Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Working from home: The future of business is remote

14 ways to improve your virtual events experience

Jon Reed​, the co-founder of diginomica​ has been building enterprise communities since 1995. Reed shares 14 ways to deliver a better virtual events experience.

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In the Next Normal, more conferences and community events will be delivered via digital channels. 

Jon Reed, the co-founder of  diginomica has been building enterprise communities since 1995. diginomica was launched in 2013 and it is designed to serve the interests of enterprise leaders in the digital era. Reed is a roving blogger/analyst. He also advises vendors and startups on reaching today's informed enterprise buyer, now that the sales funnel is discredited. Reed is an advocate for media over marketing. Reed's signature weekly column, Enterprise Hits and Misses, is a strike-through-laden enterprise review for readers who enjoy puncturing hype balloons. Reed's core areas include the problem of customer experience (CX), the pursuit of AI/analytics ROI, and the realities of transformation efforts.

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To help us better understand the user experience with digital events, Ray Wang, CEO and founder of a Silicon Valley-based advisory firm Constellation Research, and I invited Jon Reed to join our weekly show DisrupTV. Reed is a frequent contributor to our show and one of my favorite guests. Pre-pandemic, Reed and I would meet in person at numerous technology and industry conferences prior to the pandemic. I always appreciate the opportunity to learn from Reed. In our conversation, Reed provided seven things to avoid with digital events and seven considerations to enhance the user experience and overall engagement levels. Reed spoke to us about a parade of mediocrity with respect to virtual events. 

7 experiences to avoid during a virtual events 

  1. No music. Reed said he is semi joking with the music advice. That said, I think avoiding music is sage advice -- unless it is a live virtual band in my opinion There is a lot of bad music on virtual events. Reed reminds us that the equipment we use is not always optimized for beautiful sounds so focus less on the music and more on quality content. 
  2. No keynotes. Reed believes that for virtual events, keynotes are background noise. I suggest shorter and more precise keynotes -- think TEDTalk-like duration and impact.
  3. Do not use a virtual event as a stop gap for a live event. Reed wants vendors to quit pretending they will have live events next year -- you are not having a live events next year. Put your energies towards creating the best possible virtual events. 
  4. A panel does not mean engagement. According to Reed, panels are the webinars of virtual events. Reed notes that too many virtual events mistakenly assume that panels are a way to engage with audiences. 
  5. Virtual events and monetization is a work in progress. Do not over-promise the number of leads and pipeline opportunities with virtual events. Invite your partners to help design the virtual events until a model is defined that benefits all stakeholders. 
  6.  Answer the questions. Reed is frustrated with virtual events where great questions are not answered during the event. Telling your audience that you will get back to them is not user-friendly. With virtual events we have the opportunity to segment users into smaller groups to engage. We can accept anonymous questions and find ways to further enhance discussions. 
  7. Do not accept the fact that virtual events are inferior to in-person events. Reed believes companies can push the envelope on virtual events using social networking apps, more flexibility with concurrent sessions, and more choices for your audience to navigate. 
  8. Less scripting. Do not be afraid of chaos and unpredictability. Simply invite your best customers and employees and deliver meaningful stories. You can pre-record some sessions but do not record your entire virtual event. Perfection is the enemy of good. Since the pandemic, we are all more forgiving of each other. Showing vulnerabilities is not a bad thing. Great storytellers, with strong content, is the best way to deliver high quality virtual events. 

7 experiences to enhance your virtual events 

  1. Invest in must see LIVE events. Start creating must see live events by developing a business case. 
  2. Increase opportunities for interactions. Put yourself in your audiences shoes. They have questions and interest to interact. This is more than Q&A sessions. This is not about imitating a talk show. 
  3. Focus on community building. Push the limits of what you can do. Reed spoke about having speed meetings at virtual events that led to an expanded network. A separate special session allows attendees to engage with experts in more intimate settings. 
  4. More breakout rooms. So many events are ignoring the opportunity to deliver breakout rooms with access to senior executives, domain experts and trailblazer customers and partners. You can guide the audience from a keynote to a smaller round-table sessions with much higher opportunity to collaborate directly with speakers and experts. 
  5. Design and facilitation expertise is important. Reed admits that strong virtual events require better design and facilitation expertise. Virtual events may not deliver the exact experience of a live event, but we should not lower the bar. With strong facilitators and design experts, there are lots of opportunists to deliver fantastic virtual event experiences. Reed provided some example events in our discussion. 
  6. Virtual is permanent. Reed believes that the future will include a hybrid model of in-person and virtual events. Reed provided examples of physically challenged audience members using virtual channels as the best future option. 
  7. Shop around for best platform options. Do not blame your crappy platform for delivering a poor virtual event experience. Look at new virtual event platforms. Do not be held back by the current limitation of your current platforms. None of the platform options are perfect today, buy many are evolving fast. 

Reed has written several articles on improving virtual events. Reed also talked about the difficulty of digital transformation. The pain and suffering of the pandemic is real and accelerating transformation may not always address the difficulties that so many businesses are facing today. I highly encourage you to watch our entire conversation with Reed. I also highly encourage you to read his articles regarding the latest news in the enterprise.