Virtual Events Institute Summit: Creative Strategies, Concepts and Activations for Audience Engagement

Glisser was the platform of choice for the Virtual Events Institute’s (VEI) latest seminar, looking at creative strategies and audience engagement techniques for digital event planners.

Mike Fletcher, March 17, 2021

Philosophy Purpose Platform: Creative Strategies, Concepts and Activations for Audience Engagement took place on Thursday, 11th March and attracted a worldwide audience from the UK, North America, Texas, Canada, Spain and Switzerland. 

Staged in partnership with video production supplier, LDN Filmed, the 90-minute online session featured emcee Samme Allen, plus a stellar line-up of five panellists from Google, Octagon, Mitchell Partnership Alliances, Glisser and fintech events business, Guppy. 

To provide fuel for the panel debate, Robert Dunsmore, an independent creative director for live events, opened with six creative strategies applicable for virtual events of all sizes and budgets.  

Dunsmore’s recommendations included: ‘Lightness’ ‘Quickness’ ‘Exactitude’ ‘Visibility’ ‘Multiplicity’ and ‘Consistency’.

He told viewers: “Online is a lighter medium than in-person. To prevent audiences from logging off, we have to design virtual events with a lighter touch and feel. The technology must be quick and seamless with no latency and every detail of the experience should be planned with precision. 

“We take in 70% of information using our eyes and only 30% with our ears so the event narrative must be highly visible and planned for delivery across multiple channels. During the first half of 2020, planners got away with staging meetings and events over Zoom with poor production and no engagement. Audiences are less forgiving now and expectations are raised. So event design and delivery standards need to be high and consistent across the entirety of event programs.” 

Dunsmore then offered more practical advice on how to apply these six creative strategies for a digital event environment. 

These included focusing on ‘more stage than screen’ when considering how the event will look online; ‘onboarding’ audiences with clear signage and instructions on how to use the technology and how to engage with speakers and other viewers; providing ‘snackable content bites’ for added lightness and speed; curating an ‘after-hours’ stage to allow audiences to network beyond the event schedule; plus encouraging user generated content by promoting event programs in advance, requesting pre-recorded video questions and driving audience conversation by sharing across social media channels. 

Following Dunsmore’s presentation, moderator Samme Allen introduced the panel, encouraged viewers to submit questions via the platform and conducted an audience poll to discover the ‘biggest challenges being faced in terms of audience engagement’. 

Poll result

A majority (29%) of viewers selected ‘Virtual event fatigue’ as their biggest audience engagement challenge so Allen asked the panel for their advice on countering this issue. 

Sofia Altuna, Global Product Partnerships for Google Assistant, hosts Voice Talks, a monthly livestream program discussing the latest in voice technology. She advocates the importance of using a chat-show-style host to keep audience energy levels raised and to step-in when things go wrong or content drags on.

“I host hour-long episodes of Voice Talks so I quickly learned that monologues would fatigue the viewer. It was vital to focus more on ‘show and tell’ with lots of visual demos to keep the audience engaged,” Altuna told viewers. “I also ask audiences to submit video and questions and then surprise them by showing their videos. It keeps them intrigued about what’s coming next and gets them more involved.”

Guppy’s CEO, Sanjib Kalita added that the way we tell stories online can also help raise audience attention levels. 

He said: “We ran a mini-series discussing small business banking, which can be quite a dry subject matter so we redefined the conversation by adding a fairytale context to each event. By framing the conversation with a Sleeping Beauty, Goldilocks or Rumpelstiltskin narrative we could present the information in a way that audiences hadn’t heard before and were intrigued to listen to.”

Glisser’s Chief Evangelist, Vanessa Lovatt loved this idea of telling stories differently for a more creative event execution. She related the concept back to Dunsmore’s ‘Lightness’ recommendation and the accelerated popularity of creative digital storytelling channels such as TikTok. 

She told viewers: “Audiences have become much more creative over the past 12 months with an emphasis on more light-hearted online content. As planners, we need to keep trying new ways to communicate by being brave and pushing the creativity element.”

Lauren Tietjen, Senior Vice President Events for Octagon, also stressed the need to surprise audiences, not only with how content is delivered but also with event design. 

For her, Dunsmore’s advice for a greater focus on ‘more stage than screen’ really resonated. 

She said: “Set and stage elements present more opportunities to innovate. Remote speakers are inviting audiences into their homes and viewers are genuinely interested in their backdrops and interior design. This is their personalized set and stage so when speakers interact with their surroundings and acknowledge what’s on the bookshelf or hanging on the wall, by building it into their storytelling, audience engagement rises as they feel more connected to the person on-screen.”

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Bob Mitchell, Principal at Mitchell Partnership Alliances, admitted that his background in the television industry means that he tends to see digital events more through a TV lens, with added emphasis on what the viewer sees on their screen. 

He related this back to Dunsmore’s ‘Visibility’ recommendation, stressing the need for on-screen motion with ‘pop-ups’ and ‘lower thirds’ that add viewer value, plus promotional content to tease interest in upcoming sessions and encourage audience flow from one presentation to the next.

“Viewer expectations have certainly been raised by how people engage with on-screen content in the home,” Mitchell said. “The ‘lift and shift’ approach to translating in-person events to online hasn’t worked since there needs greater consideration of viewer behaviours. It’s no longer enough for the circus to come to town, put up a tent, put on a show and then pack-up and leave.”

Guppy’s Kalita took slight issue with Mitchell’s circus analogy. He stated: “Don’t discount the power of the circus. We’ve broadcast from vintage circus tents and used talented circus performers to raise engagement and add entertainment elements to virtual events. It works.”

With Kalita’s introduction of a real-world creative circus example for audience engagement, emcee Allen took the opportunity to ask panellists for other ideas that could be taken from every-day life. 

Glisser’s Lovatt suggested ‘giveaways’. 

“People love being called-out to receive sponsored giveaways,” she told viewers. “We were recently the platform of choice for a major awards ceremony and the chat functionality exploded with people congratulating each other and sharing their excitement for other people’s success. It’s human nature that we celebrate when friends and colleagues do well or win prizes.”

Octagon’s Tietjen proposed blending ‘scrappy’ low-budget content such as iPhone-shot video blogs and selfies with high production values, as a nod to how people consume every-day content and to reduce filming costs. 

Whilst Mitchell advocated ‘unbundling’ the makeup of a physical event and re-inventing each element for the virtual screen-based world. 

Lovatt believes that sports broadcasting is a fine example of a medium that has ‘unbundled’ the in-person event and delivered countless creative assets for the at-home audience to become more engaged with what has taken place on the field of play. 

“We need a change of mindset of what an event actually is,” she told viewers. “Sport has been doing this successfully for decades.”

To conclude, Allen asked each panellist for their key learning from the past 12 months.

Google’s Altuna prescribed ‘never having too much energy’ to keep virtual events interesting and upbeat. Guppy’s Kalita agreed, adding: “If you’re not having fun, you can guarantee that your audience isn’t either.” 

Mitchell encouraged viewers to look beyond the four walls of the conference auditorium for new ideas. Whilst Octagon’s Tietjen urged planners not to ‘get stuck in the challenge’ and that sometimes, ‘it’s ok if things go off-script’. 

Finally, Glisser’s Lovatt called for viewers to keep pushing those creative boundaries by being brave and unafraid to fail - a point that emcee Allen wholeheartedly agreed with, saying: “If you don’t fail, you’ll never grow and get better.”

Allen wrapped things up with her own piece of advice. She told viewers: “Be curious and always ask questions of your online network or event community to improve your offer… oh and get your speakers to stand up - that works too.”

Philosophy Purpose Platform: Creative Strategies, Concepts and Activations for Audience Engagement will be available to view on-demand via the VEI website shortly

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