Are you faced with taking a big event online in the wake of COVID? You’re not alone. We’ve already recapped Confab 2020, the content strategy conference, on the Tendo blog, but in this post I want to zero in on one particular aspect of the conference: its successful pivot to virtual in just six weeks.
With COVID-19 still ongoing and large gatherings banned in numerous locations, turning an in-person event into a digital one is a challenge—and an unfortunate reality for many organizations. But good content strategy practices can help, and there are valuable lessons to be learned from Confab’s success.
Here are three things Confab did right that you can emulate at your next virtual event.
# 1: Capture the Attention of Distracted Attendees
At an in-person conference, no one’s going to forget that there’s an event going on. But at a virtual event it’s a little trickier. It’s easy to get distracted, and it’s much more likely that your attendees are trying to keep up with their normal workload on top of talks and seminars. And that’s without even taking into account COVID-related disruptions such as lack of childcare.
Luckily, content creators are well versed in using digital marketing tactics to grab the attention of distracted users, and Confab employed them to great effect. For example, at the end of each day, an email went out with a link to the conference microsite and a list of the next day’s highlights to get users excited (and get them planning).
Even more effective, though, is reminding users what’s happening in real time. This could be as simple as the Slack announcements that the Confab team sent out to let people know when a talk was beginning. Or it could be as sneaky and seemingly silly as the livestream DJ—which seemed like a weird choice for an online conference, but DJ Jason Esquire’s beats were so smooth that I found myself keeping the tab open and grooving away during breaks. Which, of course, allowed me (and everyone else enjoying the music) to hear when it was time for another talk to start. Brilliant.
A live DJ may or may not be in the cards for your own virtual event, but thinking outside the box to keep your users engaged is something we can all aspire to.
#2: Your Website Is the Virtual Event Venue, so Make It Look Great
Your event website is now the equivalent of the conference center—it’s the venue through which attendees will experience every aspect of the event. And you wouldn’t want to hold an event at a venue that was outdated, cluttered, or hard to navigate. Would you?
You should hold your event website to this same standard. The Confab event microsite is a great example: The main page features the most important information simply and clearly at the top of the page, followed by a user-friendly schedule.
There’s no extraneous information; the Confab team has identified the user’s top task (finding out what’s happening now) and has made it impossible to miss. The navigation is also streamlined and oriented toward top user needs: the schedule, on-demand content library, Slack, and support are all easy to find.
These are basic content model best practices that often fall by the wayside when stakeholders get involved, but if you want your event to be a success, you’ll pay attention to them.
Visual design can set your event website apart, too. Logos, graphic elements, and a consistent color scheme all help reinforce your event branding. Illustrated elements and other visual touches can provide a sense of fun and even differentiate social events from more serious talks. Check out Confab’s use of visual framing for the Confab Pet Show livestream:
#3: Find Creative Ways to Foster Organic, Personal Connection
Okay, so I might have joined the Animal Crossing channel on the Confab conference Slack. And organizer Kristina Halvorson might have dubbed us the nerdiest channel at the conference (impressive considering that there was also a channel for theater nerds).
But I have no regrets about the virtual happy hour I organized where I got to talk to and learn from content strategists doing fascinating things in agencies and government while we all ran around in my Nintendo game world. Empowering your attendees to organize their own unofficial events fosters this kind of organic connection—and you don’t have to get your hands dirty with nerd stuff.
People don’t just come to conferences for professional development; they also come to network and make connections with their peers. That’s a lot harder at a digital event. A conference Slack can go a long way toward replacing hallway chatter, but it’s important to actively encourage that connection.
Confab allowed attendees to create their own Slack channels and posted easy-to-follow instructions for creating breakout Zoom rooms, which allowed attendees to organize their own meetups outside the official conference schedule. This resulted in not only the aforementioned Animal Crossing channel, but also industry-specific channels, an affinity group for people of color, and ongoing Confab Watch Parties for people to continue watching and discussing recorded talks after the event. Oh, and a channel dedicated solely to delivering cake to Confab attendees around the San Francisco Bay Area.
Bottom line: Don’t put pressure on your team to anticipate all the ways attendees will want to connect. Instead, give your conference attendees the tools to do it themselves. They’ll likely surprise you with their ingenuity—and they’ll remember the connections they made at your event.
It’s tough to keep users engaged at an online event. But boosting engagement and building connected, user-centered experiences is what content strategists do best. Investing in great content will help you deliver value for your users and ensure that your next digital event is a success.