One Big Thing Virtual Events Can Learn from Television News
Virtual events look like they are here to stay. To make them effective, though, we have to learn a whole new skill-set.
OUR IN-PERSON EVENT EXPERIENCE ISN’T MUCH HELP
I was speaking with a veteran event planner who I’ve known and worked with 35 years. She confessed to feeling really uneasy about how to move her events into the virtual environment. She told me she was used to walking into an event space and knowing instinctively whether the set-up would be effective for the in-person program she intended to create. She could feel it. Her experience was speaking to her.
The idea of suddenly creating events without the benefit of a physical space was totally foreign to her, as it is to most all of us. Yet, companies and organizations have to engage their customers, dealers, employees, and other constituents in an effective and engaging way. We need to execute this and we need to do it well.
VIRTUAL EVENTS SO FAR
Like so many things, the early days of adopting any new technology will be fraught with good and bad experiences and examples. I have to say, at this point I am seeing virtual events that are more disappointing than good. Part of it is my unforgiving lack of patience – but I don’t think I’m unique. Virtual events have to capture my attention – and if I don't feel like I’m going to learn something new, I will tune out – or log off.
I’ve found a lot of speakers getting in front of the camera and just boring the daylights out of people. At times, it’s worse; they’re so uncomfortable with the new environment that they’re actually doing themselves and their company a disservice.
It will most certainly get better over time and I have some thoughts on how to accelerate that progress.
THE TRADITIONAL WAY: SPEAKING AT IN-PERSON EVENTS
For in-person events, a speaker might be given 40 minutes to speak, 10 minutes for Q&A and then…off the stage and on to what’s next. Once that speaker gets on stage, they’re on their own – whether they’re great or not – event organizers live with the results. If the speaker starts to bore people, event planners can’t alter the outcome – it’s not like the old days of vaudeville where a hook comes out and removes them. Event organizers have to stand back and hope things improve.
VIRTUAL EVENTS: A REAL OPPORTUNITY FOR ENGAGEMENT
What distinguishes virtual events from in-person events is the ability to engage the audience in a completely different way. I realize it’s a blinding flash of the obvious that engagement is especially important in virtual because looking at a screen can wear thin after a short time – it’s too easy for distractions to take over.
Too many virtual events don’t even attempt to engage the participants. But every so often I see something virtual that’s brilliantly executed…or I speak to someone who’s seen a virtual event that was pure magic. I think doing consistently outstanding virtual events means thinking about them as the broadcast activities they are – not like a live group gathering in an auditorium.
WHAT CAN VIRTUAL EVENTS LEARN FROM TV NEWS?
Some of the best events I’ve seen and heard about have taken a page out of television news. In TV news, there’s a producer that shepherds what’s going on the air. When things start to drag, the producer whispers in the anchor’s ear, suggesting a change of pace or a shift of topic, or to wrap up the segment.
In the same way, the addition of an experienced moderator/host in a virtual event can help create something that’s engaging, surprising, and fun. I’ve witnessed (and heard from friends about) virtual events where an experienced moderator kept things moving in the right direction and managed to get the best out of all those who participated. This steady presence eliminated what I’ve experienced all too often – a face on the screen that’s talking – sometimes glitching – and just not engaging the audience.
ENGAGING CONVERSATION THAT MATTERS
In the virtual space, conversations can be much more compelling than simple speeches. Conversation can surprise people – conversation can also turn on a dime when the speaker or expert isn’t delivering a scintillating experience that will actually keep people’s attention.
While delivery of prepared remarks is an absolutely critical set-up for the participants, an encounter with a moderator or host can make sure the content is most relevant – beyond what might happen in a simple Q&A. Great moderators I’ve seen are asking open-ended questions that give the speaker(s) a chance to expand on an idea and add more relevance, while not giving so much leeway as to allow the speaker(s) to lose viewers’ interest. As with news anchors, moderators add energy in this virtual environment.
GREAT MODERATOR/SPEAKER CHOICES
Experience counts: Here are four outstanding choices who speak and moderate in virtual environments.
Veteran business journalist for Fortune has for many years deftly moderated sessions and interviewed top business and political leaders at Fortune global conferences as well as corporate and association events.
BBC World News America anchor covers the news from Washington, DC for a global viewing audience. She brings her anchor experience to the virtual platform – working to create content that resonates with viewers.
A pioneering financial journalist, Ron has spent four decades on-camera, reporting on the changes driving the business environment. He’s also moderated conversations at live events for many years.
The consultant to business who began her career at Fast Company magazine, Polly’s experience can guide groups to breakthrough answers on questions relating to leadership, change, innovation, and organizational culture.
About Tony D'Amelio
Tony has spent his career putting talented people and audiences together, first in the music business and later representing the world's leading speakers. After concluding 27 years as Executive Vice President of the Washington Speakers Bureau, Tony launched D'Amelio Network, a boutique firm that manages the speaking activities of a select group of experts on business, management, politics and current events. Clients include: Mike Abrashoff, Geoff Colvin, Ron Insana, Katty Kay, Polly LaBarre, Nicole Malachowski, David Meerman Scott, Bill Walton, and Bob Woodward.