Engaging people remotely HERO
13th Mar 2020
3 Min Read

Virtual conferences. Engaging people remotely

Russ Norton
Russ Norton
IC & Engagement

With the impact of COVID-19 forcing event organisers around the globe to make the difficult decision to cancel long planned gatherings, the pressure is on to replicate the experience in ways that conform to guidance around social distancing.

Can a digital conference ever match lively crowd participation and face-to-face networking? In short no. These are very different experiences. But we can absolutely recreate a lot of the exciting information sharing, experiential moments and collaborative communication that physical events provide if we get a bit more creative.

Maintaining the ‘event’ feeling

Conferences bring together different people in a venue to receive information and explore topics in more detail. There’s a sense of exclusivity to the event format – you’ll only hear certain things if you’re in the room. There’s also more opportunity for questions, discussion and exploration than you get from typical broadcast communications.​

To maintain these experiences in a digital setting:​

  • Keep some sort of time-bound ‘live’ element: e.g. a keynote speech delivered through a channel like Webex​.
  • Provide the opportunity for feedback such as surveys embedded after videos or comment boards.​
  • Enable people to ask questions with live Q&A facilitated through a channel like Sli.do.

Different formats to explore



1. Immersive digital conference

    • Offer a deep dive into your topic by capturing spaces as 360-degree photos and creating immersive environments that delegates can explore remotely.​
    • Host rich media within each space: video, documents, message boards, surveys and more.​
    • Gather analytics on what content is consumed and what peoples’ sentiment towards it is​.

    Check out this great example from Tetrapak

    2. ‘Choose your own’ conference content

    • Enable people to explore content at their own pace by building an interactive web experience​.
    • Headline messages are held on a landing page – and must be watched / read before any other pages are unlocked​.
    • More detail on each topic is then packaged as deep-scrolling websites which can deliver written, visual, video and audio content​.

    Here's a lovely example from Apple.

    3. Bring documents to life with animated PDFs

    • Documents no longer need to be static – the latest desktop publishing tools enable interactivity and animations to make content more dynamic.​
    • Readers can explore the document end-to-end, or fast-forward to the sections that are most relevant to them.​
    • Depending where you host the document, you can get simple analytics on views but few other options for measurement – without linking through to other channels​.

    Here's one we made earlier...

    ‘In case you missed it’

    Conferences offer a rare ‘one and done’ communications approach which you can’t guarantee from a digital version​. We recommend a robust cascade approach following the launch of the conference.​

    In the subsequent days and weeks, send email summaries of the conference content to delegates in an ‘in case you missed it’ format​. And don’t forget to link back to the digital resources you created and play back the answers to any questions gathered during the original event.

    Other considerations

    You no longer have a captive audience: so your content needs to work harder to keep your audiences’ attention​.

    Maintain the energy of a live presentation: avoid over-crafting your content to keep it feeling authentic and energetic – try using podcasts or selfie videos. Combine physical print (sent to your delegates in advance) with the live presentation to add to the ‘in the moment’ feel​.

    Confidentiality and data protection: your content might be sensitive so consider ways of protecting it behind a password – this adds to the ‘exclusive’ feeling. If it isn’t sensitive, consider an external release, using channels like Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram to deliver your content. People do use like to use conferences for networking, so think about the GDPR implications of any data you might gather or share​.

    Content repurposed for other audiences: if you’re investing in content creation, consider how it can be packaged up or repurposed for other audiences.

    If you need to take your event online and want some more inspiration and guidance get in touch with the team.

    More on this TopIC

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