If you’re currently planning your first virtual conference, or perhaps you have a few under your belt but are curious about what your peers are discovering… read on. 

Virtual events are still a relatively new concept for many event organisers and delegates. And with any new approach to an event format, delegate feedback is really important. As is getting to the bottom of what delegates really want out of attending your event.

Our client recently held a four-day virtual conference – only the third one they’ve run under these circumstances. It was a success of course, having AV1 involved! But there are always learnings and room for improvement. 

They surveyed their delegates at the end of each day and here’s what their audience said.

Timings are everything

“Finishing early in the afternoon was a good call, it is so much harder to be engaged online for a long period of time.”

Attention spans are just not the same sitting at home or in the office watching a presenter in 16:9 format. 

Audiences are juggling work, home-schooling and various other demands and distractions, so session times need to be long enough to delve into a topic – but not so long that you lose most of your audience to emails or online shopping.

And expecting audiences to tune in from 9 to 5 across multiple days is just not feasible in an online environment. Start a bit later or finish early in the afternoon so delegates can get some work done or attend to other commitments around the conference timings. 

Try this! 

Why not have a speedy introduction session where presenters ‘pitch’ their topics, and delegates can then choose which session to jump into for a deep dive. That way they get to participate in sessions they’re most interested in and are more likely to pay attention. 

Be punctual 

“Congratulations on running an informative and engaging virtual conference. Everything went smoothly from keeping to the agenda timings to the technology platform.”

Waiting for a session to start in a conference ballroom with background music, visuals and fellow conference-goers to chat to is a far cry from staring at a blank computer screen wondering if your internet has dropped out. 

Sessions need to start bang on time – and finish on time too – to ensure you keep your audience engaged and not feeling irritated from the get-go.

Try this! 

Have rolling content displayed on screen in the 15 minutes leading up to the event start, such as a pre-recorded video, graphics or even a pop quiz! A countdown timer is also a great option so delegates know how much time they have and that everything is working as it should. Your tech provider can absolutely facilitate this. 

Schedule frequent breaks 

“The whole conference has been really well organised and executed. The times of the sessions and the screen breaks made it very manageable and the sessions have been really useful.”

Just like at a live event, virtual events need breaks too. Just be careful how you communicate them and make sure whatever is coming up next entices your audience to return to their computer screen. 

Short, frequent breaks should be scheduled and communicated in the agenda as well as clearly during the stream. 

Try this!

If budget permits, take personalisation and engagement of your virtual event to the next level by delivering gift packs, Uber Eats vouchers, coffee beans or something else fun and unique to your delegates prior to the event and engage with them via an event app, social media or other means during breaks. This is a great opportunity to bring sponsors on board too.

Plan for technical issues

“We had internet problems at work today and I missed a lot of the first session which I was really disappointed about.”

The best technology platform is only as good as the user’s internet connection. In a live environment, your tech team can control all the tech in the room. In a virtual environment, they can only control their side of the platform. If your delegates have a poor internet connection – their experience will be impacted. And your speakers? Why do you think the 2020 Emmys sent more than one hundred cameras to the homes of nominees around the world?! 

Try this!

Make on-demand available soon after sessions conclude so that if any content was missed, delegates can catch up as close to real-time as possible. Often they won’t go back and repeat a session the next day, let alone the week after. 

And for more complex events, we highly recommend providing clear instructions to delegates on how to use your chosen platform and what they should expect on the day, as well as troubleshooting tips and a live help desk (contact email or phone number) if they experience issues. 

Naturally, our last piece of advice here is to partner with a reputable AV team whom you trust to deliver excellent results. 

Virtual is here to stay

“Loved the virtual program as it means less travel, less time wasted moving in and out of meeting rooms for breaks, and it also means you can move around home and listen at the same time. I will always go for virtual over attending forums in the future.”

One thing that came through the survey feedback was that when done well, it turns out many delegates prefer virtual conferences over live ones! Citing travel, … and … as some of the many pros to virtual, it’s clear that events of the immediate future will almost all incorporate a live-streamed or on-demand element. 

So as event professionals, we have a collective responsibility to make virtual event experiences just as innovative, creative and memorable for our stakeholders as possible. 

We’re up for the challenge. Are you?

This survey was conducted after a four-day virtual event with F&P (Fundraising & Philanthropy), a media company that provides insight, analysis, and inspiration for non-profit organisations via conferences and print and online publications.

For the stat lovers – on average across the four days, 94% of delegates selected ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’ to the question “How do you rate your overall conference experience?”

And our lovely client? Here’s what she had to say:

“Thank all of you for the fantastic job you have done over the past few weeks to get the 2020 Fundraising Forum to air. It would be hard to find a nicer, more professional team.”

Ruth Appleby, Conference Manager, F&P

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