When it comes to virtual meetings, there’s one overarching rule: The story is the star, and the technology should never distract from that.
That was the message from J. Damany Daniel, chief imaginator of The Event Nerd, during Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Congress, held this week as a hybrid event for about 650 in-person attendees at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas, as well as 1,100 virtual attendees. “At its core, our job is to tell stories,” he said. “We simply need to understand how the technology can help us deliver each story in a way that moves the needle in whichever way you need it moved.”
One sure way to foul that up is by trying to replicate the format of an in-person event in the virtual medium. “You must design for digital; do not try to force your face-to-face event design into digital,” Daniel said. He referenced the thoughts of a Hollywood cinematographer as proof: “For stage design, you try to make things larger than life because the stage is in the distance and the audience’s energy adds to the experience. But on film screens and small screens, things are right in front of every viewer, so an over-the-top production is out of place at that scale.”
“You do want to take people away from their everyday experience that is surrounding them while they are participating in a virtual meeting, so you should focus on creating interesting backgrounds and other visuals,” he added. “But the main goal is to get attendees as quickly as possible to what they came for—content and connection—rather than trying to wow them with dazzling features to create excitement.”
However, Daniel stressed that meeting leaders must decide on clear objectives before choosing a tech platform for a given virtual meeting. “Don’t think that you solve any of your challenges by simply buying a robust platform,” he noted. “Find your platform only after you’ve prepared your list of goals and related needs—who exactly is your audience, and what is their technology comfort level? What is the desired outcome for each part of the virtual event? What formats make the most sense for them?”
“Also, bring your presenters into this conversation,” Daniel added. “Think about this: Planners don’t conduct site inspections without knowing exactly what their needs are because they can’t properly choose a venue that way. It’s the same with technology.”
His advice for conducting the platform search: “Define the experience you want to deliver and then figure out what the marketplace’s ‘minimum viable platforms,’ or MVPs, are for achieving that.” Daniel pointed out that there are platforms that cost less than $10,000, some between $15,000 and $50,000, and some that are more than $75,000. To avoid overpaying, “make a list of the ones that could work as your MVP, then start exploring them to see which ones can be built out to achieve your desired experience.”
“People come to meetings to be around like people, or people with similar interests or situations,” Daniel said. “Get them talking and interacting with each other” online by splitting up their day with a social break during lunch and a happy-hour reception at day’s end. “Celebrate their commonalities and let them share their stories.”
Daniel also cited options such as SocialPoint for trivia contests and photo-captioning competitions, SongDivision for songwriting-themed collaboration, and other virtual teambuilding possibilities. He notes that “people will remember these moments,” which will make them remember other parts of your event too.
Lastly, Daniel said to “embrace any glitches or mistakes that happen during the event. It’s technology, so there are going to be problems occasionally. When they happen, have the presenter acknowledge it and make light of it, but keep attendees in the loop. People want you to be honest and authentic, and in return they will be gracious.”
His final thought: “Tell great stories to keep people engaged, because technology does not make the quality of the stories better.”