Let’s begin with a brief recap: In our last post, we talked at length about choosing a virtual event platform that aligns with business goals for an event. As we discussed, these platforms are much more complicated than they appear at first glance. Unless you have a tech team at your beck and call 24/7, the days of getting by as an event planner without tech-savvy are long gone. As virtual events become the new normal, it’s vital to understand how your platform of choice actually works. For example, “one-size-fits-all” options are rarely as simple a solution as they seem. It’s important to understand how well the features, which were once separate, work together to provide a seamless online experience- or how they don’t. The bottom line: You’ve got to know what features are needed to help you achieve specific goals for your event.
That said, apps like Zoom or Microsoft Teams don’t always have the advanced technology necessary to reach specific goals. For example, you can’t do an interactive product demo or use animated graphics to virtually tour a space on Zoom. There are certain interactive features that apps like Zoom just don’t have, and those features can break up the monotony of an event. When your goal is to provide an immersive experience as an alternative to a canceled in-person event, you may need more than what they have to offer- but not always. Since the start of the pandemic, plenty of plays, productions, and even films have been created on Zoom and gone viral.
And let’s be real: We can blog about sophisticated software all day, and that’s entirely necessary for event creators who are adapting to a hybrid culture. Technology is rapidly evolving to become more accessible, so even if you have a limited budget now, you should be tuning into the trends- big time. However, sometimes Zoom or a similar platform is the option that makes the most sense given our budget or specific event goals. Going this route comes with both advantages and pitfalls to overcome. Let’s take a closer look.
Get to Know Zoom Inside Out
Our best piece of advice applies to any app you choose: Know the platform like the back of your hand, including what it does and does not do. Familiarize yourself with all of its capabilities; don’t just skim to the functions that you need and ignore the rest. For example, there’s a meaningful difference between Zoom webinars and Zoom meetings. Webinars are designed for public-facing events that function more as lessons than sessions. Their capacity for interaction with the speaker is limited, and webinar attendees typically don’t interact with each other at all. That said, this option is better suited for a lecture than a conference or full-fledged virtual event.
The good news is that Zoom has recently updated its features to better support interactive virtual events. Their Breakout Rooms feature allows your attendees to focus on their special areas of interest and interact or network with others who share them. Obviously, an in-person event would require your venue to comfortably accommodate your event design. But virtual spaces cut the cost of location out completely. And while the webinar function isn’t ideal for community-building and networking, Zoom breakout rooms can help you create personalized experiences that forge connections.
Breakout sessions also help attendees avoid “Zoom fatigue”. Doing or looking at the same thing for too long can be tiring even if the content presented is interesting. While too many options can be overwhelming, many virtual event platforms allow attendees to roam freely through the space. At some online events, people have the autonomy to socialize, explore exhibits, and tour the virtual venue on their own time. This certainly helps break up the potential monotony of interacting from behind a screen instead of in person.
Zoom is more limited when it comes to autonomy, but breakout sessions can save them from being too boring or one-size-fits all. For the most part, attendees want a personalized experience that caters to their specific needs. When you give them the option to explore their personal areas of interest further- and chat with others who share their interest- you add value to their experience.
Zoom is also an ideal platform for event creators whose audience isn’t necessarily the most tech-savvy group. Even those with moderate tech skills can become intimidated by complex interfaces with too many options. So for many audiences, Zoom Meetings actually offers just enough variety and engagement without being overwhelming. Information overload can be just as fatiguing as doing the same thing online for extended periods of time. Many Zoom conferences that are populated with lively, dynamic speakers and value-packed sessions are just as successful as other virtual events.
Again, you know your audience best. When choosing a platform, your decision should be primarily informed by their needs- and your specific goals for your event. What do you want to accomplish? What do you want your attendees to get out of the event? If you think these objectives can be accomplished with a Zoom conference, make the most of the popular platform. We recommend reading through this helpful summary of its features and how to use them to achieve your goals.
Optimize Zoom’s Most Engaging Features
Whenever you choose a virtual event platform, the quality of the livestream is important. Zoom webinars and meetings have built-in support for streaming to YouTube, Facebook, or any custom streaming platform. The obvious advantage is that you can still reach a broader remote audience than you’d be able to reach using Zoom alone. As with any platform, you’ll want to hardwire your internet connection to avoid distracting glitches. You should also never begin a Zoom meeting without checking your device audio first. If you’re not sure how to do this, Zoom actually has a support page that guides you through the process for desktop and mobile devices.
More good news: Zoom has a Q&A feature that can be easily enabled or disabled throughout the event. One way to maximize the benefits of this is to allow attendees to type questions throughout the session and vet which ones to answer live or at the end of the session. Some may serve as ideal conversation starters for the group; others may be less applicable to the general interest of the audience and better discussed one-on-one later on. It’s likely that people will be more personally invested in some subtopics than others. You can begin sessions by letting your audience know that they are encouraged to ask for more detailed information on specific areas of discussion; this can be done on a one-on-one basis post-event. Again, breakout sessions are helpful in making sure everyone gets the most out of your event.
With engaging speakers and interactive features, you will more than likely be inundated by more questions than you can answer during the course of your event. However, just in case you have a quiet group, Kristin Klein, manager of customer marketing for Zoom, recommends preparing a few questions of your own ahead of time. Brainstorm topics that may be relatable to the entire group and subsets within it. This way, if there aren’t enough questions to fill up the Q&A slot, your audience won’t be distracted by dead air. There’s almost nothing worse than dead air to break up the flow and momentum during a virtual event.
Polling questions are also instrumental in boosting engagement and creating more personalized virtual experiences. Klein recommends coming up with 3 to 4 polling questions prior to your event. These questions should give you an idea of what information your attendees are interested in, their level of proficiency or expertise, and their general knowledge and opinions regarding the content you’ll be sharing.
And don’t forget to ask for feedback after the event. With Zoom, all you need to do is plug in the URL of your selected survey tool; it integrates with just about any of them. As with any event, include at least a few open-ended questions to yield thoughtful, detailed responses.
Although they are rapidly becoming mainstream, virtual events and technology are new to all of us to some degree. So don’t hesitate to include questions about how you did in the virtual space. If your event used to take place in person and has been converted to an online experience, ask questions that compare and contrast their experience with both versions. Some things to think about: Did your attendees get to interact with speakers and fellow guests as much as they would have liked to? Were their specific areas of interest attended to? Were their questions answered in a thorough, timely manner? How smooth was their experience of your technology? A good rule of thumb: Conclude by asking what your audience felt you did right, and what could be improved in the future.
Lead with the attitude that transitioning at least partially to the virtual space is a learning curve for everyone, and we are all in it together. Having an open mind and truly listening to what people have to say builds a sense of community and keeps your audience feeling connected to you.
Whatever Zoom Doesn’t Do, You Can Do Yourself
One advantage that more sophisticated platforms have over Zoom is the potential for massive engagement. Take the Trailblazers User Conference that took place in 2020- before event software underwent many advances to improve virtual experiences. Even back then, 52 percent of attendees engaged prior to the event to chat, play games, check out exhibitors, and personalizing their schedules.
Obviously, attendees cannot engage in these activities directly on Zoom before the event. However, if you’re hosting your event on Zoom, there are ways to facilitate early promotions and engagement off of the platform. Similarly to in-person events, you should be posting any updates, contests, games, and information about sponsors and exhibitors prior to your event. While some other platforms provide a “virtual venue” to centralize promotions and activities, Zoom events require you to be create your own centralized locations. Your audience needs a virtual space where they can interact and share information in the weeks before you go live.
How can you do this? Well, you’ve got several options at your disposal. There’s a reason why cultivating a strong social media presence is integral to success in an experiential market. Today’s consumers generally place more value on genuine connections than material value, and they’re more likely to purchase products and services that their favorite influencers trust. If you have a pretty solid following, you may want to set up a Facebook page for your event. Once you do, update it regularly with BTS content, videography associated with your event, games, contests, schedules, and conversation starters. Even if you still have a relatively small following, you should be updating social media and counting down your event as it approaches.
Instagram is also an ideal space for product giveaways and endorsements, games and contests, and opportunities to connect with sponsors and exhibitors. Because of its highly visual nature, it’s great for showcasing products, videos, and personalized stories that create excitement around events. However, social media doesn’t take the place of email marketing or creating a landing page for your event.
Whatever platform you use for it, you should have a landing page for your event. This is where your audience can go to ask questions, watch videos, participate in promotions, take surveys, and connect to sponsors and exhibitors. Your page should also link your audience with ways to connect with each other on social media, through games, or links to pre-event meet and greets via Zoom.
As we discussed at length in our previous article about choosing a virtual platform, there’s no one-size-fits-all choice. The best platform for your event depends on your objectives and those of your attendees. But sometimes Zoom really is the most reasonable, cost-effective way to meet these needs. When that’s the case, you’ll need to know how to use the platform to your best advantage. Hopefully, these prop tips will prove helpful to that end. Happy Zooming!