continents.

Here are some things to bear in mind when you’re putting together a virtual experience.

It is way more complicated than you think

You’d think that removing an experience from physical space and delivering it virtually would remove complications. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A big part of it is how much more you have to do yourself. Think of all of the stuff that would be handled by the venue, or someone from another team. Running a virtual event means running everything virtually. Sales, attendance, wayfinding, reminders, scheduling, follow up, you name it.

Plan for this; give more time than you think is necessary at all stages of the event.

Design according to your goals

Are you trying to move people through a sales funnel? Are you trying to exchange knowledge? Are you trying to build connections?

Virtual delivery both allows and requires more specific program design. Your participants are looking at a screen with their hands on a keyboard, it’s up to how you design your event to guide what they do there.

Specify the types of interactions you want to enable

Physical space allows people to self-select into the types of interactions they want and need. Online you decide what you’ll support.

Are 1:1 interactions important to the goals of your event? 1:Many? Small group? Do you want your attendees to see themselves as part of an audience? Participants in an exchange? These choices will guide the tools you use and how you structure the experience.

Short and flexible is best

If you’re online you’re competing with literally everything for your participant’s attention. The content that works virtually is different from the content that works IRL.

Look it could be Twitter is to blame, or vlogs, or hot takes. Whatever the reason though when people are looking at their screens there is a good chance that their attention is limited.

Keep content short and snappy. Incentivize interaction and participation (swag anyone?) Find ways to let them consume information on their own time (pre-recorded? Available on demand afterwards?).

Distributed virtual events are worth doing right

I’ve seen virtual distributed events increase diversity and inclusion by lowering the barriers to participation. I’ve seen effective working groups formed from people in different places with common interests. I’ve watched people develop new skills by practicing with someone they’d never met before.

Spend some extra time thinking through the participant journey through your experience, how it fits into your goals, what interactions you’ll support, and how to keep the whole thing snappy and I’m sure you’ll put on great distributed virtual events and experiences too.

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