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4 Stages of The Perfect Virtual Event

Last updated June 28th, 2021

Most of us love live events. No one really loves a Zoom call. It was fun to begin with. We put on silly hats, we did funny backgrounds and we made the most of the novelty. But now it feels functional and flat. It’s certainly not an event.

The thing we love most about live is typically the people, the social interactions, the unexpected meetings, the tribal gathering. But it is also the dramatic experience and the spontaneous moment that draws us in.

Get with the program

I’ve never been to a festival and followed a programme. I want to be surprised, to go beyond the limit of my expectations, to make random connections and to experience the unusual.

I want be in the same space as the artist (or at least make them out over a few hundred yards of field!) and to commune in a one off performance. We all know what that feels like when it works.

It’s the same for a corporate event. No one wants an agenda to be so predictable that you know what we’re in for before you even dial in (or register in a grey hotel foyer like the old days). I don’t want it to feel like work, although I’m very happy to do some.

I want to feel intrigued, to be with others on an unexpected journey. I want to be inspired. Again, I want to connect.

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Turn up, tune out

Right now most event organisers are taking the obvious route to delivering virtual events. Basically transferring the live experience to an online format, maybe chucking in a bit of video, some games, some downloadable resources and hey, we just saved thousands of pounds on a venue, travel and accommodation. And an agency.

The attendees may be turning up, but they are surely tuning out.

The best of virtual creates a reason to be there, it generates expectation, surprise and as much as possible a live parallel. Let me explain.

Take a charity fundraising ball that last year raised money from an audience of 350 sponsors and guests at a glam, themed venue. This year that isn’t happening, but the ambitions for the charity, the objectives to raise money, engage with donors and supporters and to celebrate the great work of the organisation are still there.

So what to do?

Come dine with me

Why not break the audience into 50 ‘dine around events’ of 10 each (this year you can invite more people as you’re not limited by space). You deliver incredible catering to each host’s home. You create an agenda of auctions, live acts and interviews. You make some heart tugging videos. Okay so that’s relatively easy. The hard work is to create a compelling narrative theme that is reflected in the event experience (and delivered by a team of ‘facilitators’ who travel to each of the host’s homes).

Now you are running 50 events each of which have their own flavour but that are connected by incredible catering, tableware and design. They are supported by the facilitators and hosts, by the shared agenda, by the live studio events (and by the usual auctions, videos and appeals) but above all by a reason to engage.

Fundamentally this reason to engage comes from a strong creative concept and its execution. Running a slick event is one thing. Creating an experience that individuals want to join and play with is hard.

Top tip. Don’t try this bit at home. Get that agency involved.

Going large

Now take a large scale corporate event.

You might need to get your people to engage with a big idea, with your strategy post Covid, with your behaviours and brand now you’ve pivoted. This is critical to your success going forward but you can’t get people together for a meeting.

How do you go beyond some online presentations with leaders in silly outfits, a bunch of videos and a confusion of digital whiteboards?

Again the trick is in the creative execution.

Take a business wanting to demonstrate new ways of operating and behaving post 2020. Why not set up a series of Zoom courtrooms in which your people participate as prosecution, defence and jury putting the business on trial for failing to deliver?

Or take inspiration from Fran Cotton’s ‘Happy Place Festival’ and create a festival week of inspirational talks, events, drop ins, gigs and showcases that demonstrate how your organisation could pivot and bring that all together on the ‘main stage’ at the end?

Or even send your team the brief for the event in the post and unwrap the key elements as you go to gain a real world experience?

These tricks will increase the engagement and participation.

Bring the magic

The real magic comes when you create that reason to be engaged that is at the deeper level. Now you are connecting your product with brand, customers, employees and strategy.

Instead of putting on a festival, why not challenge employees to create one themselves. We’ve seen it work with PPE. Could your team deliver a product that goes straight into a refugee camp to help children to express their trauma through play?

Could you deliver your beer straight to customers via drones? Could you switch your process capabilities to help care homes with theirs? Could you distribute stock to school kids to help them learn new skills at this time?

Purpose beats everything.

The four stages of virtual

So there are probably four stages of virtual.

  1. Level one is just bunging what you used to do live onto a website and going online.
  2. Then there is using some new tools (from Zoom to digital whiteboards) and adding a bit of facilitation.
  3. Then there is mixing it up with some of the engagement tricks (that really worked live).
  4. And then there is reaching toward a purpose led challenge that brings the other three levels together, but with meaning.

All combine to enable event managers to deliver virtual events that won’t leave you bored or wondering when the fun will begin.

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