Global Audience, Editorial Access, Content Bites - The Virtues of Virtual Events

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by Ronn Levine

About halfway through an excellent webinar a couple weeks ago hosted by the American Society of Business Publication Editors titled, COVID-19 and B2B Publishing: A Panel Discussion, a poll was conducted. To paraphrase, the poll asked, "Are we continuing to cover the topics that had been previously planned or are we totally shifting to cover the impact of COVID-19?"


But for today’s article, the poll itself is more important than the question. I had been multitasking, and this bit of gamification required my attention. I gave my answer, waited for the instant results, and decided to pay more attention to the webinar.


Despite our Zoom fatigue, connectivity issues and Brady Bunch squares hang-ups, virtual events do have their virtuesand with polls even some fun. In a Connectiv webinar this week, Jesse Serventi, founding partner, Renovus Capital, said that we're really just starting to learn how to "have a keen understanding of how to engage an audience virtually…I do believe there's great opportunity to use all these different tools to create a better experience.”


As association publications and editorial people, we can have ideas and input to do just that:


Create digestible sessions - Attention spans of virtual attendees is shorter. In an article titled We Took Our 500-Person User Conference Virtual in Just 5 Days: Here's What We LearnedDayana Nevo, VP marketing, WalkMe, recommended sessions between 7-15 minutes. That could be a little too cautious, but the idea of quick bites makes sense. We have a lot going on at home—kids, pets, chores, eating, shopping—so building in breaks makes sense.


Include a mix of thought leadership, customer and vendor – "Just as at any event, the variety of content is crucial," wrote Nevo. "You need to keep a wide range of audiences engaged, so think about having a balanced combination of different types of content." And promote it that way.


Go global. "Virtual events break down geographic barriers to attendance. Stretch your event across time zones so participants can experience it live wherever they are,” wrote Bob Bejan, Microsoft corporate VP, in Fast Company this week. Always believed that your association could have a bigger global audience? This is your chance. Content from virtual events can also be easily put on-demand, so if the time difference is a hindrance, members can watch anytime. "At Microsoft, we publish event recordings to Stream and Yammer for people to watch when it works for them,” Bejan added.


Wow moments matter – Create multiple wow and peak moments throughout the event—this can be awards, customer promotions or a mix of face-to-face interviews and solo presentations. In a Zoom press conference I watched last night for a new film called Driveways, the actors, director and writers paid tribute to Brian Dennehy, one of the film’s stars who just died. If the child actor saying how Brian helped him one in pivotal scene and that he “missed Brian as a person” didn’t bring a tear, then you needed to turn the sound up.


Offer member access to editorial staff. Education Week's Online Summits provide readers with a unique opportunity to interact directly with reporters, practitioners and experts. Attendees can participate actively in reporter-expert-peer/peer conversations around niches within K-12 educational topic areas. When I attended one, the discussion and chat rooms were packed. This can also help to create more member engagement throughout the event. Your members may not have this opportunity at live events—either they are too busy or editorial staff can’t attend. Take advantage of this chance to better personalize their experience.


Bring in tougher speaker gets. There was a 90th birthday tribute to composer Stephen Sondheim a couple weeks ago and they had every star imaginable—Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald, Sutton Foster. And why shouldn't they? Everybody's home probably with some time on their hands. I've also seen recent online conversations with famous authors and playwrights. If there's a speaker or two you couldn't get before, try again now.


Get a top moderator. This is important in live events, of course. I don't know how many Q&As I've been to where moderators let audience questioners go on far too long or don't follow up enough on key questions. It might even be more important virtually. It's so easy to turn away at home. The moderator needs to keep the conversation flowing and not get bogged down. And then she gets to choose which questions to ask; the QA&A could be the best part. When it's live, you don't have that choice in front of you.


And yes, take polls. "Polling is the most interactive of the various Zoom features," American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians (ACOFP) Executive Director Bob Moore wrote last week after successfully converting their big event to virtual. "The chat function works well, but since not everyone has a question, polling is a nice way to keep all engaged." The Financial Times recently hosted the first in a series of online events, called "Digital Dialogues." And of the 4,600 who watched live, nearly 4,000 people responded to polls during the session.


Oh, in that aforementioned poll, 84% voted that they will continue to cover the topics that had been previously planned. But in last week’s AM&P poll, the vote was split between those keeping their 2020 editorial calendar intact and those adding COVID-19 emphasis.