Virtual Events: Making Do at a Distance

Virtual events have one big drawback: you are meeting in a space where people are inherently distracted. In these times, especially, audience members are faced with more distraction than usual (for instance, I'm writing this while my 16 month old takes a nap and I'm plying my 5 year old with her 50th viewing of Wizard of Oz while I'm supposed to be homeschooling her. That's her beside me busting in on a Zoom call I had earlier.)

You won't necessarily be able to control wandering children, but how do you make the best of some of the other challenges of meeting in a virtual space?

What do you do when virtual events are not ideal, but are a necessity? You make the best of it.

Challenge: Attention span in the online space drops from 5-7 minutes to 2-5 minutes.

Solution: Add interactive elements.

In a face-to-face presentation you lose the audiences' attention in 5-7 minutes if you don't change the way you're presenting. You can do this by adding video, telling a story, adding interaction, etc. In the virtual space, this time frame is even less generous, and changing the way you present is more challenging. The audience NEEDS to interact instead of being passive watchers, or they'll disengage faster than you can say "new browser tab".

Challenge: A lack of experiential "wow" or impact.

Solution: Provide an event experience.

Consider having a virtual event EXPERIENCE instead of slapping presentations together and hoping for the best. Consider having an emcee. Interject humor and connect your event elements together. Consider your environment--music, media, other elements. Break up presentations with networking questions. Make attendees part of their own learning experience by engaging their emotion and active participation. 
Consider turning your virtual event into a team building competition--put attendees on teams and ask game questions in between presentation points. 

Challenge: Virtual presentations can feel canned and not suit the needs of your audience.

Solution: Pare down your presentation and add dynamic elements.

Don't just put a presentation online--create a virtual experience (i.e. play in the space you're in). Brevity has always been the soul of wit, and in the virtual event space time is attention. Focus in on what is absolutely need-to-know and strip out extras. It's even more important to consider what your audience will actually be able to SEE in your presentation, and what will be an eye-chart (or is just your talking points on a PPT slide). Every visual should be clean and have impact. 

Challenge: Lack of accountability.

Solution: Make attendees part of the experience.

Videoconferencing has upped the ante for the webinar (attendees can no longer, for instance, leave the room to go to the bathroom on the call), and some platforms like Zoom let presenters know when their attendees have shifted their attention to other windows. However, a better way to make attendees accountable is to make them part of the experience. Have them craft pieces of a presentation, incorporate training techniques like roleplays, etc., within the event. You can also have quizzes/game questions throughout the virtual event that ensure that attendees are paying attention and accountable for knowing the content. 
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