We built this city on 1’s and 0’s  

No matter how many virtual events I attend, there are always one or two in-person conferences that I really look forward to visiting every year. At these events, I bask in the cacophony of conversations, sounds, lights and experiences. And most of all, I enjoy making new connections and reconnecting with old friends.   

After one such conference, I decided to document some of the ways in which virtual event could be improved to give attendees more of a sense of time, space and location. The good news is that the technology already exists to make virtual event feel much more real. What we need now is not more innovation but more imagination.  

5 ways to make your virtual event feel real 

Use real greeters – No matter how much time you spend perfecting your digital event, attendees can often feel “lost” when they first enter the lobby (especially at their first online event). One of the best ways to address this, and to give your event a human feel, is to leverage actual greeters to interact with attendees as they arrive. This could be as simple as having people on hand to send attendees a private message telling them that they are available to answer any questions and to help them connect with other attendees, or even an intelligent AI assistant that can answer any questions that an attendee might have. This is an extremely simple mechanic to implement, but it is often surprising how few digital events leverage it.  

Use ambient noise and music – I always love the hustle and bustle of an in-person event. I enjoy the sound of conversations all around me, the music coming from a dozen stages and the jungle of a thousand electronic devices. In contrast, many digital events can seem somewhat… clinical. If we are going to draw attendees into a more emotional state, we must find ways to interact with all of their senses. One way to do this would be to give attendees the option of turning on ambient noise or music as a part of their experience. Of course, not all attendees will take advantage of this, but the ones who do will appreciate the gesture.  

Create a fascinating style and let your imagination run wild – Just because an event is online doesn’t mean that it needs to be boring. Event planners have always known that creating a unique look and feel for an event is critical to getting attendees in the mood to be trained, entertained and engaged.  There is absolutely no reason that the same level of design rigor should not be applied to virtual events. As a digital format, virtual events provide almost limitless customization opportunities. Want to build the world’s largest fish tank in your lobby? We can do that! Interested in holding your next event on the moon? No problem.  

Use seasonal and time-based cues – When it comes to engagement, marketers know that context is critically important. As a result, paying attention to the little details can often mean the difference between a success and failure. One way to increase the level of realism at a digital event is to use seasonal and time-based cues. For example, if you are running a U.S. based event in the middle of January, why not have snow falling outside the windows? Or, if you are running a full-day event, why not have the lighting change to correspond with the time of day?   

Create a sense of location – In many ways, in-person events tend to take on the character of their host location. For example, a conference in Las Vegas will feel very different than a conference held in Seattle. If you are holding a hybrid event, why not create a sense of connection between the online and offline worlds by using visual elements from the host city in your digital event? This could be as simple as adding visual cues (landmarks outside the windows). Or, you could provide themed give-a-ways that connect attendees to the physical location of the event.  

Keepin’ it real  

Digital events have already become an industry standard for efficiency. But many attendees still crave the personal contact and immersive experience that an in-person event provides. Fortunately, there are several simple steps that digital event organizers can take to make their experiences feel more real. By using real greeters, generating a sense of time and space and creating a fascinating style, event planners can create experiences that give attendees the information they need and the emotional connection that they want.  

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