Creating perfect attendee experience at virtual events
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
My feed on LinkedIn is full of articles, videos and guides on “How to pivot your event to virtual”. Myriad platforms claim to provide cutting edge technology for online conferences and meetings.
Though all of the resources are very useful for marketers trying to navigate the new reality, they do not focus much on the key aspect of the whole thing - attendee experience.
So I decided to switch sides and instead of acting as an event organiser, I put myself in the shoes of an average attendee. From data security and digital adoption down to SEO and revenue topics - I’ve attended more webinars and virtual events in 3 weeks than in the entire year or two.
The goal was to find out positive and negative attendee experiences, small details that can improve overall impression and what really matters when you engage with an event online.
The attendee's first encounter with your event (aka first date) happens on the website. Check whether your event page has got the following info:
Time Zone (super important for online events promoted to the whole world!)
Clear agenda with outlined sessions, speakers and precise start/end time
If any of these elements are missing, you screwed up on your first date. There is still a chance for the second one, but no guarantees here.
Clear timing for each session published in advance was important but not mandatory for offline. However, with the online events many people would like to attend only one particular session. If they can’t find the precise time it starts and ends, there is a high chance they won’t come at all.
The same goes to the time zones! Right now the event organised from London can be broadcasted on any time zone. There are events out there that don't show the time zone on the landing page. Or the it is stated as PDT or CET and you have to manually convert it to your local time. Whereas it is possible to automate this process.
Only a few events not only listed the time zone but also provided me with the “Add to calendar” button with the automatic synchronisation of the time zone. That was amazing! Use this simple feature to increase your attendance and satisfaction rates. Simple services such as AddEvent or Eventable provide you with this functionality.
The “best in class” example of the registration process for me so far is SaaStr Summit. It automatically converted time zones, allowed me to choose sessions I am interested in and add each of them to the calendar of my choice:
Try and experience it yourself - the event is happening on April 22-23!
The most challenging part for the event organisers. And attendees likewise! Depending on the industry, the audience can be more or less tech savvy, so this is something to keep in mind.
What I have definitely learnt is that you don’t have to use advanced tech for the sake of or because everyone says so.
The most common mistakes I have discovered so far:
Too complex and not intuitive interface of the platform plus lack of guidance or instructions. Add here not very tech savvy attendees and you get frustration and low show up rate.
Too much empty time between the start of the event and the first session or in-between sessions (without a host or at least music in the background) - it gives too much time for the first attendees to get distracted.
Event platform doesn’t match the format. It can be either over complicated or, on the contrary, be too simple to provide the interactive and engaging experience you promised.
For me the perfect example of technology, event goals and attendee experience matched together was Traffic & Conversion Summit Watch Party. It was broadcasted...on Facebook! And it worked perfectly well for their format. A few tweaks that made it feel more as an event rather than just live stream:
Real MC that introduced sessions and created the “feeling of the stage”. There was even a sound of applause added once he entered the studio, it felt really cool:)
Acknowledge that the recorded sessions are from T&C 2019 edition, but the relevance is still there.
Having a chat moderator and speakers jumping in to have conversations and answer questions.
The event had 49803 attendees over the course of 3 days! Not bad, huh?
Another cool example is the Reboot 2020 by Eventgeek, where the whole event is created on the most common technology nowadays: Slack and Zoom. The organisers made it one of their goals to showcase how simple tools can be utilised to create engaging experience.
It was easy to navigate, slack channels filled with 800+ people were buzzing with conversations and the focus was on connections and knowledge rather than impressive digital surroundings.
Even though organisers work hard to recreate the networking experience we all enjoy at in-person events, the number one reason to attend its virtual version is content. For me this is quite a good reason to double down on its quality.
Preparing a presentation for the online event has its own specifics. Some of the glitches that go unnoticed during the offline event really stand out online.
Once you are face-to-face with your screen only, you are much more likely to notice even minor flaws.
Here are some of the key things to keep in mind when delivering the talk online:
Speak as if you talk to a friend. Conversational style, use intonation, humour, questions. It is really hard to keep tuned into your talk if it is emotionless.
Use at least some slides or be an absolutely amazing speaker. It is hard to look at the screen for 30 min at the presenter's face only. There should be diversity in content to absorb. Otherwise viewers drift away.
Shorten the time of the session. Even in-person events tend to switch from 30-45 min keynote to a TED style of "under 20 min". For online the sweet spot seems to be 10-15 min per one speaker / one type of the talk. Do some pivot after that.
Shorten the introduction! Some speakers took 3-5 min to talk about very general stuff that after 30 seconds made no sense to me. Unread emails were way more interesting at once.
Focus on specifics, tell stories, give it a real life taste, throw in some numbers. Stay away for generic conversations.
Summarise your talk. Dedicate one minute at the end of the session to quickly go over key takeaways. It will help the attendees capture the value delivered and pump up the number of social mentions!
Think of post-promotion of your talk and create both video and audio versions for attendees to watch or listen to as a podcast.
It is hard for me to judge all of the content of events I watched since I am not an industry insider for some of them. But among the marketing related events the one that stood out for me was Digital Sales and Marketing Day by Impact - the online brother of the original DSMW event currently rescheduled to Nov 30 - Dec 2, 2020.
Every presentation was really well prepared, fireside chats had great advice uncovered during conversation and keynotes were actually about specific and hands-on stuff! Plus all of the recordings are available after the event on Impact Plus platform - very convenient for attendees from other timezones.
Going the extra mile
In an over-saturated space of events (in-person or virtual likewise) it is important to create something special your attendees will remember you for.
It can be something fancy and mind-blowing or more heart-warming as a personal greeting of every single attendee once they join the event community. Here is what Reboot 2020 #introductions chat looked like:
Isn’t it nice to have people saying hello to you personally?
Or you can also go above and beyond to deliver exceptional production that will be remembered and quoted as the new industry standard of virtual events? That’s exactly what Domopalooza did. It really felt like watching the TV show with hosts in the studio, broadcasts from different parts of the world and pre-recorded high quality clips.
There is always something that can make your event feel special to your particular audience. It might be production quality, secret guest speaker or small surprises and gifts here and there. You just have to really understand your attendees, feel their pains, and know what makes them tick.
Moving your event online or starting with the new and unknown virtual platform can be scary and stressful.
What I did to regain the “Just Do It” attitude was start thinking of the screen and landing page as my new venue.
It dictates its rules, but my role is to use limitations as opportunities and make it work. Putting the attendee first and recreating their experience really helps to avoid some rookie mistakes and even reinvent what the virtual event should look like.