August 31, 2020
Zoom fatigue… that’s so last season. Now, everyone’s moved on to virtual conference fatigue. This new syndrome was inevitable because most virtual conferences have been using the same format over and over and over again.
Your prospective attendees are feeling this fatigue too. They wonder, will your virtual conference really be any different? Should I spend the time and money?
Your virtual conference has to offer something different, something that brings FOMO back, something people will talk and tweet about. Here are 14 ways to differentiate your event so it stands out from the typical virtual conference experience.
Ok, maybe this isn’t the most exciting idea to start the list, but it’s an important element that’s missing from most virtual conference experiences. It’s a great way to create word-of-mouth marketing buzz while preparing attendees for your conference.
Onboarding helps attendees understand how to navigate and use your virtual event solution so they can have the optimal experience. And wouldn’t it be nice to minimize technical support questions during your event?
Host several well-publicized pre-event attendee meetups where you give tours and answer questions while attendees navigate their way around your virtual platform. Send them on a scavenger hunt with prizes from sponsors. Ask attendees for their feedback on the program. Which sessions are they looking forward to? Are any timely topics missing?
A glaring weakness of many virtual conferences is the lack of opportunities for real conversations. Attendees miss the serendipitous meetups as well as the structured networking during receptions and session discussions.
Make sure you choose technology that allows you to host both serendipitous and structured conversations during your virtual conference. By the way, The Echo, our virtual event solution, is built for these conversations.
Attending a virtual conference is usually a passive experience. Sit, watch, and listen. That’s why conversations are so critical for keeping attendees engaged and helping them retain what they’re learning.
Attendees are also naturally engaged when they’ve had a hand in designing the program. Save some slots on your schedule for crowdsourced “express” sessions, perhaps 20 minutes long if your regular sessions are 45 minutes or longer. During onboarding meetups, ask attendees what’s missing from the program and get suggestions for speakers.
This co-designing role for attendees is common at unconferences and volunteer-run summits. In the weeks (or even days) leading up to the conference, ask attendees to submit ideas for sessions they’d like to present themselves as well as sessions they’d like to see. The crowd votes by answering a poll. The top-ranking choices get a spot on the schedule.
These crowdsourced sessions are an appealing option in times of change, as long as you publicize them well in advance so potential speakers have time to prepare.
Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) events started as Q&A sessions on Reddit, but now are seen everywhere. AMAs put an industry bigwig or influencer in the hot seat where attendees can ask them anything. Sprinkle these 20- to 30-minute sessions throughout your virtual conference schedule.
AMAs are another way to involve attendees in program design. Upon registration, ask them to send in AMA speaker suggestions.
#5: Video tours
The typical virtual conference features one talking head after another on the screen. This repetitive format gets boring after a while. What you need is variety.
Video tours take the attendee out of the usual webinar-like experience and into a different world. For example, you could show:
Present whatever you think your target audience would like to see—and that means shifting some of the budget to video production, or getting a sponsor to pay.
If you’ve attended an Ignite or FailFest session at an ASAE conference, you know how appropriate the word “ignite” is for the energy felt in those meeting rooms. It’s high vibe, for sure.
Think about competitions featuring your attendees or exhibitors. Maybe they submit videos that attendees watch in advance? Or maybe they display something in their virtual exhibit booth or in an attendee competition lounge? Attendees vote on the winners by scanning a QR code or some other method.
Virtual conferences are a lifeboat for entertainers who lost their regular gigs due to the pandemic. Musicians, comedians, magicians, and other artists are available to warm up and entertain your audience.
An upbeat playlist is becoming the standard as attendees wait for sessions to start. But what about a live DJ or band playing those hits instead? Go one better by allowing attendees to make requests.
Go two better by incentivizing those requests. Just like putting money in the jukebox, attendees can push their requests to the head of the line by making donations to your PAC or foundation.
A Shark Tank-inspired session is a great way to allocate association or sponsor funds for innovation. Staff and volunteer teams present their pilot ideas and viewers (attendees) vote on the best ones.
Everyone says the best part of a conference are the hallway or lunch table conversations with peers. Save room on the schedule for peer-to-peer meetups, for example, masterminds or hackathons where attendees look to each other for help solving a problem.
Many parents have kids at home attending school online and needing supervision throughout the day. Your virtual conference is accessible only if these parents (in most cases, moms) don’t have to keep an eye on the kids all the time.
Consider offering suitable content for the young ones, think of it as the virtual version of on-site childcare. You could also host family game breaks, like virtual Family Feud.
Long ago, chapters learned the trick for getting attendees to stay until the end of the program… give everyone a few raffle tickets. At the end of each day, or throughout the day, depending on the largesse of your sponsors, pull several raffle tickets for prizes. Include these paper tickets in the sponsored goodie package you mail to attendees.
Give your attendees the “getting away from it all” feeling by including social events in your conference program. We’ve hosted trivia, scavenger hunts, and concerts on The Echo. One of our favorite bar games that we’d like to try online is music bingo—another reason to have a DJ. If you search online, you’ll see lots of virtual game night options.
With virtual conferences, the event experience doesn’t have to stop until you say so. Virtual venues are far more flexible than convention centers with their strict timelines for loading in and out.
By extending the virtual conference experience, you can make sure the learning really sticks in attendees’ brains. For example, host post-event:
Organize these exclusive attendee-only meetups by career stage, specialty, or another demographic segment, or open them up to any attendee. Think of them as having both an educational and social purpose. They’re an opportunity for attendees to dive deeper into content while also strengthening and developing new relationships.
When discussing these 14 ideas with your team, think about how you can turn them into sponsorship opportunities. And, if you really want to differentiate your event, we’ve got a bonus #15 for you: host your virtual conference on The Echo, our virtual event solution. It’s guaranteed to spark FOMO.