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How to Make Virtual Events More Engaging: Going Backstage at Experience 21

How to make virtual events more engaging

Medallia’s Head of Global Events shares how to make virtual events more engaging while spotlighting how Experience 21 puts it all in action.

Turned on its head by a tumultuous 2020, the events industry continues to face the challenge of replicating live events through digital experiences. And while it seems nearly impossible to create virtual events that are just as appealing and captivating as upscale global business conferences or high-demand keynote events, it is possible with the right approach.

So how exactly can events marketing and operations teams make virtual events more engaging as they adapt to the tricky online format?

I recently sat down with Medallia’s Head of Global Events, Wendi Wang, who shared her expertise around how to make virtual events more engaging when transitioning from in-person to online formats. She provided three crucial insights when it comes to setting up virtual events like Medallia’s upcoming experience management user conference, Experience 21.

1. What’s the biggest challenge teams face when turning an in-person event completely virtual?

There’s no doubt that engaging audiences has become the biggest challenge. 

As webinars become the go-to method to connect in real time, attendees miss out on engagements like live event participation, post-event discussions, networking and partnering opportunities, plus meeting with speakers and industry experts. But as event marketers, our approach to virtual events can’t mirror how we’ve orchestrated traditional in-person events — it’s a recipe for lackluster engagement.

You can’t simply try to “copy and paste” an event from in-person to online by bombarding attendees with presentation after presentation. This dynamic only drags down interest and engagement even further, especially given how quickly event fatigue kicks in online.

Event marketers need to rethink how to make virtual events more engaging by abandoning the status quo and embracing the new digital environment. From logistics like scheduling and content cadence, to organizing sessions with speakers and workshops, plus social dynamics like networking and participation, each element functions in a different way online.

And while the online landscape certainly provides new challenges around attendee engagement, it also opens new windows of opportunity to engage and enhance experiences like never before.

2. How can teams ensure virtual events provide just as much value and engagement as in-person events?

When it comes to creating successful events — online or in-person — content is king. While networking and exploring business opportunities certainly play their part, when it comes down to it, most attendees register for events to learn and develop.

However, virtual event content can quickly feel one dimensional as attendees typically sit, watch and listen to presentations without much more to it. You’ll need to reimagine how to make virtual events more engaging by creatively adapting your content in a way that reignites attendee engagement online.

In order to kick everything off right, you need to set attendee expectations around your virtual event and its content. First and foremost, set standards around accessibility and flexibility by accounting for time zone differences, workday schedules and business interests. To meet these expectations, it’s best to create highly inclusive content that allows attendees to access it live or on demand, provides the option between video or podcast-like audio consumption, and offers an environment to engage with speakers and peers before, during and after the event itself.

But it takes more than just flexible and accessible content to keep attendees fully engaged. You’ll need to expand events beyond just live or pre-recorded content and add more dynamic experiences. To take virtual events to the next level, event teams should prioritize creating highly interactive communities for peer-to-peer engagement along with diverse micro-experiences. 

From event-specific chat rooms and online forums to small-scale sessions catering to networking, agenda-free discussions, live question and answers, or even peer-to-peer networking, these virtual event elements create a more personal, social and engaging online experience for attendees. And as you’d imagine, a lot of these directives to revamp virtual event content and drive online attendee engagement have become the foundation for Medallia’s experience management user conference this year, Experience 21.

3. How does a major conference like Medallia’s Experience 21 transform an in-person event into an engaging online format?

As Experience 21 continues into its second year online, we’re expecting roughly five times more attendees from our past live events and our core focus has been centered around bringing back engagement.

In an effort to perfect Experience 21 in this virtual format, we’ve relied on some of Medallia’s own tools to leverage attendee feedback to guide our decision-making around how to make virtual events more engaging and lively as an experience. We’ve even started engaging past and potential attendees long before we announced this year’s event by crowdsourcing ideas for speakers and content. To ensure Experience 21 sets the new standard for online events, we knew we needed to better understand what our attendees were looking for and incorporate their feedback into our plans.

On top of live and on-demand digital sessions featuring the latest insights from Medallia customers and experts, Experience 21 truly takes the idea of community to heart in order to spark engagement and relationships in the newer online format.

The event already offers a dedicated chat for attendees to meet, network, share stories and prepare for the event in the weeks leading up to it. But it won’t end there as attendees will get the opportunity to break away in smaller interactive group sessions during the event itself to continue building relationships, trade best practices, and discuss their favorite speakers and workshops. And when it comes to delivering those highly coveted personal experiences attendees crave, Experience 21 will hold fireside chats with industry thought leaders and 1:1 private sessions with Medallia subject matter experts.

While it’s a change from your traditional live and in-person conference or tradeshow, Medallia’s Experience 21 is rewriting the playbook for virtual events. It keeps the same focus on thought leadership, community, and engagement while reimagining the event in a completely digital environment. And in the future, we hope to see a hybrid model between in-person and virtual events come to life to further enhance the attendee experience. 

Experience 21 is your free ticket into a community of business leaders who are engaging customers and employees to power exceptional experiences. Register for Experience 21 to join peers and industry leaders at one of the most highly anticipated user conferences in experience management.