Five ways for your virtual events to connect with audiences beyond screens
In 2020, conferences and events were different. What used to be a gathering in impressive locations now takes place virtually in everyone’s living room. While events have become a lot more inclusive and approachable, all the small interactions happening in-between are now hidden in the digital void.
Despite most events going “virtual” over the year, only a select group has set out to push beyond mere online events and create a hybrid experience for a distanced world.
The House of Beautiful Business has been a long-time favourite of mine and the people at Goodpatch. Year after year, the organizing team manages to put together an inspiring community of business, creative, and societal leaders. Through interknitting the arts with business, the conference aims to make humans more human and business more beautiful again. Upon being asked why I joined the conference, I shared the following answer:
"It’s a thirst for serendipity in times where the flexibility of remoteness contrasts with a need to plan every little encounter. I am looking for connections that don’t make sense, ideas I don’t understand and discussions that are not on the agenda."
My expectations were high, but the team at the House of Beautiful Business made sure to introduce a range of exciting new ways of interaction. While there were countless inspiring talks, I want to specifically focus on the experiences that turned the conference into a hybrid event.
Large zoom calls can be overwhelming. Splitting these up into breakout sessions is a start. However, it is even better to provide small chat groups (e.g. set up targeted WhatsApp groups of 10-30 participants) throughout the conference, where a cohort can discuss what they hear in the talks.
The house of beautiful business created so-called Ripples, where people from around the world were randomly connected and stayed in touch throughout the conference and beyond in a designated chat group.
-> Leverage and actively encourage interaction on channels beyond your main stage
Many of us have grown used to “camping” in front of our computer screens to follow video calls and webinars. However, movement plays a crucial role in processing what we learn. While I stayed in front of my laptop for almost the entire first day, I quickly started going for long walks and just listened to the talks as I wandered the city of Berlin. Some talks even actively encouraged you to go outside while listening.
-> Engage your audience in movement. Provide ways to go outside and move.
Many speakers refrained from using slides altogether. When a conference is happening on a screen, it proves to be very powerful when speakers directly address their audience and are not obscured by presentation slides. After all, our faces are exquisite storytelling tools with a range of expressions that beats any slide. Look straight into the camera, lean forward and show your excitement about the topics dear to your heart. While we might be further away physically, never before could we get as close to speakers as now. We are literally face to face.
-> Cut down on slides, only use visuals when needed and give solutions like mmhmm a try
The Zoom chat was on fire. Never before had I seen such an engaging discussion in parallel to talks. It was interesting how some speakers interacted with topics in the chat. On other occasions, initiatives were started off the spot. For example, participants collected 100 words of business bullshit while providing alternative terms right away.
-> You don’t need sophisticated collaboration tools. Encourage engagement in approachable tools like the embedded chat or google docs.
Video by Elliott Callender
As part of the conference, participants could join the activities of local hubs from Athens to Kabul and Zurich, just to name a few. The increasing Covid19 numbers led many hubs to fall back to their virtual plan B again. I was sent a little “workshop kit” including paint, drum sticks and other useful gimmicks for my field studies, which eventually culminated in an unexpected jam session.
In the end, a group of strangers was drumming together for more than an hour. Due to the latency of the video call, everyone was slightly behind each other. Still, the group managed to create a hypnotizing rhythm that went on for what felt forever. It gave this feeling of being together in this wave that currently encompasses the world. What a relief it was to neither listen nor talk but just make noise together.
Where has all the music gone in virtual conferences? Tools like Zoom offer ways to stream music straight away, or even allow collaborative playlists
-> Use the power of music, it truly is a universal language
As we move into 2021, virtual events are here to stay. It will remain important to continue improving the experience of hybrid events and position these conferences in our distanced world again.
Because after all, life happens beyond screens.
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