As event planners work on constructing an ever-evolving roadmap for safely resuming in-person meetings and events, the demand for virtual events has skyrocketed. One source suggests that virtual events have risen more than 1,000 percent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet, drawing on the age-old wisdom, quality and quantity are rarely synonymous. Anyone can host a Zoom call or flip the switch on their webcam, but how do you create engaging programming and turn your digital meeting into a virtual experience? To answer this question, Direct Travel asked Creative Group’s Design & Insights team to point out tips for planning a successful virtual experience. Here are four key takeaways for elevating your virtual meetings and events.

1. Bridge the Physical-Digital Divide

Before you take your event digital, consider the reasons behind why you’re going virtual and what your event will look like in the digital sphere. Regardless of your technology, it is nearly impossible to take a physical, in-person meeting and turn it into an exact online replica. Like a piece of text being translated from one language to another, the structure and content may change, but the meaning should remain the same.

Instead, break down your event into digestible pieces and reintegrate those components into both digital and physical formats for your attendees, taking into account which aspects will be better served by which format. While attendees may not be able to meet in a traditional meeting space, physical elements can and should be used. For example, we recommend incorporating physical elements such as dimensional mailers, a celebrity appearance or signing, or customized meal delivery service as a way to enhance the two-dimensional aspects of a virtual event. Another effective method to bridge the digital divide is to bring a select group of your keynote speakers to an in-person mainstage to record their portions of the program. Although broadcasted digitally, this method can better emulate the physical experience of being an event attendee or audience member.

2. Consider Your Budgetary Needs

Just like any other meeting or event, you need to understand the budget and needs of your virtual event to plan accordingly. Virtual and hybrid experiences can provide cost-savings in the way of reduced venue rental fees and service expenses, but they can also mount in costs and wasted time if the technology is not properly implemented according to your goals.

If you’re intending to use your digital event as a resource for future training, you will need to take into account the costs of maintaining that technology over a period of time. Consider the “viewability” of your content—what content you want to be seen and by whom—and your method for controlling it in order to ensure the information is accessible by the appropriate groups of individuals, both during the event and over time.

Technology also needs to be vetted and tested. This is critical because any technical problems experienced during your event can lead to lost time and efficiency, ultimately costing your organization money. Without an AV person “in the room” to resolve any technical difficulties, you need to budget for the appropriate pre-event tech testing and contingency plans should things go wrong.

3. Focus on Building Engagement

One of the biggest struggles with creating successful digital events is combating “Zoom fatigue”—the stress and corresponding zap in interest caused by overwhelming digital interaction and video chats.

The emergence of this relatively new phenomenon is no surprise considering the sheer amount of new digital commitments many individuals now experience as a result of the current pandemic. In the meetings and events industry alone, a recent PCMA Convene survey of more than 1,700 professionals found that 70 percent of meeting planners are temporarily moving their physical events to a hybrid or virtual environment. Even if you’re not directly competing for event attendees, you’re still competing for your attendees’ attention.

Maintaining audience interest and involvement depends on a variety of factors, but consider these general guidelines to boost engagement:

  • Make sessions shorter to avoid attendees tuning out or getting distracted
  • Build-in more breaks to give your audience time to refresh and refocus
  • Incorporate interactive question segments to facilitate conversation and connection
  • Limit your breakout groups to smaller sizes, which will increase the comfort level for your attendees and prevent moderators from being overwhelmed

4. Differentiate Your Event

Along with implementing engagement techniques to help fight Zoom fatigue, focus on the ways you can differentiate your event to stand out amidst the competitive landscape. While the current surge of virtual meetings and events will likely level off post-pandemic, a hybrid form of in-person events with strategic digital components may remain the norm for the foreseeable future.

We specialize in fostering this kind of differentiation through their i|xperience® approach, a human-centered design methodology focused on changing participant behavior in order to meet the goals in place. Your event will benefit from taking a holistic, goal-centered viewpoint rather than taking a standard “check the boxes” method of event planning.

If you want your event to stand out and encourage engagement among your attendees, we can help you formulate a plan to transition from surviving to thriving in today’s virtual environment.

This article originally appeared on Direct Travel’s DT Navigator blog:

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