Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the advent of virtual events and after making their mark, they’ve shown us they are here to stay. From online gigs to festivals and conferences, virtual events permeate every aspect of our working lives and transform our perception of what events now are. A big part of this is rethinking the position of the attendee and their impact on an event.
We all know attendees are central to events – after all, without participants, the events wouldn’t be able to happen. The attendee experience shapes the feedback and response to an event. Yet, in the virtual world, it can often be overlooked or assumed that the same things that worked in person will work on a screen. However, if you want your virtual event to be a success, the attendee experience needs to be front and center of your planning.
What Is Attendee Experience?
The attendee experience is exactly as you’d expect – it’s how a participant or attendee encounters your event. This can be in a whole manner of different ways, with all sorts of different considerations. Whether your audience is attending the event primarily via social media, through a fixed VoIP, down to the information sent out before an event, and your follow-up all feed into the attendee experience.
These pieces fit together to make an event, starting way before you fire up your video conferencing platform of choice, and continuing long after everyone has left the meetings. At each of these points, taking a closer look at how they influence your attendees and focusing on what you want the attendee to get from it can improve their experience and give your event focus.
Centering Your Virtual Event on the Attendee Experience
It’s hardly surprising that when you put the attendee’s experience at the heart of an event, that people want to come and get involved! This isn’t something that can be thrown in at the last minute but has to run the whole way through – from powerful marketing to getting feedback after the event.
This doesn’t have to be a drastic new structure, with daunting new aspects at every turn. Most of your events will look pretty similar to the physical ones we already know and love. A little bit of intentionality and recognizing your priorities can effectively adjust preset mentalities. However, there are a couple of other things you might also want to consider. Let’s take a look.
It all starts with building the hype for the event. Make your publicity exciting and engaging from the off, including short interviews with key speakers, revealing what topics will be covered or what workshops will run, and what the event promises to deliver to attendees. It’s a lot easier to get excited about something when you know a bit about it.
Ensure your marketing targets places where prospective attendees are. A whopping 59% of the world’s social networking population uses Facebook, so use social media to your advantage. Optimize your advertising for the platforms you use to captivate and intrigue viewers, allowing them to share and follow your event, as well as using relevant hashtags to circulate and reach wider a audience.
Planning for your event needs to have attendee experience written all over it. Throughout the planning stages, remind and clarify with the planning team why you want people to attend. What point do you hope to make, or which community do you wish to kick-start? If you know the message you want attendees to take away with them, you can shape your event around achieving exactly that.
Make sure the content you plan on delivering is well worth listening to, investing that little bit extra into getting subject experts and engaging topics. Attendees want value for their time and money, so don’t skimp out on quantity over quality. Use new technologies and intentional preparation to make sessions interesting and visibly show how customer service tools or the like would work in practice.
Where it might seem rude to not pay attention at a physical event, zoning out is a lot easier to do online and there is a much higher risk of inattentive attendees. Attract attendee attention by mixing up the structure. Ask direct questions to the attendees, such as “what is a featured snippet?” or provide a chance for discussion, through break-out rooms or smaller forums. As there isn’t a chance to physically meet people during coffee breaks, create these spaces online as part of your program.
Your hugely successful event has come to a close, leaving attendees and hosts alike buzzing from the conversations and ideas shared. Yet, the attendee experience continues. You still have the opportunity to engage with attendees positively. Cultivate the skills and knowledge gained through sending out event recordings using virtual fax, keeping event forums open and active, and providing a platform for discussions to continue.
Getting feedback from attendees is a great way to gauge their experience and what could improve it further. This shows you are listening and continuing to put their experience at the center of the event. By evaluating survey findings, you can also find out what sort of follow-up attendees would like – whether regular meetups or networking events would be valued and how frequently.
It’s All About the Attendee
From start to finish, there are so many ways to make your attendees’ experience a great one. Embracing the full journey of this experience – right from the first impression – can open all sorts of doors and present new and exciting options. All it takes is a little focus on what the event looks like from the attendee perspective and letting that shape the event you put on.
Online events are still relatively uncharted waters, so there is a lot of room for learning, experimenting, and improving. Centering the attendee experience is a good place to start and can inspire mixing up other parts of your events, all for the benefit of the participants. If ever there’s a time to switch up how you plan and host events, it’s now!