Eye contact. Emotion. Movement. Body language. These are some very human, very theatrical tools we use to keep things interesting when presenting to other humans. The problem is, these tools are most effective when we are in the same room together — when we can see one another live and in the moment. What do we do when we can’t?
Virtual meetings are becoming more popular. With that comes an edict to consider your event’s content and experience design through the eyes of the remote viewing audience. If you were on the other end of the camera, what would you want to see? What would hold your interest?
We can still maintain warmth, interest, and engagement through the cold barrier of a screen. Movies, television, and the internet have done it for a very long time now. By pivoting to a virtual space, you are essentially moving into a broadcast space. It’s simply a matter of focusing on some of the best practices we’ve been exposed to our whole lives.
Choose a Format Right for your Audience
Just like sitcom producers have to choose between a single-camera or a multiple-camera setup, you’ve got some setup decisions to consider too. Do you go 100% virtual? If so, do you take the webinar route and show slides and video only? Or, do you embrace the TED model and broadcast live or pre-recorded speakers? And what about your audience? Should everyone log on from home at once? Or do we want pockets of audience gathering in small groups? These questions are, for now, rhetorical. But these are the design conversations we should be having.
Embrace Short-Form, Visual Storytelling
In the virtual approach, your audience isn’t bound by etiquette. They are unsupervised and surrounded by distractions. This means your storytelling approach must adapt accordingly. Keeping things tight, keeping things moving, and staying one step ahead of the audience should be top of mind when crafting your run of show. Embrace short-form storytelling models like Pecha Kucha, sketch formats, and interstitial “commercial” breaks. And keep in mind that no one likes reading, except that guy whose glasses broke in that one Twilight Zone episode. And poor him.
Open Up Channels of Communication
As we think about decreasing our total running time and segment lengths, let’s think about increasing interactivity and ways for your viewing audience to participate and feel heard. Perhaps presenters stick around for a live Q&A. Maybe you embrace a technology platform that allows for virtual breakout rooms. Could be that you pepper live polling moments into your content flow. As popular as bingewatching is, that doesn’t fly too well here without some way to generate audience activity.
Retrain Your Speakers
Speaking in a live space is different from speaking in a virtual one. Crowds don’t feel the same as cameras. Consider retraining any speakers who are used to doing it live so they can feel comfortable and confident in a studio setting. Trusting a director to establish a vision for the show, and following best practices for delivery accordingly, can help avoid the feeling that your virtual event feels a little off. It need not be someone wearing puffy pants and holding a giant megaphone. But it does need to be someone who can focus your event with a clear creative vision.
Deep down, we all know what works on screen. This new world of virtual engagement really isn’t all that new when you think about it. Sure, virtual engagement technology is advancing every day. It can be tough to keep up with that. But really all the new tech is doing is broadening our tool set. At its core, this is an exercise in leveraging tricks from the media we all grew up with. So, to get your head around how to craft effective virtual presentations, go watch a TED Talk or spend some time with Netflix. Easiest homework ever.
Virtual Events & Experiences
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