When was the last time you attended a great company event? For many people, it was at least a year and a half ago, before the global pandemic and resulting lockdowns took hold. In part, this is because we instinctively think about an “event” as something that happens in person. But more pertinently, it’s because most events held in the digital realm have yet to be as immersive as their in-person equivalents, and hence, they’re destined to be more quickly forgotten.
Virtual event organizers have struggled to deliver a positive audience experience, whether due to tech and connectivity issues, problems with event formats or difficulties encouraging participation and preventing distraction and Zoom fatigue.
We don’t fully know what the post-COVID world will look like or how it will affect business practices. But with the future likely to involve a blend of in-person and virtual events, it’s time for companies to focus on making them more immersive.
Here are five top tips for doing just that:
1. Understand the event objectives
Well-produced and well-executed events build brands, reinforce culture, educate, create affinity and much more. However, they’re rarely designed to achieve all these things at once. Without first understanding what an event is supposed to achieve, it’s impossible to create a format and approach that will deliver this goal. As business professionals, we’ve probably all experienced events that have fallen short of expectations, or events that we’ve enjoyed but haven’t really taken away anything of value from them.
In this sense, it doesn’t matter whether an event is in-person, online or in-between. What’s important is that the format supports the objective.
2. Make use of available technology
When it comes to formats, technology now exists that can replicate in-person experiences in the virtual world and seamlessly blend both together—offering everything from panel debates to breakout rooms and audience polling to social media integration. And yet, too often, events are being built around the technology, rather than the technology being deployed to suit the organizer’s goals and the audience’s wants and needs.
3. Set metrics that matter
Now more than ever, event organizers need to think about “purpose” from the outset, build their event from the ground up and, crucially, set clearly defined, relevant metrics for how event success will be measured. It’s time to move beyond attendance—who showed up—and consider elements such as: Who learned what? Who was convinced? Who left a happier customer or employee than when they arrived?
4. Make participation possible for everyone
While event technology has been around for several years, companies have often used it as an add-on for those unable to attend in-person rather than deployed it to engage the entire audience equally. Historically, virtual exclusion has been commonplace. While in-person attendees are networking between sessions, those online are stuck staring at a blank screen, or worse, at a silent video feed of the auditorium, so they can observe the socialization they’re missing.
The risk of falling short around audience participation is that in-person attendees enjoy the full value of the event, but those who attend online are left wondering why they bothered showing up. Indeed, sometimes even the in-person experience is wholly underwhelming, with audiences stuck in their seats for hours of presentations, without ever feeling involved in proceedings.
Fortunately, new technologies are emerging that improve participation and audience immersion while also creating a consistent experience for everyone, irrespective of how they’ve chosen to attend. It allows everyone to see the same speaker presentation in the intended format, to answer the same questions, access the same supportive content, even to wander around the lobby (a virtual lobby to coexist with the in-person lobby) and navigate the event in the same way.
The result is a more immersive experience that audiences will love—and stick around for, wherever they are.
5. Wield the power to wow, regardless of event format
For every commentator predicting that the future of events is virtual-first, there is another point that, in the post-COVID world, people will be desperate to get out and meet in person again. For event planners, the priority is to avoid such distractions and adopt technology that supports and enhances the audience experience in both contexts, with the goal of making all events more immersive.
Immersive events are about involvement and participation, making audiences feel connected to one another and their hosts. Following a lengthy pandemic, that sounds like the perfect tonic for everyone.