Digital First Approach
Even with the return of full capacity in-person events, here's why you'll benefit from also offering online components and three strategies for being successful in doing so, on budget.
Taking a “digital first” approach to planning your event may actually result in it exclusively being an in-person production. What this approach ensures is that you don’t miss out on any opportunities to reach more people and generate more revenues.
Not all organizations have reinstated travel and entertainment budgets, and/or perhaps companies have ongoing liability concerns about gatherings in large spaces. So, it’s possible that you’ve got employees, customers and sponsors who may not otherwise participate if your event is in-person only.
At the same time, while online event tools are impressive, it’s important not to force in-person and digital audiences together unnecessarily. My solution: to determine the right times to merge their event journeys, put thought into your audience experience as a narrative.
Thinking about the story you want to tell your audience happens in advance of, during, and after your event. It informs your selection of presenters and how to meet their needs in helping them tell their story. And it will guide your decision about whether to produce an in-person, online, or hybrid event. In all instances, planning with a narrative should be a priority.
For in-person attendees, their connection to a story happens in ways that can’t be achieved over the Internet, such as with intimate networking sessions on-site. For online attendees, because their relationship with the narrative takes place on a digital path, you can offer them content that can’t as easily be offered in-person. For instance, the ability to select their own unique, individual follow-on experiences associated with main Agenda sessions.
I’m convinced that in most cases, even with the return of full capacity in-person events, you’ll benefit from also offering online components for people who can’t attend in-person, or as value-add for those who are on-site. And you can do it on budget.
I’m going to give you three strategies to accomplish this, but first, here’s some context on the industry jargon.
In addition to “digital first”, you’ve also likely been hearing about empowering “audience community” when creating “shared experiences”when producing events.
Audience Community is about enabling your attendees to guide the direction of your content and their personal event experience, whether on their own, or when they’re interacting with other attendees. Digital tools make this possible in-person and online.
Shared Experiences means memorable connections to key content for everyone, but not necessarily having each person use the same tools, at the same time, in the same way. In-person, or online, people have different preferences for how they receive information and provide feedback.
And, again, Digital First means taking advantage of your opportunity to efficiently reach a larger number of people than ever before. That means more participants and even more revenue from your events.
So, here are the three strategies I strongly recommend for successful event experiences:
Use Affordable TV Production Values
Your online production values should match or exceed what you can achieve in-person on the venue big screens and on-stage. The most cost-effective way is to choose an online production platform with easy-to-use visual assets, like overlays, banners, tickers, logos, and camera configurations. In the video featured below, I produced the various elements in real-time to give you an example of what is available at your fingertips. Within moderation, they keep your presentation fresh and dynamic. You’re likely going to stream from one of these production spaces to the platform where the online audience attends your event and to the in-person venue, if relevant. Some online attendee platforms do have assets like these built in, but they’re usually limited, so shop around. I use Streamyard to produce my shows when solo, or vMix when collaborating with a producer. You can also check out Restream.
Use Engaging Gamification.
For both your in-person and online audiences, gamification is a creative tool, so it’s not enough to just use it as a prize gimmick for lead generation, or as a veiled engagement metric. You’ve got to build activations that are informative, entertaining and fun to inspire action and unify your audience. Most online platforms have some gamification tools, like Polls, but often they take you away from the main program. I use URL-based Stagecast to occupy the mobile phones of all attendees. Online this allows them to remain engaged with the main program. And in-person this avoids the additional expense and clutter of putting another piece of tech in everyone’s hands, or the need for anyone to download an App and set up a profile, such as with Slido. Plus, attendees at my shows report having a more enjoyable experience because they’re not tempted to constantly check their phones for email and social posts. Their phones are supporting the Agenda in a constructive and meaningful way for the whole event.
Use Creative Storytelling Techniques
This brings us back to the importance of using a narrative. Even the most business-oriented Town Hall or plenary session should have some form of narrative. What are you trying to communicate to your audience and what do you want them to do? And even if your presenters aren’t professional storytellers, you can use techniques such as bumpers and interstitials in between speakers and panels to capture the attention of your audience and keep them focussed on the Agenda. When I’m hosting events, I craft a central storyline that supports the event theme, keynote speakers and panelists, and use creative devices like teasers, backstories, foreshadowing and recall to lead to a conclusion and call-to-action.
My three strategies - affordable TV production values, engaging gamification, and creative storytelling techniques - work together to amplify “audience community” and enhance “shared experiences” in the “digital first” event landscape. That’s how you will present events, on budget, with exceptional content and production values to both in-person and online audiences.