We need to create better and more engaging virtual event experiences. We need to better approximate the valuable face-to-face encounters and experiences that physical events create.
1: Create a stronger feeling of “there”
There’s nothing like walking into an over-crowded trade show floor and hearing the buzz of attendees and exhibitors. It’s similar to walking into a popular restaurant or bar. The buzz permeates the environment. If I were to login to the world’s most popular virtual event, there’s hardly an indicator to tell me so.
The closest thing we have today is a list of avatars (also known as profile images) in a given event area. If I see a long list of other attendees listed, then I know the area is quite popular and there must be something going on (e.g. perhaps there’s a live chat session occurring). Beyond that, it’s hard to tell that “there’s a ‘there’ there”.
To address this, event platforms and event planners should consider augmenting the experience with sensory stimulation. The two relevant senses are sight and sound. With sight, one could imagine “heat maps” that signal to attendees where the action lies. Or, animation to direct users to a popular area – or, that something is important is happening in a given location.
Incorporating sound can be a challenge in a B2B environment, since many users mute their computer speakers while at work. So perhaps one uses visuals to encourage attendees to enable their sound. Then, platforms could “inject” show floor chatter into the environment, adjusting the level of intensity based on the amount of activity or people present.
Better yet, platforms could allow attendees to speak into a common audio channel. If I’m in the Networking Lounge, I’m then able to converse with others (via audio) in addition to text chat. Perhaps the system allows for comment moderation, so that one person is enabled to speak at any one time (a challenge that takes care of itself when folks assemble in person).
2: Create stronger person-to-person interactions
Text chat is great, but virtual events need to go beyond text to create richer and more engaging person-to-person interactions. That means audio (as outlined above) as well as video. Bandwidth availability varies depending on where you’re located – but if you have sufficient bandwidth, virtual events should allow you to network and connect with others the “old fashioned way” – with a smile, a greeting and a hello. Not with a “LOL” or a smiley.
In addition, virtual event experiences need to better enable a community to form. This is done with effective tools to connect like-minded individuals – and, applications to encourage and foster person-to-person interactions (e.g. blogging, status updates, etc.).
3: Use imagery to strike a deeper emotional connection
In any event experience (whether physical or virtual), imagery can be used to strike a deep, emotional connection with attendees. In a virtual event, we all too often create this effect:
That is, the imagery that may create that emotional connection is covered by functional elements overlaid on top. What you’re left with is edges of the “pretty picture” – that is, the small segments that are not covered by the functional elements. A few options to address this:
Combine imagery and function
Build the functional elements into the imagery. For Flash-based platforms, the images and the functional areas occupy the same SWF. There are cost and “repeatability” considerations in going this route, so other options can be considered.
Determine function element placement up front
Before the creative team designs an image, determine what functional elements are included in the event area. Size these elements (by pixel counts) and then have the creative team design around that. For instance, if you’re designing at a width of 1024 pixels and you embed a chat window 512 pixels wide, then you have 256 pixels on each side of the chat area.
Have your designers make the most of each 256-pixel segment, rather than designing an elaborate image that has its most compelling 512 pixels covered and never seen.
I’ve listed 3 ways that virtual event experiences can be improved. Drop a comment below to let us know how you’d improve virtual events.