10 Things Holding Your Online Event Back (and How to Turn Them Around)
The events industry started 2021 with nearly a year’s worth of lessons learned from 2020, a year when online events were chosen by necessity. As we look back, many of those early attempts were not the most polished performances. We all can remember fumbles such as “You’re on mute”. The format was new for many, and expectations were still open. Online events have come a long way since then. Attendees today expect more as they have become seasoned online-event participants. But as the first quarter of 2021 comes to a close, we are seeing some of the same issues that plagued online events last year continuing unabated. Each week, the PIRATEx team attends many outside events to test new platforms and learn new tools. Here are some of the issues we’re continuing to see, and some of the ways event organizers can prevent them.
1- Acting analog in a digital context
One of the biggest learnings from the transition to mostly in-person, to mostly digital events, was that content must be optimized for a virtual format. Multiple hours of live-streamed event content without breaks does not work for digital events, as does long keynotes with few opportunities to engage. Develop your event content strategy with the virtual viewer in mind. How can you adjust your programming so it suits? Consider extending your event timeline, or shortening it into multiple events. Organizers can get creative with their formats here, especially when it comes to what type of content must be consumed “live” or not.
2- Losing the momentum
Keeping your participant’s attention during an online event can be tough, especially when distraction is just a browser tab away. Don’t give your attendees any more reason to click away by losing the momentum in your programming. Ensure that there is something exciting for participants to engage with at all times they are on the platform, even during breaks in the programming. You can get creative here, with live music sessions, or a continual social wall. Use your staff to encourage chat and discussion, and to show that the event is “alive” continually.
3- Lack of tech checks
One year after the shift to entirely digital events, poor picture, sound and audio quality problems continue to plague the online event experience. Organizers should be careful to run tech checks with event speakers at the same time of day as their speaking slot, to test prospective problems with lighting, picture and bandwidth. If it fits into your budget, organizers can send external cameras and lighting to speakers before the event to make sure speakers are looking their best.
4- Using the wrong software for your online event
Your event concept should dictate the technology you use, not the other way around. More features is not always better. It doesn’t make sense to utilize feature-laden platforms that could trap or distract attendees if you aren’t going to be using those extras. In addition, let your attendees influence your tech decisions. While you might crave using a feature-rich, immersive platform, it might not be the most efficient platform for a B2B event, where the goal is to quickly identify new leads. Similarly, more youthful demographics might be easily bored with platforms with lean functionalities and a lack of engagement features.
5- Not prioritizing your online event design
The branding, look and feel of an event was a huge part of the live event experience. Don’t ignore this element when you transition to digital. Find creative ways to bring design back into your online experience, from the first touchpoint with attendees to post-event. Pay special attention to the attendee and sponsor experience on your event platform– it is easily possible to go overboard with theming, branding and colors. Solicit feedback to make sure your themes are easy on the eyes.
6- Lack of a backup plan
Don’t abort your event in case of an emergency with your broadband provider or if a speaker pulls out. Make sure you have a backup. Ideally, more than one. Just as in a physical event things can go awry. So make sure you have an alternative arrangement for your attendees in place before the big day.
7- Going wrong with engagement
Attendee engagement is a huge part of an online event. You want to make sure that you provide an outlet for your attendees and participants to take part– however, make sure those features make sense for your event. Organizers can get it wrong by thinking “more is better” when it comes to engagement. Don’t necessarily choose engagement features for engagement’s sake. Including gamification elements can be a big bonus, if it makes sense for your event’s objective and attendee value. Some of the most distracting events can trap attendees with superfluous gamification elements, such as leaderboards to win prizes. While engagement levels might be high, is this really the right kind of engagement for your event? Think carefully.
8- Not optimizing the online event for mobile
This is a huge one. Event platforms which lack specialized interfaces for mobile do a huge disservice to organizers and attendees. The remote capabilities are one of the best opportunities of online events, so it makes sense to prioritize them. Especially with events that transcend time zones, or that take place over a long part of the day. You’ll have the chance to catch more attendees for sessions if you can optimize for mobile browsing– especially if your guests do not need to download an app.
9- Not owning up to your mistakes
Things can, and will go wrong at your online event. While hopefully, those errors are not visible (or audible) to your audience, in the case they are, it’s ok if you own up to it. Events should feel human. Bring in some transparency, and admit that there was a sound issue. Your attendees and participants will be more understanding if you acknowledge the issue, rather than moving on like they didn’t happen. Your participants will likely be commenting on the issue in the chat features, don’t leave them hanging.
10- Not putting attendee value first
The final, and maybe most important mistake event organizers have been guilty of, is having an event because we “can” but before asking, “should we?” In the past year, we’ve attended many events that have seemingly been created for the novelty factor or because the barriers to event design have been lowered. While events are great outlets for creativity and bringing people together, organizers should be transparent about their motivations and manage attendee expectations.
Time is precious for everyone. Be clear about what expected value your attendees can receive from your event, and then work hard to deliver on this value. It might mean changing your event concept or tightening your value offering. Set specific goals and survey your attendees afterward to see how you have delivered on them. Poor experiences at online events can impact a participant’s or exhibitor’s propensity to take part in online events in the future. Evaluation can be an incredibly important tool. Organizers should hold themselves accountable to ensure expectations are met.
PIRATEx Managing Director