5 Rules for Driving Digital Event Success
By Ray McCarthy Bergeron, Digital Experience Director
As if it wasn’t a big enough job for event marketers to cram 20,000 people into a conference hall in the middle of a work week, today’s climate has turned the dial to eleven on our stress to make sure we craft the most engaging, digital experiences. While we all look forward to the onsite gatherings again, it should be noted that digital and hybrid engagements have not hindered the audience experience. If anything, they have been improving with every passing month.
Some of these experiences are more innovative than most. So how do we make sure we put on the best event possible in this digital age? The following five focus areas will help craft a compelling experience for your audience in your next digital event:
Shift Your Approach (re-evaluating event goals and achieving them in different ways)
The time we’re in right now – “The Great Pause” as I refer to it – has forced many of us to reflect. Reflect on what is important to us. How do we prioritize work, people, things and experiences in our lives? It is also a good time to re-evaluate strategies for future success in our events. Some of us were forced to pivot and the ones who succeeded clearly embraced change.
An event that was put on for the sake of doing so, with a bit of razzle-dazzle, is no longer enough of a reason to host one, nor probably a good ROI. So, what is your goal for putting on your event? Is it to inspire? To move widgets at your company? To connect people? Entertainment only? Once you consider your goals, you can then back-step and consider the technologies now available to help achieve them. You may be surprised to find that some of the solutions will last well beyond this pandemic.
Organizers are now considering long-term, hybrid, beyond-the-pandemic solutions to engaging people across the globe. At InVision, we’re working with a client right now who has realized an opportunity exists to expand their routine by shifting their annual meeting from just 300 execs to include an additional 3000 employees around the globe. When their new campaign rolls out, they will learn that this evolution will increase productivity tremendously within their organization. This was never possible before without the tools that now exist to innovate how we engage online.
Quality Matters (standard presentation and speaker are not enough)
The goal for any organizer should be to deliver high-quality videos or streams – both intellectual and visual. To rival the imagination explored in film & movies. If married properly with your brand’s messaging, your audiences will line-up and demand for more.
Today’s climate gave a break from this, but only for a blip. There was a grace period of three months at the beginning of the pandemic where audience members would accept low-grade content. We are all familiar with the cliché of a person sitting in their bedroom, using bad lighting, less-than broadcast quality camera and mic, delivering a PowerPoint presentation while their kid plays with toys in the background. As time passed, audience members grew tired of this “new norm” and began expecting more from event organizers. This commonplace work-at-home-video-vibe itself has turned into its own trope.
Recently, things shifted. Marketers are now investing differently, crafting compelling keynotes and stories that get users to lean in and consume messaging. It’s a noisy landscape today and bad content will be filtered out. Per usual, Apple has set the bar for their keynotes during this new norm, recently seen in their Nov 2020 event, making the entire experience an inspiring, exploratory one-hour presentation in a cinematic way. They flipped the script and allowed us to explore Apple Park as a stage, rather than presenting alone on the Steve Jobs Theater. Selfishly, I hope they continue this route because now I find myself curious how they transition from one product presentation to another.
The best presentations we’ve witnessed have cleverly integrated keynotes into backgrounds. Some elegantly frame individuals in non-traditional environments (the woods, large window with great architecture) and utilizing titles and motion graphics to create cinematic like experiences. A few who have leap-frogged the divide are the presentations utilizing cutting-edge 3D Game Technology and CLEANevents to deliver messaging via Hollywood-level quality graphics where real Broadcast Cameras are cleverly synced with 3D environments on a Green Screen or LED Stage. Dell Technologies World told a compelling, futuristic story with virtual, dynamic stage movements all while the presenter was filmed on one of these XR stages. No Post-processing, no editing – all live.
Netflix & Chill (making content available and bingeable beyond a 3-day conference)
As with all well-crafted content, we love to re-watch or binge it. Why could that not apply to conference material as well? Audiences working from home expect content to be of high quality and desire flexibility as they battle longer, more disruptive working days. Keep in mind that even when your event is live, people are still being pinged more than ever by their home/work environment or being tugged on the arm by their little ones.
We find that many conferences have smartly switched to an on-demand structure. No longer are you bound to only three-day events or else the faucet of information is shut off; it is now available for months or even a year-long campaign format. Organizers are seeing a great benefit and greater activity as content is now made available over a longer period. TED type conferences share a great wealth of knowledge and keep their videos online in perpetuity. Why not consider doing the same?
Adobe MAX, typically, a curated inspiration conference full of new tools and sessions focused on how they enable creators, was forced to go digital. They live-streamed their entire conference, with an agenda, over a massive three-day period. Some content was repeated to give flexibility for people around the world to tune in during selected times. Post conference, they gave all their attendees the opportunity to sift through the videos on demand with great ease. For a conference that’s so full of content, this allows their audience to reference and be inspired by sessions they might have missed or want to re-watch again. That said, there definitely was some “FOMO” – select sessions only played once and were not available on-demand post the event.
Living on the Edge (engaging by keeping live components)
If you are crafting a sense of urgency or desire to tap into the FOMO factor for your event, it should always be live. Too many companies find comfort in pre-canned content which takes a bit of the fun away. Audiences love a sense of risk, the unknown and want engagement. Instead of being fearful, be fearless. Wow people with some level of integrated audience participation.
What if you could embed your audiences virtually into your presentation? How about on a XR Stage as part of your keynote like what the NBA did for their fans? Or bring in dynamic panel discussions within your sets in a simple, elegant way like Oprah did for her Apple TV+ show? Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez facilitated important messaging about voting through play via a Twitch stream of “Among Us” with several other influencers, racking up an unprecedented 425K active viewers on the platform, and becoming the biggest driver to IWillVote.com. Give audiences the ability to feel like they are contributing to the overall success and experience of your show.
The Data Gold Rush (focus to digital means incredible opportunities for capturing metrics)
Every week that passes as of late, I continue to ponder how we are in the golden age of data collection and what it means for us. Over 4 billion people worldwide engage socially online with 67% of the world using mobile phones. This year along saw an astounding 12% increase of social media adoption. Today, during this pandemic, with events moving to online platforms, it should be a no brainer to ride this wave. More importantly, what are you measuring?
Likes are not enough. Number of registrants surely means some level of success, but did they watch your content? How much did they consume? What sessions did they stay in the entire time or where did they jump out of during a specific video? Are you collecting survey data before, during and after your events? Are your attendees connecting with each other? You have your audience captive on a digital platform, you should be considering every opportunity to collect for analysis.
Speaking of qualitative data, surveys are one source of feedback, but honest feedback is what you should be seeking. Good sources to seek beyond surveys are online reviews, chat rooms within your platform, social media shares and comments. One client event we’re analyzing right now saw an incredible ~400% increase in digital engagement across social media in 2020 compared to the same event held in 2019. Why not also interview willing attendees or sponsors for more in-depth input? If this feels overwhelming to mine, you could employ AI-driven data aggregators and analytics to synthesize important topics to common sentences, feelings and interpretations. These insights may reveal what you think you know about your users is far from the truth.
For over twenty years as an artist, one of the major things I learned is the worst feedback to receive could be either positive or negative such as: “I don’t like it” or “It’s cool!” Why is this inadequate? It is not constructive feedback. Either response fails to adequately inform me what works nor how to improve. This applies to our events metrics as well: we need honest, constructive feedback to improve our work for the next event – a one nor a five-star rating will do it alone – and we need to be open to this. After all, if you are not aware of why you are successful or where to improve, how are you going to innovate or succeed in your next event?
Moving Forward (note to self)
As uncertain as our future is during “The Great Pause”, we need to remind ourselves this an opportunity to craft new, entertaining, meaningful connections with our audiences, even if it comes with a great sense of risk. Remember, any level of failure is just as important as success – we all need to learn from both. People are more forgiving during this time, so seize this opportunity and try something different – innovate your content and evolve your strategy.