Although virtual and hybrid events were trending throughout the last few years, no one expected that they would become the new normal. Wherever you are in the U.S., chances are, there are more virtual events happening around you than in-person events. Today we’re going to talk about what that means for event planners and speakers looking to engage a virtual audience.
Listen Up, Speakers!
Many speakers are eloquent, charismatic, and engaging. But in a market that values personalization above all, the most important thing you can do as a speaker is connect with your audience on a deeper, emotional level. This is an endeavor that comes from the heart more than the mind, but even if you have the passion, you need to make sure your message is conveyed effectively. In other words, you need to know how to intuitively connect to your audience by tuning into the things they say- and the things they don’t, which are conveyed in energy, body language, and other nonverbal cues.
At in-person events, face-to-face contact is a benefit. You can see the facial expressions and body language of your audience right in front of you; communication is much more direct than it can feel at virtual events. We’re stating the obvious here, but people at virtual events are located in remote spaces- miles, states, or even countries away from each other! In other words, they’re tucked away in their own respective worlds, and virtual events must immerse them temporarily in a new one. Speakers play an integral role in this goal.
From The Outside In: Making a Powerful Visual Impression
That said, it takes a lot more than charisma or even passion and sincerity to make an impression virtually. Since most of us are largely visual by nature, you need to give care and consideration to the backdrop you choose. While some conference platforms have eye-catching animated filters, these filters can go two ways- they either hold the attention and interest of the audience, or they’re too loud, distracting, or surreal. Whether filters are right for your backdrop depends largely on your audience and the type of event you’re holding.
You want your space to be clean and organized, not messy or distracting. That said, you also want to make it a unique and welcoming space that inspires emotions in your audience. Think about how you want them to feel. If you’re holding a business conference, you’ll probably want a backdrop that appears neat, serene, and relaxing. (We can’t think of anything less engaging than an overly formal space with no character at an in-person event, never mind a virtual one).
If your event is a virtual concert where attendees will be enjoying music, AR technology can create an online space where the audience has a stadium view of a stage where the animated action happens. If you choose to do a live performance, you can use AR to get creative, superimposing images over the performer’s space to add visual excitement. Some artists have joined together to sing inspirational songs to a virtual audience from their own homes, which makes the audience feel connected in basic ways they may not have even felt at a concert in person. That’s because people’s homes are a window into their intimate lives; our space can be a visual expression of who we are, or parts of us. These kinds of performances can be extremely emotionally powerful and memorable, especially at a time like this, when the world is divided and struggling to get back on its feet.
Your materials are just as important as your backdrop. If they’re too heavy on text, your attendees’ attention might drift elsewhere; try to use color, illustrations, and animated infographics to keep your presentation lively and engaging.
From the Inside Out: Making a Powerful Emotional Impression
Whatever your topic, think about the main message you want to convey. Meaning is even more engaging than powerful visuals- and combined they make virtual events stand out. For example, let’s say you’re holding a conference about empowering women in business. Because black lives and the injustices of the system are on everyone’s mind, a conference like this would probably feel incomplete without sending a message that empathizes with and empowers black lives. In this case, celebrating the accomplishments of black women in business would not only be relevant, but offer a message of hope to a world that is suffering intensely in many ways.
Get to Know Your Attendees Before the Event
This one should go without saying, but its emphasis is further underlined when it comes to virtual events. Again, space and distance are potential barriers to connection, and it’s your job to remove those barriers. There is no better way to do this than to build relationships with the attendees you’ll be presenting to. Just like event planners, you’ll want to communicate regularly with attendees on social media and, if possible, via email. Talk to the event organizer you are working with about how you’d like to be featured on their website and/or event page. For example, would you like to tell a brief story about who you are, what inspired your brand, and what’s unique about you? Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to make a personal connection with attendees- and for some attendees, your bio and/or story on the event planner’s website might be their first impression of you. So make it a concise but powerful one that will stick out in their minds.
Many event organizers ask their speakers to do their part to create a buzz around the event. This is mutually beneficial to both of you, as it helps generate talk about the event and your brand. Are you prominent on social media, and is your following moderate to large? If so, the event organizer can invite attendees to chat with you live on Twitter, see video content from your previous events,
Getting to know attendees prior to the event helps you learn what they are looking for from you. You can use this knowledge to make your presentation even more effective and personalized. And if they’ve already gotten to know you a bit online, it adds anticipation and builds trust- two major points on your part. You should feature the event on your website, too. Invite attendees to visit your website and social media pages to find out more about you and what you do.
Crowdsourcing can further help you determine attendees’ needs, interests, and expectations of you. As a public figure or industry expert, you can give your attendees the option to prepare their questions for you ahead of time. If there will be a panel of experts in attendance, the event organizer may also encourage attendees to prepare questions before the event. This way, attendees get the most out of the time they have, and the presentation goes more smoothly.
Teamwork Goes the Distance
Event planners and speakers need to strategize together to promote the event and be mutually beneficial to each other. But they also need to put their minds together and find creative ways to engage their audience, especially if the event is part of a series of similar virtual events. If it’s not a singular event, amp up the anticipation by teasing new, more detailed information about popular topics, creating contests, or just switching your routine up a bit to prevent boredom. For example, if you’re covering a particularly complex topic, offer breakout sessions in which attendees can learn more about specific aspects that interest them. Be sure to hype any special upcoming experts, public figures, or entertainers who will be at your next event.
Obviously, we’re going to be talking a lot about virtual events indefinitely. We realize that many of you are being tasked with converting in-person events into virtual ones to avoid canceling them altogether. It’s not easy to change complex event designs into visually exciting, engaging virtual experiences. That’s why we’ve dedicated much of the last few months to discussing the various aspects of holding successful online events. As hybrid and virtual event designs evolve to become more mainstream, there are always new areas to explore. We know it’s a lot of information to take in, but our advice is to take it one day at a time. And most importantly, keep learning.