At this time, many brands are seeing what would have traditionally been an intimate local experience for 40-100 people, turning into a 5000-person national or global webinar. Unfortunately the same value of going to an event or conference can't be found staring at a screen and hearing some "expert" drone on as viewers check email and help their child with their math. Although, scaled events might save money, they eliminate the human connection that causes us to actually do business.

Instead, if you want to get the most out of video conferencing technology, make your company shine, and create new revenue streams, you have to consider what people need and how to push these technologies to their limits.

Here's some of the basics to make your online events extraordinary:

People don't simply need more stuff to do.

As a culture we are stressed out, exhausted, and overworked, but our digital experiences don't take this into account. So what should we do? Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What about your event is remarkable? As a species, we passed down our knowledge through an oral history. Which means that unless something is worth remarking about, it is not culturally significant. So ask yourself, why would someone talk about your event? What is special or novel about your experience? Is it the format? The people in the room? Is it information that can't be found anywhere else?
  2. What about your event is engaging? If I want to stare at something, I'll watch Netflix or Hulu, but events are about interacting. Adding even the most basic level of interaction through polls, quizzes, or breakout rooms both at the beginning of the experience, and throughout it can elevate your experience dramatically.

Use formats or trends that actually work.

I've found three formats have been wildly successful during this period.

The first is insight-based programming. With so much uncertainty, people are looking for answers. At the same time, the unpredictability is fueling higher levels of anxiety and depression. It should be no surprise that if you can provide meaningful answers, shared in a reasonable way, people will value that. These events are either about providing exclusive information, insights, and expertise, or helping people see information in a way that is easier to understand.

Note that I am not talking about pundits, or talking heads on news shows. As author Philip E. Tetlock has illustrated in his work, those TV experts claiming great certainty, are the least accurate. Instead focus on offering informed and valuable insights about possible directions the situation may unfold and how to handle each scenario.

The second format is about connection in an off-the-record space. We are all dealing with unprecedented circumstances and are doing our best to protect our teams and ensure that clients are being served. In light of this, most people don't have the time to organize with their peers to learn from one another and to develop solutions. Creating a safe space for groups of people (e.g. 4-12), with equal standing within an industry is incredibly valuable.

These events do not require much production but some consideration, regarding curation of who should be in the room, and topics of conversation. These events are especially important since in times of high stress it may be inappropriate to vent up or down in your organization. If you can provide an opportunity for people to convene at their level across industry, it will create the potential for safe space and an experience of human connection while networking (e.g.  convening CMO's, CEO's, Developers, Coaches, etc). This can be an ideal way to connect with customers.

And finally, the third format includes interactive entertainment, like fun and games. The problem with most digital events is that they are one-directional, as in, people sit and watch a screen, and maybe comment on a thread. For people to have a sense of connection or community, there needs to be a level of interaction.

I've seen a lot of organizations create digital happy hours, which is wonderful. But this is a starting point. We encourage you to ask, how can you use this same time to build a deeper and more meaningful relationship with customers, while simultaneously sharing the brand and it's story?

One possible answer is in games. There are countless games, activities, and playful formats that you can use and even project over screen share. Jackbox Games has several party packs. These are fun, but don't necessarily promote your brand

You could also create custom games. At my company, Influencers, we created game shows for our clients to be played across Zoom with customers. It allows us to tell the story of the organization in a playful and unique way while not feeling like a pitch. Sites like Triviamaker.com will let you create a game based on many major game show styles. You can play industry Jeopardy and have your customers learn important ideas, and success stories while having fun.

Creating a perfect online event isn't a skill you learn overnight. Frankly, it is a sudden shift to have to reimagine the way we connect, unwind, and build business. The first step is realizing the pitfalls and opportunities that we covered, so that you can improve your experience.