Charting a course for memorable virtual experiences
How do you create a memorable virtual experience? Several of our blogs have spoken about this topic and offer insightful tips and best practices on how to get the ball rolling when it comes to virtual events.
September’s program of Cadence: Webinars are Dead? also spoke on charting a course for a memorable virtual experience. Cadence is a monthly program created by Ace Virtual Events and Beedance that aims to discuss different topics around cadence in business. Ideally, we invite professionals who give us their best advice on topics centered around the events, marketing and communication industries. For the September program, our guest speakers were Lisa Jennings and Junaid Ahmed.
Lisa Jennings is the Chief Experience Officer for Wildly Different. She has an immense amount of experience in the hospitality industry and is passionate about delivering interactive events. Lisa believes there is a vital connection between the time for learning and the time for playing. Wildly Different was founded in 2003 and specializes in gamification and play-based activities for team-building events and corporate get-togethers.
Junaid Ahmed is the Show Host and Producer of the podcast Hacks & Hobbies. He has created a studio optimized to help others learn about the importance of great video content. A UX designer turned storyteller, Junaid inspires many to create better content using his knowledge of filmmaking, problem solving and technology.
Hacks and Hobbies started as a passion project that turned into a connection generation. It has featured over 200 people - entrepreneurs, movie directors, actors, speakers and authors, and others who have turned their hobbies into side hustles.
Lisa and Junaid offered their definitions of webinars, their professional opinions on the key factors of dissatisfaction, and best tips and practices to make virtual interactions more engaging.
What are webinars?
Webinars are web seminars that are usually business related. Lisa compared them to programs that you watch on television, where there is no interaction involved; viewers simply get talked at. She said that people are craving a different type of experience, one that we should all be striving for, and she also brought up some interesting statistics.
Not surprisingly, 65% of webinar attendees say they are doing something else entirely, other than watching the webinar. 24% of people admit they are so drained and exhausted because they are looking for something else. Additionally, the typical person can only hold their attention for 7 minutes, so you have to look for ways to keep them involved.
Junaid added that because webinars are essentially online seminars, they have a connotation to sales. This makes viewers feel as if they have to pay for something at the end of the webinar to feel satisfied. He relayed that when it comes to the effectiveness of webinars, it really comes down to the viewers. There are only two aspects to it - either you really need that knowledge offered to take you to the next part of your journey, or you’re completely tuned out.
Ultimately, both speakers agreed that there is immense dissatisfaction generated by this type of virtual event and that there are plenty of ways to ensure that you keep your audience involved.
Why are webinars dead?
This was the next question asked by the moderator, Steve Boyce. What are the key factors of dissatisfaction among viewers? He asked if it was simply because they’re boring, they’re not engaging enough, or they’re not entertaining.
Lisa agreed that all of the above were reasons why webinars don’t work anymore. Nobody likes to get ‘talked at’; instead, they crave a conversation. She equated a boring webinar to a bad first date, where the guy does all the talking and never asks a question.
The same thing happens with viewers, she noted. They want to “have input and get sucked in and immersed.” This is why event organizers need to find creative ways to get that information across, because the audience learns more when they’re engaged and being heard, rather than when they’re just listening.
How to deliver engaging content
When Junaid was asked what advice he gives to people who want to deliver more engaging content and how to keep the audience connected and integrated, he replied that speakers have to be comfortable in their own skin. Because the technology is available, anyone can launch a webinar, but not everyone has the proper training on how to be a good public speaker.
He admitted that it takes a lot of work to really think about what you’re saying and what you’re delivering. Speakers who are able to do that become better engagers. They attract people because not only are they passionate, but they also talk to the audience, they ask them questions and tell them not to hesitate to stop and ask questions as well. Junaid emphasized the importance of inviting questions along the way and not waiting until the end of a presentation to take questions.
How to prepare your audience
One of the things everyone misses with in-person events is the human quality that it brings. However, Steve mentioned that video is the next best thing. Seeing people’s faces, smiles, and reactions enables good conversations. Without video, there’s not much opportunity for dialogue.
Without a doubt, virtual events have advanced really quickly as a result of the pandemic, but designing a new format doesn’t quite cut it. Aside from the speakers needing to develop skills, the audience also needs to learn to do things differently.
One way to do this is by preparing your audience. Lisa commented that sometimes people will hang back because they are afraid to talk. She suggested finding ways to engage people so they’ll feel comfortable enough to want to share. Using chat features is a good way to do this, especially for those who communicate in a different manner. Another way is preparing the audience before they attend so they come ready to participate.
Enabling different learning styles
Aside from preparing your audience, it’s also important to remember that people love diversity. Enabling different learning styles is a key way to get people engaged. Junaid mentioned that there is a lot of value in video content.
Auditory learners can easily tune in and take notes. Visual learners can take screenshots of slides and go back, decipher and digest the information. With the advances in technology, video gives us incredible opportunities to reach audiences and engage viewers.
A perfect example is the Cadence program, which discusses relevant topics about cadence in business; the audience are not just passive participants, but they get to co-create the program as well.
Humanness over perfection
Since the audience were actively commenting and participating, they brought up insightful perspectives. One attendee pointed out that the one thing that makes a presenter more human is not being a perfect speaker. On the contrary, it’s refreshing to see when CEO’s engage in real time and get comfortable with dead air or stumbling over a poll.
Lisa observed that the audience wants someone professional; they don’t necessarily expect perfection. Speakers need to be able to show humanness. In fact, it gets to her when companies tell their employees not to be silly at events because their executives are joining. She stated that things don’t have to be so professional and robotic. The reality is that once the CEO’s are having fun, it allows people to let their hair down.
Junaid was on the same page. The more speakers open up and do silly things, the more they give permission for others to do it. Making mistakes such as stumbling, missing or repeating words gives the audience permission to be themselves. It brings the audience closer to them. Everyone has the same concerns. He recounted, “It doesn’t matter if you’ve done a thousand speeches - you will still have butterflies in your stomach, and that’s okay.”
Lisa concurred, “Not only is it okay. I always say if you don’t have butterflies in your stomach, it’s time to hang up your boots. If you’re not nervous anymore, you’re in the wrong biz!”
Why engagement matters
Since people have had so many experiences with digital engagement, a lot of techniques in place are being reevaluated. Why is it so important, though, that people attending these programs also have a role to play? Are audience members craving to be participants instead of just viewers?
Lisa certainly thinks so. She expressed that part of the reason why gamification is popular, especially since the pandemic, is because people are craving connection. Even before the pandemic, a lot of people worked in cubicles and communicated via email. That disconnection from people has been elevated during the pandemic. To give people an opportunity to connect as human beings and interact with others, especially those who are not in the office, is huge right now.
Junaid affirmed that connections are almost as important as using your brain. They create that same vigor and power, because when ideas are exchanged, when people talk and find common ground, it’s fulfilling. That’s the reason we join likeminded communities - to forge powerful connections.
How to bring back empathy
How do you bring empathy back to webinars? The conversations at the tables were quite intuitive. What Lisa got from the table chats was that the younger demographic doesn’t want to be on video. They are more reserved, and so presenters need to think of ways to get them involved without making them feel uncomfortable.
One suggestion was to invite them to express themselves through chat, instead of video. Another idea was to ask them to use a profile picture that is not their own face. They could share their pet’s picture, for instance.
Although it’s notably more difficult to empathize through digital means for fear of being memorialized for your mistakes, more practice sessions can make it easier. Being accessible is also an important quality that speakers need to display for a successful outcome.
Practical ways to engage your audience
Fortunately, there are multiple ways to keep everyone in your audience engaged. In Lisa’s experience, puzzles, games and whiteboards are fun ways to get everyone in the virtual room involved and participating. She also believes in getting people excited for the meeting before it starts, by sending teaser videos, catchy email invitations, or sending a themed box.
She recognized that people want to work with people they like. Using these platforms to forge connections and build a stronger team and employing all the tools in our tool belt will allow people to feel like they’re part of a community and enjoy what they’re doing.
Junaid reasoned that being relatable makes the audience want to ask you questions. To achieve this, you need to find your passion, get started and document that journey. As you learn more about yourself, you will relate it to other people and that will contribute to your growth and theirs.
Cadence in business
Cadence in business is especially important now that a lot of people have shifted to remote work. It allows stronger employee retention, a higher level of engagement and overall improved morale. This is why it’s imperative to tackle topics that are relevant to a dynamic work culture.
Professionals in marketing, events, and communication, and people who work from home have found the advice offered during our monthly Cadence series both informative and relatable. They love attending an event where they actively take part and feel comfortable asking questions.