With continued restrictions on social gatherings and the ongoing ambiguity about when we can all get back together face to face, many organisations are contemplating hosting virtual events. Conferences or large scale events do play an important role in organisations as a way to get people to connect, network, learn, cascade information and induce a dose of energy. They can be a key tool as part of change programs or business transformation or a way for companies to connect with their customers, suppliers or business partners.
So while many have been holding off on big events hoping that in 2021 we could just go back to what we've always done, postponing indefinitely just isn't a great solution either. In my experience, with the right design and enabling technology it's definitely possible to create amazing team experiences, engaging conferences and inspiring events virtually. While we may not be able to recreate exactly the same type of interactions, virtual conferences and events do offer a lot of opportunities that physical events don't. But really thinking through the objectives you want to achieve and the outcomes you want to create is critical because it's not just about doing what we always do just behind a screen.
Here a few examples:
Participation patters are really different for virtual events and the power has switched from the organiser to the participant. In physical events, once people are at your conference, they are often at the mercy of the organiser, getting moved from one session to the next. In a virtual setting, it's all up to the participant and they will vote with their feet (or the click of their mouse) and will be highly selective about what, when and how they will participate. This puts pressure on organisers to up their game not just to entice people into a session but to keep them there till the end and get them to participate actively.
Networking is another great example that needs complete rethinking in a virtual context. At traditional F2F events, networking mostly just happen on its own as people start conversations during breaks, when they are sat at the same table or spot each other in the hallway. In a virtual context networking requires a lot of thought, structure, design and intentionality. If well planned though, these networking sessions can be much more effective than the traditional way because we can more easily connect people who don't know each other with a bit of virtual magic.
So, if you are thinking about hosting a virtual conference, check out my "Designing Virtual Events" guide attached with some key questions to get you started. And if you need any help along the way, do reach out, we're happy to help.