Create virtual events that crush "attention slam"
There are many advantages to hosting and attending virtual events, but it's all too easy for attendees to disengage. The challenge for event creators doesn't end with registration and attendance, they must ask themselves: Can my virtual event content compete for attention with a pile of dirty laundry or the online shop?
"We need to address that issue of participant engagement," says Chris Elmitt, MD of event tech provider, Crystal Interactive, and one of our recent Future of Events panelists. "We now have the technology to track how many participants have the event tab open in the forefront of their laptops, every five seconds. I hate to tell you, the stats are devastating: Even in events where we've achieved 4.5 out of five in satisfaction ratings, the attention span of delegates would make you cry."
"It gets much worse when we look at outside the core programming, to the networking areas for instance," he adds. "Anecdotally, I've spoken to people paying four-figure sums for exhibition and networking areas on virtual events, and they don't meet a single punter. Not a single one! And the reason for that is simple: Our delegates take every opportunity to disconnect from our events, to look after the dog, or scroll on social media. And that is what we, as event creators, really need to address."
Don't showcase; show off!
"Attention slam is a real thing," says James Howitt, client development director at Smyle, Campaign's Creative Experience Agency of the Year 2021. But, he argues, "lockdown unlocked an unprecedented opportunity to innovate, to overcome the new challenges of competing for attention."
"We've all become these online multitaskers and I think it has presented an opportunity for presenters and event creators to really innovate.
"We talk a lot about moving from presenting to performing and really being able to hold an audience's attention. It's actually a really difficult thing to do. Everybody that's presented in person understands that you can communicate so much with your body, your hands, your gestures. But presenting digitally, we need to rely on other tricks."
He believes that presenters need to move away from "showcasing" to "showing off" - really amping up their presentation styles, not just to capture attention, but to keep it.
"You need to be able to show off your brand, your product, your message, whatever it is in a really interesting, innovative way. So we've looked at a few core tech enhancements for presenters to galvanize the audience and make sure that they're paying attention."
Smyle are experimenting with 360-degree volumetric capture and augmented reality tech, to enhance the viewer experience. "We can make brand colours flow through the pin-stripes of the presenter's suit!" says James. "It's about doing what it takes to give people something they haven't seen before."
Tech up for an in-the-room experience
"It's really important not to use tech for tech's sake," says James. But he has another couple of high-tech tricks up his sleeve which he believes are worth the investment. "8D audio adds a very interesting dimension," he says. "If you're listening to a presentation in 8D audio, you actually feel like that presenter is in the room with you. As they walk around the sound shifts to represent their movement. It's a really interesting way to bring a bit more humanity to the experience."
He also recommends hosting within a real-time render environment. "Essentially, it involves hacking gaming engines to create a rendered environment that your audience and presenters can move around - and not in the clunky way that you may have seen in some virtual event environments. Using real-time render technology overcomes that barrier and creates a very real-feeling space."
Swipe right if you're looking to network
Not so long ago, networking opportunities were as much of a draw to an event as the keynote speech. But the sudden shift away from in-person possibilities, has made networking the most challenging aspect of the event experience to replicate in a digital setting.
James from Smyle, says: "We're trying a few new tricks and techniques, along the lines of matchmaking. Profiling people when they sign up to an event, can be really useful. You might ask them a couple of simple questions: about anything really - their favourite food, what team they support... and then connect them up with other like-minded attendees, before, during and after the event.
"That works well to introduce that sense of the 'random encounter' that we all enjoy. You can be thrown together with that person for a quick two-minute conversation, knowing that you have something - no matter how inconsequential - in common.
At Smyle, they've also taken a leaf from the online dating world to inject some life into online networking. "We've used a kind of Tinder-style experience, where you can look at the people attending your event and swipe left or right if you want to talk to them," says James. "It's a bit of fun, but it's a great way to create interaction between participants."
Make presenting a piece of cake
We cannot expect the viewer experience to be tip-top if we continue to make life difficult for presenters, says Chris Elmitt. "We need to do more to make the technology experience better for speakers!
"I've been on shows where the speakers were sent five links for one presentation; one for the show that they could watch while they weren't presenting, but that had to put that on mute when they were presenting; one zoom link to capture their sound and image; one for slideshow polling; one for autocue; and one for talkback! I wasn't surprised when one speaker dryly told us that he'd run out of phones! I want to see our speakers relax, focus on their audience and make eye contact. And in order for that to happen, we must make the technology we put in front of them simpler." So consider the tasks and the tech that you're putting in your speakers' hands, and ask yourself whether you're helping or hindering them to perform at their very best.
Check out the video below to see a quick scribed summary of the points raised at the Future of Events panel