Improving The Virtual Event User Experience

Source: flickr (User: kamomebird)

The Airport Experience

To get to your flight, one embarks on a journey through the airport.  First, you park your car (or arrive via mass transportation).  Then you take an elevator, walkway or escalator and arrive at your terminal.  From there, you use a self service kiosk to check in to your flight and receive your boarding pass.  Perhaps you check in an item of luggage or two.  Then, you enter the security checkpoint line and have your carry-on items (and yourself) screened.

Once through, you walk towards your assigned gate, while stopping (if needed) to use the restroom, purchase a snack or pick up some reading material for the flight.  Once that’s all done, you may sit at the gate and relax for a bit before your flight takes off.  All in all, quite a complex journey – and, you’re no closer to your destination!  Believe it or not, however, the airport has provided subtle “tools” to make this journey a bit more efficient.

In the midst of one such journey (on a recent business trip), I drew comparisons between the airport experience and the virtual event experience.  Here are some tactics used at the airport that may improve the user experience for virtual events:


Bookmarks for frequently visited locations in the virtual event – after I park my car in the airport parking garage, there are a stack of reminder cards by the elevator.  The cards list the garage that I’m in (e.g. Domestic Flights) and allow me to make a small tear mark (on the card itself) to indicate what floor and section I’ve parked in (e.g. 7th Floor, Section F).

Virtual event platforms should support a bookmarking capability to allow me to flag preferred areas of the event – and get me directly there.  Exhibitors could use this capability to find their way back to their booth in one click.  Attendees could leverage this to get them back to the Lounge or Auditorium – or whatever area of the event they frequent the most.

Source: flickr (User: trektheusa)

Auto-generated bookmarks for quicker navigation – at the airport, I use the “moving walkway”.  And I’m not one to stand there for the ride – I like to walk on the moving walkway to double my speed (like most people).  The basic idea is, “get me where I need to go – and fast”.  In a virtual event, the attendee wants to get where they need to go – and they don’t want to “figure it out”, nor are they interested in multiple clicks to get there.

Expanding upon the bookmarking concept, a virtual event platform could use data from the current session and past sessions (for that attendee), to auto-generate a set of recommended bookmarks.  If presented in an unobtrusive manner to the attendee (and, if the recommendations are on the mark), users would perform the one click and be taken directly where they want to go.  And, they’ll be much happier about their experience.


When I pass through the security line at the airport, I usually view the monitors to confirm the Gate Number for my flight.  On my recent trip, I noticed prominently placed display monitors in the walk-way that had visual paging notifications (e.g. “John Doe, please meet your party at Gate 4”).  These notifications are typically communicated via audio announcements on the airport loud speakers – but for me, I’ve been trained to tune out those announcements.  The visual cue was much more effective.

At a virtual event, wouldn’t it be neat to have the show host leave notifications for attendees – and, for attendees to leave notifications to others.  If you’re expecting a colleague to attend the live event but don’t see her online, you can leave her a notification – then, when she logs in, she sees notification pop-ups from the show host – along with your’s.

Affinity Programs

Once through the security checkpoint, passengers are free to roam as they wish in the (secure) boarding area.  Passengers who belong to an airline affinity program, however, can show their credentials (e.g. frequent flyer membership card) to gain entrance into a Frequent Flyer Lounge.  I wrote about this previously – the notion of a virtual event affinity program to increase audience, engagement and “event loyalty”.

Source: flickr (User: tombihninc)


The airport experience can introduce a lot of inconvenience, which means that any little thing (to create convenience for travelers) helps. Even though I had already packed properly, it was nice to see a pile of clear Ziploc bags available in the security check line – travelers who forgot to place their toiletries in a clear bag could grab one to become compliant.

In a virtual event, there are a number of system requirements (or plug-ins) that are needed for an optimal experience.  For convenience, perhaps the platform performs a check during the registration.  While the registration is being processed, the user is informed that a silent background check is being performed.  Then, upon successful completion of registration, the registration confirmation page provides the outcome of the system check, including links to install required software/plug-ins that were not found.  This way, the registrant has the opportunity to “get what she needs” prior to her arrival on the live event date.


With virtual events now beyond the “infancy” stage, I think a key for 2010 will be improving and enhancing the user experience.

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6 Responses to Improving The Virtual Event User Experience

  1. John Failla says:

    Dennis – BRILLIANT post. The novelty phase is behind us, it’s now about making virtual events the preferred destination for education, commerce and networking. Best wishes for a healthy 2010.

  2. Dennis Shiao says:

    Thanks, John – wishing you a healthy and prosperous 2010 as well.

  3. Hi! nice post. I really like your suggestion about smart bookmarks based on user behavior during the event.

  4. Thank you Dennis for this excellent post. Yes, virtual world events are not simply about just trying to make the bare minimum happen, calling that the goal, and then wishing and hoping that it works.

  5. Dennis – great thoughts. If I may, there needs to be something added to all platforms that informs attendees of where the action is.

    Whether this is presented as “where people are right now” or “most traffic in the last 12 hours” or something along those lines, there needs to be a way to bubble up popular content.

    Expand that one step further and there needs to be a way to expose relevant content based on your network and what they are viewing and/or what content fits into the categories you’ve indicated as a preference at the time of registration.

    I’m trying to think of a clever way to tie this into the airport metaphor, but I’m not sure it works 🙂

  6. Dennis Shiao says:

    Steve – I like that idea – when I first login to a virtual event, I’d love that sort of “heat map” that tells me where the crowds have congregated.

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