Remote working and virtual meetings are here to stay for the foreseeable future, and some of these change may be permanent, recent research shows.
Most of us are attending three times the number of virtual events we used to just a year ago. And one-in-three of us is now ‘heavy’ virtual event-goers, attending more than 10 virtual events a month.
Despite the steep increase, more than half of us (51%) expect to attend even more events online in 2021.
Alongside that growth is the concurrent increase in what’s become known as ‘Zoom fatigue’.
According to the Harvard Business Review, having to engage in a “constant gaze” makes us uncomfortable and tired.
This ‘fatigue’ is also showing up in our research. Almost nine in 10 of us (88%) have left a virtual event early — up from 66% just a year ago.
So with no immediate end in sight to prevailing remote working conditions, how can businesses ensure people don’t tune out of their carefully conceived virtual events?
From our research, we’ve compiled a list of the top nine things not to do if you want people to log into your next virtual event, stay around to watch it, and then remember it.
1. Sell, sell, sell!
‘We sent out emails inviting people to attend our virtual event, and wow, we’ve got three times as many RSVPs as usual. Amazing! What a great opportunity to promote our brand. I mean, we’re putting time, money and effort into this event. We should at least spend a good portion of it spruiking our product.’
In most cases, if people were attending your event just to hear more about your product or service, they’d be on your website or otherwise engaging with you commercially.
In fact, 21% of virtual event attendees say ‘salesy’ presentations are the main reason they leave virtual events early.
So unless you’re conducting an advertised virtual product demo or investor pitch, remember your attendees want to be informed and entertained.
2. Prioritise video over sound
‘Everyone’s got a camera on their laptop, right? We have the NBN. And presenters can dial-in from anywhere. Let’s have all our speakers present on video because, well, because we can!’
Actually, the most important part of a virtual event is the audio.
Almost two-thirds (63%) of attendees say ‘crystal clear audio’ is the most important thing to them — roughly twice the proportion that likes to be able to see the presenter’s face on video.
Scratchy, tinny sound is a big turn-off for virtual event attendees, so don’t risk it if you have speakers presenting remotely from an unstable broadband connection.
Having a proper microphone — or a headset with a microphone built-in — is a must.
And remember, just 5 seconds of radio silence can be enough for attendees to assume the event is over and close it down.
3. Schedule it after hours
‘Most of us like to attend face-to-face events shortly after work, often with a beer or glass of wine in hand, so let’s schedule our virtual events in the cocktail hour. That way, we’ll still be able to get all our work done, and the same scheduling dynamics will apply for attendees.’
Um, not so much.
In 2020, evenings are our least favourite time to attend virtual events, nominated by just 3% of people in our study.
It seems that while many of us are confined to the home office, we are more protective than ever of our personal and family time.
And after staring at a computer screen all day, we’re reluctant to tune in again at night.
Mid-mornings and mid-afternoons are our preferred times to attend virtual events, nominated by 39% and 23% of us respectively.
4. Slot in any old subject matter expert
‘Our keynote speaker has given loads of face-to-face presentations on this topic in the past, and they’re great on the detail. On top of that, they can talk on this topic without drawing breath for at least an hour. What could go wrong?’
Online audiences want to listen to a passionate presenter who is enthusiastic about their topic and also knows how to engage a virtual audience.
Almost three-quarters of us (74%) say passion makes a great presenter.
And most people prefer two or more speakers to just one.
Having a moderator and a presenter or a panel discussion is a great way to create an energetic dynamic.
5. Tell, tell, tell
‘We have a lot to get through in our virtual presentation and we want to make sure people get value for money and understand that we’re the authority on this topic. So let’s really go in-depth, explain the technicalities in full, and pack in a lot of information.’
While webinars can be a great way of sharing information, studies have shown we actually absorb more if we’re told less.
The human brain needs meaningful repetition to lay down long-term memory, so rather than make your virtual event an endless stream of information, restrict it to your essential points, go over these a few times and break it up into digestible chunks.
Look for ways to engage the audience with interesting examples, by using online polls or quizzes, by combining great visuals with key information, or by showing pre-recorded videos during the live event.
6. Only make your event available live
‘Let’s make people commit and actually show up to our event by only showing it live instead of letting people view it later.’
Look, I get it. It would be great if everyone who says they’re going to attend your virtual event actually shows up.
The same is true of face-to-face events.
But while live-viewing is becoming more popular, significant numbers of attendees still want to watch when it suits them.
According to our study, only 12% of attendees watch all their events live.
That means 88% watch at least some of their events on-demand.
That’s a big proportion of viewers to lose by not hosting your event on-demand.
7. Make it really long
‘We have no venue hire costs, and all our requested presenters have said yes. It doesn’t matter if we run overtime, does it? We’ll just keep going until we’re done. No one is rushing off anywhere. Most people are watching from home anyway.’
In general, shorter is better when it comes to online events.
Our data shows people seem to allocate up to an hour for most events.
In fact, an hour is the most popular duration, nominated by 46% of us. But viewing (and attention) starts to drop off after that.
In addition, 12% of attendees nominate running over time as the key reason they leave online events early.
8. Take a couple of questions on chat
‘What will we do if we get questions during our virtual event? Even worse, what if we don’t get any? Let’s leave a couple of minutes at the end for a quick Q&A. People can send in questions over private chat. And then we’ll shut it down.’
If you’ve gone to the trouble of attracting presenters your audience wants to hear from, it’s definitely worth asking if they’ll stick around after the event to answer questions. Our data shows half of attendees (51%) would like access to speakers in an after-event chat room or forum, for a more detailed Q&A.
Another good option to stimulate questions is to ask attendees to send them in ahead of the event.
Not only does it give you a steer as to the topics that interest your audience, it also enables your presenters to prepare great answers!
9. No need to practise
‘We’ve all used virtual meeting technology by now. How hard can it be? About 15 minutes before the event should be enough time to get everyone online and ready to go. Then you just talk into the camera and away we go.’
Unless you’re filming everything in a broadcast studio with a producer to troubleshoot any technical glitches and a moderator to run the technology and keep to time, it’s crucial to be technically prepared.
Not only should you test presenters’ local internet connections well before the day of the event, but they should also be trained in how to use your virtual event platform, they should have experience (or spent time practising) presenting to their laptop.
And you should have a fallback plan for what to do if a technical problem arises, either for a presenter or for attendees.
Avoid these nine pitfalls and you’ll give your business the best possible chance of hosting effective virtual events that keep people tuned in until the end, and maybe even beyond.