How to Make Your Next Virtual Event Fascinating
Virtual smiles and Hershey’s kisses
We’ve all been to events where part of the experience includes an “Expo”, where sponsors and vendors set up 8 x 10 ‘booths’ to promote their products and engage potential clients in a conversation. They buy the space and spend hours designing and decorating, primarily to network and introduce their business to perfect strangers, to uncover ‘leads’ that they can follow up with after the event. From Hershey’s kisses to logo’d t-shirts, the gimmicky giveaways are meant to lure you into their web for that magical moment where friendly trinket gathering can become transformed into a business conversation.
Over the course of my career, I’ve seen thousands of different approaches to designing a great booth – one that fascinates and pulls customers in. I’ve seen minimalist booths, circus animals (I’m not kidding!), flashing lights, virtual reality, half-naked women (and men) and other ideas that are not fit for publication – even on the Internet. Which ones were most approachable? More importantly, what made them fascinating and what rules can we apply to the virtual events space? How can we make our virtual events fascinating?
The art of virtual seduction
There is a saying that “people will not remember what you say or do, but how you made them feel.” This applies to virtual events as strongly as an in-person event. Along these lines, I have just finished reading a compelling book by Sally Hogshead appropriately called “Fascinate”. The book articulates the idea that there are 7 “fascination triggers” that when mastered; enable interactions to become more memorable, conversations more persuasive and relationships more lasting.
The aim of a fascinating experience is to enable someone to be lost in the moment; to short circuit ‘logic’ and make them more malleable to your message. In fact, she argues that competitive situations require more compelling messages so when you are lined up against strong rivalry, your message has to vibrate, shine, buzz and scream ‘fascination’. More importantly, it needs to make the person you are reaching out to ‘feel’ fascinating themselves – it’s resonates with the human experience. According to Hogshead, we are born ‘ready’ to fascinate and crave the stimulation of those triggers.
7 triggers to make your next virtual event fascinating
Here are the 7 triggers that Hogshead discusses and my thoughts on how we can apply them to creating fascinating virtual event experiences. The 7 triggers are: lust, mystique, alarm, prestige, power, vice and trust. Let’s look at each of them as they relate to your next virtual event.
- Lust: the anticipation of pleasure, which we crave. Sharing information at a virtual trade show should be desirable, experiential and nurture the human desire for community, connection and sharing – not just an efficient transmission of the facts. Content is obviously important but that should be subliminally communicated without obvious ‘preaching’ or hard sell. Think about how you approach a booth at a real trade show. Smiles attract – so create them virtually. Differentiate with eclectic décor, video, color, music and think of fun ways to engage those meandering past your booth. Consider virtual eye candy, conversation starters and ways to connect on a human dimension. How about making it possible for people to “Pin their City” on a virtual map or participate in a “Rain or Sun” on a weather wall. The point is to get people wanting to experience what you have to offer – laughing, feeling comfortable and passionate about your cause.
- Mystique: An unanswered question, which intrigues us and makes us want to solve the puzzle. For a virtual event, the mystique has to be built before the virtual doors open. Build a community prior to the event so that your booth is already a desired destination for attendees. They should be at the booth waiting and wanting to meet that person who has connected, intrigued and invited them to visit beforehand. Perhaps give them something to exchange at the booth for something unexpected. Provide a secret code or word that can be entered in exchange for a virtual candy bar that can be traded for points or some kind of recognition. Create mystery. Give people a chance to meet friends and colleagues at your booth and give them a way go together to the keynote or lounge. Use that “Pin a City” feature to allow all the folks from San Francisco to sit together or chat about shared business. Have the conversations happening at your booth – not in the Lounge. Create buzz in your corner. Heads should be turning toward you. You know the more crowded the booth, the more intrigue.
- Alarm: the threat of negative consequences, which demands immediate response. This sense of ‘act now’ can be developed by games that are integrated into the event with a time limit for expiration or a ‘special offer’ that has a limited life. The networking lounge should be a relaxing space but a countdown clock for example can be introduced to create boundaries that establish a sense of urgency and immediacy and motivate the attendee to act. The virtual experience and visual effects can reinforce that ‘time waits’ for no one message and to be honest, the virtual experience in fact is a perfect contained environment to create structure that facilitates immediacy.
- Prestige: symbols of rank and respect, which earn us status and admiration. Again this is an area where game dynamics can play at a virtual event – prizes and recognition for accomplishing defined goals – points for attending sessions or leaving comments, downloading content, or anything you want to incentivize. Perhaps you could create a ‘Wall of Fame’ or offer special rewards that allow access to executives, special quests or a virtual lunch with someone who represents status and credibility.
- Power: command over people and things, which draws our focus. The virtual event has so many advantages over a physical event in being able to create an experiential environment where visual and tactile stimulus communicates strength, power and control. You choose your agenda and bring in your social network to support and join you virtually. The interesting angle in Hogshead’s argument is that the triggers are also meant to make the recipient feel fascinating – so empowering an attendee to shape the event in exactly the way they want achieves that goal of generating a sense of power.
- Vice: rebellion against rules, which tempts us toward “forbidden fruit.” – This one plays obviously on a subliminal level – perhaps there are secret areas in a virtual event that are made accessible only if certain criteria is met – making statements that challenge the status quo, offering out of the box ideas anonymously with an avatar disguising true identify. Avatars offer a way to create an alter ego and you should take advantage of this to create mystique and fascinate your audience.
- Trust: certainty and reliability, to which we give our loyalty. People come to virtual trade shows to learn about something of value to them, to their business and their lives. They expect to learn in a context that is efficient and fast moving and that is a given. However, the sales cycle does not usually end at the virtual event. Most people want a follow up conversation and in many cases, in person connection. The experience at a virtual event should give the attendee an opportunity for a face to face engagement. So, you should provide a way at your booth for a personal conversation. Let the attendee click a “Let’s Chat” button and speak real person – real time, or, add in an intelligent AI assistant to chat with them as well. Show a visual Twitter Board with live questions and answers. Bring the power of online education to your booth. Provide a way at the booth for a visitor to “Ask Questions” – perhaps voice to voice. It’s all about trusted relationships.
Are you ready to be fascinating?
I would argue that making virtual events fascinating to attendees really is the ultimate goal of a successful production. By framing information in terms of what people humanly crave, attendees are put in a state for receptivity and openness to the purpose of the event. So, how will you apply the 7 triggers to your next virtual event? How will you make it more fascinating?
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