The new normal. A place where conferences, trade shows and meetings are no longer held in exposition centers, hotels or board rooms, but in home offices or at makeshift work stations. With the environment now virtual, it becomes even more critical that the experience connect with and captivate your audience. If you’re taking your event online, try these five tips for total engagement in a virtual space.

1. Start with your purpose, then choose your platform.

There is an overwhelming amount of online meeting platforms available right now. Most you probably haven’t even heard of until this new way of life thrust us all into a world of virtual connections. Which one you choose should directly reflect the purpose and scope of your event. If you’re livestreaming a demo from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association conference, for example, you’d need a much different platform than if you were hosting a chef roundtable about how restaurants are coping with COVID-19.

Whether it’s Zoom, Go To Meeting, Google, RingCentral or any of the other several hundred options, set your goals and do your research before making a decision. Luckily, many articles have already done some of the legwork for you in finding the best online meeting software.

2. Tailor content for the digital realm.

Pivoting to a virtual meeting experience takes more effort than simply uploading a PowerPoint to the web. When you go virtual, you have to take it up a notch. Make presentations interactive by incorporating real-time chat and polling features. Use collaborative software like Miro or Stormboard to get creative juices flowing and encourage participation. If your canceled event featured multiple speakers, break up the sessions over a series of webinars or video conferences. Some organizations are fostering dialogue on LinkedIn for additional topic discussions. Consider offering handout materials as gated content to collect contact information for future follow-up. Maintain an event app or mobile meeting app to facilitate connections between people who attend.

3. The experience can’t simply be shifted, it must be lifted.

For millions of people, working from home is a brand-new experience. They’re stressed. They’re distracted. Many don’t have a designated working space where they can truly focus. And it’s on you to grab their attention and keep them connected. It’s time to think outside the cubicle.

Ask ice breaker questions. Play games. Host fun quizzes. Get creative. It doesn’t have to be all business all the time. Fun, levity and interactivity will go a long way to wrangle frazzled attentions of new telecommuters.

4. Prepare your speakers.

Public speaking is hard enough. But when you don’t have the physical presence of your audience, it’s even harder to connect with them and keep them engaged. Delivery is everything. Initiate practice sessions to hone pace and work out any technology bugs. Encourage presenters to stand while speaking for a more energetic vibe. Encourage discussion and create a list of potential questions for the speaker to answer if questions come in slowly. And if you really want to take it to another level, consider online virtual speaking courses.

5. Promote, promote, promote.

There’s good news: With restrictions on travel and face-to-face meetings, people tend to have more time available to participate in online conferences. Use a variety of digital and social channels to communicate details and make it easy for folks to participate. Set up a registration page to capture email addresses of registrants so you can send reminders. Ask the speakers to promote your virtual event through their own social media channels.

Under this environment, we are all learning new ways to operate. Although a virtual conference may not be your first choice, done well it can be an effective way to engage with your customers. For help planning an online event, contact Mark Gale, mark.g@charlestonorwig.com.

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