With the recent global pandemic and the inability to have large gatherings, there is an ever-increasing amount of events moving to Virtual, whether it's temporary or a decision to go long-term.
My inspiration for putting this blog post together comes from hearing stories from attendees sharing their negative and positive experiences, being an attendee at virtual events, having in depth experience organizing events, and reviewing sponsorship prospectuses for countless conferences. With organizers having to put together last minute events, there isn't much thought put into the sponsor benefits or the event experience itself.
Have a virtual speaker dinner. Maybe give everyone a giftcard from a local restaurant or delivery service, then speakers can chat virtually while they eat; assuming the event has a sponsor to cover the costs.
Mothers, especially working mothers, found they can attend more virtual events while also having young children at home. Without the virtual events, they would not have been able to attend these events.
Some mentioned they were okay with virtual events, but still wanted in-person events to return. In-person events can never be compared to virtual ones. There are many individuals who need to be around people and network in-person, especially the extrovert type.
Some individuals do not like virtual events at all because of the feeling of not being able to network with others, especially when eating food and being able to sit with others to meet them.
Some mentioned they prefer virtual events as it's easier for them to network and less intimidating to ask questions. For example, joining a small breakout lunch or coffee room doesn't feel as overwhelming in comparison to joining a lunch room with 100's of people in-person. This would be more common especially with the introvert type.
Speakers speak at a much slower rate and tend to be more comfortable.
The expectations of the quality of presentations is much higher for virtual events.
Many enjoyed using Discord as the community tool for engaging with the community. (Personally, the use of Discord impacts my decision to attend or sponsor.)
ProTip: Create Discord channels based on topics so #general chat isn't flooded. Add emerging topics for channels. (A big no-no is making channels based on the presentation+speaker). More engagement happened in channels from conversations that evolved from the talks, not individual session channels.
Good Example: #jamstack Bad Example: #Session5-TessaMero-IntroToJamstack
In Discord, individuals want the feeling of freedom and to organically network and engage in the channels without being pushed or forced to join different channels based on what sessions are going on.
In Discord, have a #welcome channel when people join and include a link to a Code of Conduct.
It's more comfortable to be able to ask questions or start a conversation with a speaker virtually rather than in-person. With asynchronous communication modes like messaging and email, attendees don't have to feel like they're interrupting another conversation because the speaker can message back on their own terms, rather than having to talk to the physically closest person.
Having a really great and entertaining MC/Host of the virtual event makes a huge impact on the quality of the event making the entire event enjoyable.
Pre-recorded sessions were very odd, especially when you are listening to the speaker talk, then seeing them type in the channel or answer questions in real-time. Although it makes the conference organizers time and resources 100x easier on the day of the event, it's not the best experience for the attendee. Then there's the catch 22 of doing a live session and having technical difficulties, causing the entire event to go over-time. In my opinion, having a 10 minute leeway of speakers doing a technical check would be helpful, or doing a pre-day tech check to make sure everything is working smoothly.
Questions in real-time during/after the session wasn't a great experience. Having a panel of speakers and all questions asked at the end of the event was a really great experience.
Not having enough "chat" channels makes people feel very timid and makes individuals feel like they cannot socialize with others. (Not the case for everyone, but for a lot of individuals). Having more broad topic channels makes people feel more welcome in a community.
Example of events mentioned that gave attendees a positive experience in certain aspects:
The secret to a good virtual event or even adding a virtual event track to a live event is in setting up the right resources and strategies for encouraging discussions and personal connections.
If you have any experiences you'd like to share including examples and event names that you found as a really great experience as an attendee or sponsor, please post in the comments below. I will add to this post as well as credit you.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Blog series, “Series: You're Doing Virtual Events Wrong! Advice from the Community: Tech Sponsors Experience
Editor: Greg Bulmash