Every year you hold a powerful and engaging event that brings together your partners, your next-level leaders, your general managers, or your sales team. It gets rave reviews. Everyone values the new insights they gain and the opportunity to network with people they rarely see in person. Most importantly, they walk away with a clear idea of the strategy for the next year.
But now that’s not possible. So what do you do? As everyone’s doing, you’re likely considering how you recreate that event online as a digital or virtual experience. Absolutely a viable option! We’re having this exact conversation with many of our clients who hold these events every year.
The Goals of an Impactful Experience
When you bring 30, 300, or 3,000 of your people together for an in-person event, you’re willing to invest a lot of time and resources because you know it’s going to catalyze, energize, and accelerate some type of change for your organization.
For sales, they walk away with a clear understanding of business priorities, new product sets to position, and a clear idea of their incentives. The goal – increase sales and revenue.
For your general managers, the objective of the event is to help them understand what new training is available for their teams to drive the overall culture and brand personality for your organization to ensure that each of your locations represents the brand in the best possible way to create an optimal customer experience.
For your next level-leaders, it’s the opportunity to bring them together from all over the globe to get an understanding of your big-picture strategy, new operations plan, or financial objectives. It allows them to provide their perspective on those plans and get clear on how their region or function will be responsible for delivering the outcomes.
In many respects, the outcomes organizations are looking for are very similar. Do organizations achieve those outcomes because they’re in person? No. They create those outcomes because of the way they’re delivering the content – meaning, they’re giving their people four critical pieces of information:
- Why we’re changing
- What’s changing
- How we’re changing
- How your role (or your team’s role) connects to the change
Translating the Power of the In-Person Conference to a Virtual Event
Whether your event is a strategy rollout, customer conference, next-level leader session, or a moment-in-time meeting, we believe the same unique principles apply:
- Facilitate human connections
- Invest in the experience
- Consider content above all
Melding these principles into a dynamic digital experience may seem daunting, but applying the 5 E’s of experience design – Entice, Enter, Engage, Exit, and Extend – will ensure you’re delivering a powerful event that will accelerate the changes you want to see.
With “Consider content above all” as the foundation, let’s look at how these concepts translate to a virtual environment:
1) Entice – Build excitement and give your people something to look forward to. Use this opportunity to prepare your people for the experience, such as how to use the technology and navigate the event, and manage their expectations. You might use video teasers, send a care package to people’s homes if they’re remote, or offer pre-work like microlearning and podcasts.
Think of this approach as the “swag bag” you would have offered at check-in, or the pre-conference workshop you hosted at an in-person event. This can be an addition that complements your communications campaign.
2) Enter – Set the tone for the experience and how participants will be expected to engage virtually. When they log in to the event, they’ll have a common entry point – with features such as welcome screens, trivia, or animations – and they’ll get their individualized schedule and links to custom experiences.
The goal is to replicate the experience and create the sense of excitement people have walking into a big ballroom or conference center, where they would see signage, theme banners, and their coworkers from another continent across the room.
3) Engage – Create the interaction and activate the event objectives through engaging activities and programming. This includes your keynote speakers (abbreviated to TED Talk length), interactive workshops, or small-group discussions in breakout sessions.
You can simulate the in-person experience with features such as tailored breakouts for specific roles, vendor tradeshow booths, and using visuals, dialogue, and data to foster conversation. Leaders can set the stage with a short keynote to share vision and strategy.
Don’t forget those critical social events where your people foster and grow relationships with customers or colleagues. Live stream entertainment and integrate award shows, virtual selfie booths, and happy hours. These are the experience elements that help your people feel like they are part of something bigger and connect them to your strategy.
4) Exit – Create a lasting impression in the critical final moments of the event. This is the opportunity for leaders to offer their closing thoughts and reinforce key priorities and actions that are critical to the organization’s success. Whether it’s a film that connects people emotionally to your message or a Q&A with leaders to clarify any open questions, it can be done virtually.
5) Extend – This is always the most difficult part of an event – even when it’s in person. It’s very easy to leave a two-day event and promptly forget key points or fall back into old behaviors. Provide your people with materials and activities to reinforce key business objectives and keep the experience going.
This is probably even easier to do in a virtual environment. People can log back on and refresh their thinking by reviewing workshop materials or listening again to a leader’s perspective. The virtual environment makes it possible to offer team huddles to revisit conference content as well as microlearning or podcasts to reinforce key actions and behaviors.
While we certainly value the energy of an in-person gathering and the excitement it fuels, you can’t afford to put that event on hold even if you can’t be together. Your business and your strategy can’t wait. And a simple email or video message from the leadership team isn’t going to cut it either. You need the experiences and interactivity that foster dialogue and learning from others to reinforce key behaviors that are critical right now to deliver the strategic change your business needs.