Where do psychology and virtual events meet?  

On some level, everyone understands that attendees behave differently depending on the theme and physical context surrounding an event. After all, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas… right? Much less has been written about the ways in which technical platforms contribute to attendee psychology and behavior. This is a shame because it is only through an understanding of the mechanisms that drive behavior that we can hope to improve all types of events from face to face (F2F) interactions, to audio conferences, to virtual events. Following is a very brief look at some of the challenges facing virtual events from a psychology perspective. My hope is that this will help to spark a larger discussion regarding event psychology (F2F, audio, video conferencing, etc).  

3 challenges in virtual events psychology 
93% of communication is non-verbal  Almost everyone is aware of Albert Mehrabian’s communications model, which states that 93% of the content of a message is linked to gestures or tone of voice. While this model is often overstated (it relates mostly to emotional content), it still has important implications for virtual events. In many virtual environments, communication between attendees and presenters is often limited to typed messages, which lack much of the color that is available in a F2F engagement. In order to help attendees to get the most from their virtual event experience, event organizers must find ways to deepen attendee interactions. For example, Social27 pioneered a “mood-o-meter” technology that allows attendees to share their emotional states with presenters.  In effect, this technology allows presenters to get a sense for the emotional state of their audience. Are the majority falling asleep? Or, are most attendees sitting attentively, hanging on your every word? Companies should also give attendees a full range of communication options from traditional typing to video and audio chat.  

The three D’s of CMC  – deindividualization, depersonalization, and disinhibition  In Challenges in Digital CommunicationLynne Wainfan argues that computer mediated communication (CMC) tends to lack interpersonal information and is therefore more task-oriented than F2F events. By implication, compared to F2F activities, virtual events would be better at solving tasks than building relationships.  In response to this challenge is it critically important that virtual event organizers use every tool at their disposal to humanize their events and provide attendees with an emotional context within which to operate. One powerful tool in the fight against the “3-D’s” are social media integration. From a psychological perspective, social media integration has three major benefits. First, linking attendee profiles to their social media accounts counters deindividualization and depersonalization. Second, since attendees are not anonymous, disinhibition will be reduced. Finally, SM helps attendees to establish relationships that will live on beyond the event, encouraging them to present their best possible face to their peers and potential customers.   

Passive consumption vs. true interaction  on the whole, virtual event attendees seem to be more focused on information consumption and less on interaction. At F2F interactions, attendees feel social pressure to engage, but, the same is not true at virtual events. On the one hand, there is nothing inherently wrong with attendees wanting to acquire information efficiently. The challenge for virtual event organizers is to increase engagement without decreasing information consumption efficiency. The good news is that game dynamics can help to convert passive attendees into engaged participants. One way to accomplish this is to reward attendees directly for their active engagement. For example, Social27’s game dynamics system encourages visitors to post their own content, interact with other attendees, and visit sessions. Another way to drive engagement is to create a sense of shared identity by giving attendees problems to solve in groups. Both of these mechanisms can help to drive true interaction.  

“Ideologies aren’t all that important. What’s important is psychology” – James Carville 

Every year, companies spend millions of dollars trying to understand what makes their consumers tick; through a better understanding of consumer psychology, companies hope to find better ways to build, market, and sell their products. In the digital events space, there are several challenges that event organizers must overcome. First, in order to address the fact that 93% of communication is non-verbal, companies can use tools like Social27’s mood-o-meter to collect and communicate emotional feedback. Second, event organizers can fight deindividualization and depersonalization through the use of social media integration. Finally, companies should leverage game dynamics to convert passive consumption into true interaction.  

Join the conversation. Agree with me? Good. Disagree? Even Better! Tell me why… 

Do the above psychological observations match with your own experience? What other psychological effects have you seen play out at in-person or virtual events? 

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