A virtual pet parade, a Slack channel of ‘social screams’ and a Zoom karaoke – these are some of the activities event planners have organized after the Covid-19 pandemic called off in-person gatherings and they searched for options virtual which would not be zero.
Like, for example, a cake decorating contest. Tenessa Gemelke is the director of education and events at Brain Traffic, a Minneapolis-based company that hosts conferences for content strategists, and this spring she was tasked with taking on Confab, the long-running popular event of the business, virtual. Perhaps the conference is unique in accommodating, among other new features, separate gatherings for introverts and extroverts. “In the introverts lounge, it’s just for people who feel like, ‘I really wanna check my email and please don’t talk to me’; these were really popular, ”says Gemelke.
This year was different. “People were so lonely, especially at the start of the pandemic,” she says. The agenda included fireside chats that facilitated conversations in which people might be vulnerable, but there was also the issue of socialization. “We thought, it’s TV, it’s not a party, there won’t be any tickets, but what would someone watch on TV?” Said Gemelke. “We always serve cakes at the end of the conference… so we had a cake decorating contest.”
In an ideal world, next year’s cake would be served in atoms rather than pieces. But the very tight in-person gatherings will likely be among the last types of events to pick up once the pandemic is over, meaning conference organizers will be hanging on to a lot of virtual elements that were largely their Plan B. will come back first, these are very small local events, ”says Julie Liegl, Director of Marketing at Slack. “People getting on a plane to Las Vegas to a convention center seem like a long way away, but a bunch of CIOs going to a dinner party in Atlanta, I could see that; I think it will be the small events that will come back first.
And, oddly enough, some of the unexpected benefits of online conferences will ensure their continuity in one form or another, to everyone’s benefit: when organizers don’t have to pay for physical space, they may be able to cut back. or even eliminate ticket fees. And events that don’t require travel can attract a much larger pool of speakers as well as a larger audience.
That’s what Tosan Arueyingho, who leads the conference and networking group Black Is Tech, found when planning this year’s event, which took place virtually in September. Arueyingho decided that the upload offered such an opportunity to expand its audience that it was offering free tickets. Last year’s event, which took place in New York, drew 1,000 attendees; this year, 6,000 people have registered. “Since we didn’t have the cost associated with setting up an entire venue, we had the opportunity to open it up to people; you don’t have to travel, you don’t have to pay for a hotel; it helped us grow quickly, ”says Arueyingho, who is based in Houston.
Arueyingho opted for an online conferencing platform called Get in which enables video sessions, small group discussions, an exhibition environment and messaging. The tool also collects data on participant activity. “The advantage of virtual conferences is that you have access to the data – who’s logged on, who came to your booths, who asked a question,” says Arueyingho.
This data is useful for both sponsors and organizers trying to determine which content is most effective. “Before, we could understand who was in the building, whose badges stayed, but you didn’t understand how long they stayed,” says Lynn Edwards, owner of Proper Planning, a company based in Tacoma, State. from Washington. which organizes major conferences for businesses and non-profit organizations. “You now have this rich data; you can tell how long people are staying. But the data doesn’t matter if you don’t extract learning and change your programming. “
Brevity is the soul of zoom
But there’s one thing organizers didn’t need the AI to tell them: Zoom fatigue is real. “People don’t want to sit at their computers for more than 30 or 40 minutes; that’s why TED talks are so successful, ”says Edwards. It’s not just virtual sessions that benefit from being shorter; they’re also general events, according to Mary Beth Reidy, executive director of conference programming and partnerships at The Conference Board, a New York-based non-partisan think tank that hosts dozens of events each year for businessmen. “My opinion is that a three hour event is the longest you can experience with any degree of comfort, and I expect the trend of shorter events to continue even when we are back in person. “, she says.