The (Un) Convention

Creating experience and connection in a virtual world.

I recall the very first virtual conference I attended in 2020.

The event was a yoga conference, early on in the pandemic, that was hosted on the now all to familiar Zoom platform. I came across the Instagram ad, checked out their website, and signed up. The speakers looked impressive, the interest seemed hot. 

How wonderful will it be to connect with people from all over in a wellness-focused conference?! 

Enter day one – logged in and ready to go and…the platform crashed in minutes. 

Quick email to attendees, apologies, didn’t anticipate the demand, we’ll fix the issues and start up again tomorrow. 

Enter day two – logged in and ready to go and…was quite quickly bored to tears. 

The “conference” was simply presenter after presenter speaking to a screen about their topic. Everyone muted. No interaction. No engagement. I mean, we didn’t do a group yoga session.

Though we all muddled through virtual meetings and events those early days, tucked away in our homes staring at the Brady Bunch boxes, the virtual and hybrid event landscape is expanding rapidly. And more and more we are learning better ways to connect over a screen. And we realize meetings and conventions aren’t simply about education, they truly are about connection

So how do we create connections for our virtual and hybrid events? Here’s a few things to consider:

The Right Platform Matters

There are certainly the big players you are familiar with such as Zoom, Google Meets, and Cisco Webex. I applaud companies such as Zoom who proactively extended meeting times for free users and worked to enhance both security and user experience. 

While these larger companies provide great support, they aren’t the only kids in the sandbox. Many tech companies have pivoted or expanded their businesses to create exceptional virtual events. Take Panavid, who have a long-standing reputation for exceptional Audio Visual and Staging and Lighting services. They now host numerous virtual events, from live stream panel discussions to successful hybrid events.

Several companies specialize in certain types of events. This specialization can create synergy that makes accomplishing event goals easier. Galas At Home for example exclusively works with non-profit organizations to create fundraising gala experiences virtually. They pair technology with event production services for a turnkey operation that gets the job done efficiently and effectively. 

Ultimately, you’ll need to take into consideration your meeting goals, your budget, and your audience just as in any large scale event production. Though vendor selection takes time, doing your homework will reap rich benefits in the long run.

It’s Not What You Can’t Do – It’s What You Can

The right kind of virtual conferences and events are led by strong planners who not only get the tech part down, they think creatively to build an experience. The key here is not to take what you did in the past and recreate the content virtually, but to consider what you can do virtually that you couldn’t do before? 

I recently watched Father of the Bride 3ish on social media. All hosted from their individual corners of the world, the cast came together virtually for a hilarious 30 minute micro movie. When you consider the likelihood of having this much talent coordinating their schedules to accomplish this movie, you see how unique the virtual space can truly be. Imagine getting your pick of top speakers, thought leaders and talent, all because they are able to participate from their own homes without the burden of hectic traveling. 

The Democratic National Convention went virtual and reimagined their standard roll call. You were able to be transported all throughout the United States while votes were cast. You watched the shores of Hawaii to the plains of the midwest to sparkling cities such as New York and Las Vegas. Being able to see the spaces and environments the delegates hailed from brought greater emphasis to their words in a way that would have never been possible in person.

Hands down the most impressive virtual event I’ve seen during 2020 has been this Burning Man gala. The level of forethought into how to create meaningful connection across a computer screen showed incredible dedication. From building anticipation with a unique invitation, to creating clever micro spaces through the use of break out rooms, to ending the night with one big hot tub party (seriously), the event built the night step by step for ultimate success. Even the most formal conventions need a great happy hour or awards gala to bring people together, and this format of micro space can accomplish just that.

Keep the Conversation Going

Repurposing content is one of simplest ways to extend the conversation from your virtual meeting or event. Taking the content created and giving it new life in another format means you continue to engage your attendees and stay in front of them. 

Let’s say you produce a timely webinar or panel discussion full of engaging content. Extend the life of that content by recreating that webinar into a blog series and a handful of social media posts.

By repurposing that experience into a long term platform such as a blog, you’re able to connect to a wider audience. Take that blog series and re-envision it as a LinkedIn article. Now you define additional credibility and position yourself as a thought leader in that professional space, with many opportunities for your content to be re-shared. 

The repurposed material developed will depend on the type of event and target audience. A fundraising gala can enhance their efforts with a follow-up email campaign. A business hosting an online meeting with their employees can create a series of short articles re-iterating the content and keeping their remote employees engaged. A virtual conference can create a blog series connected to their social media accounts to keep potential future in-person attendees excited about the content and education. 

Whatever your goals and objectives, we’ve seen huge strides in accomplishing them in the virtual space. And as people begin to gather in part once more, we’ll see additional creative solutions to hybrid meetings and events. One day, we’ll gather again in large numbers. And we’ll be savvier and more creative than ever before. 

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