From Conference Events to Virtual Conference Experiences

As companies begin to talk about returning to work, one big decision they’ll have to make is around their customer conference or their year-end events. Big events in second quarter were canceled or shifted to a virtual format. Third quarter events seem to be shifting to virtual, and most fourth quarter events are still on the fence. It’s a tough decision with valid points on either side of it. We’ve been a part of the transformation as many events shifted to a virtual format and just two months in, the shift has generated great discussion, key learnings and a new set of best practices.

Here are seven best practices that we’re using to help our clients reset the conference experience.

1. Shift your thinking from a virtual event to a virtual experience.

When your customers gather on-site for a conference event, you’ve created a total experience from the look and feel of the venue to the added elements of meals, activities and socializing that are woven throughout the event. When the conference goes virtual, you have to recreate the experience as something on a screen.  And you have to help viewers participate in order to keep them active in the event. The shift from attendees to viewers is the best way to rethink the conference experience. And in most cases, it’s best to start with a clean slate and create a different kind of experience.

2. Imagine the viewers setting during the experience.

The predictions are that most people will be back at work by third quarter. So, your viewers are likely to be back in an office setting. Consider whether you’re building an experience for an individual or a team. Can you create activities that teams will do together as a part of the virtual experience or are you focused only on an individual experience? It makes a difference in the viewership you may get with customers. Many companies are finding the virtual setting is a good format to double their attendance because it’s much easier for multiple viewers to attend. And, it may create some live feeds into your event from a customer’s setting.

3. Bring it to life for viewers in advance.

Just like you build hype for attendees, you’ll need to build hype for viewers. Shift your investment in swag from things given away at a conference to things that viewers will receive in advance. Send a box of things they’ll need during the experience. Break them up and send them one at a time to build suspense. Get every viewer intrigued and invested before the virtual experience begins. Consider partnering with a food vendor for coupons or delivery to add something to the setting in advance.

4. Build an experience to pull viewers through rather than disconnected content to push out.

Just as you imagine the big ballroom at the center of the on-site experience, you need to start with the screen and the online experience. Shift the investment in the grand scale of things to the activity and movement of things. Viewers won’t watch for hours, but they will participate for hours. Think of the difference in someone who watches a video versus someone who plays a video game.

Map the experience on a screen.  Think through the interactive components that will keep a viewer involved and interested in what’s ahead. You don’t have to gamify your event, but you will need an interactive role for viewers.

We’ve seen great ideas emerge around games, an animated MC, a chat room on the side, and virtual events that pop-up throughout the day.

5. Limit keynotes and expand the short segments.

The big ballroom presentations are the keystone of big conferences. Virtually, they aren’t as impactful. Simplify and limit the number of keynotes and streamline the messaging delivered in this format. The impact of keynotes comes through with the energy created in a large setting with a large audience. You can’t create that feeling virtually, so don’t try. Instead, focus more on short segments that can be repurposed and leveraged after the conference.

6. Lighten up the format, the content and the visuals.

PowerPoint doesn’t translate well on video. It’s a flat medium; video is not. Avoid the traditional role of presenters and lean into the dynamics of conversation. Video is a great medium for short, succinct and impactful messages. Consider powerful images and music to add energy in a different way.

Viewers prefer the talk show format. It takes energy to pull viewers in, and it helps for communicators to have a partner to help build this energy.

7. Add sizzle, surprise and reward.

You can keep viewers interested with a format that includes surprises and giveaways along the way. If you want viewers to participate throughout the day, incentivize them to do so. You’re competing with things that are happening all around them. You want to keep their focus on the screen or pull it back to the screen repeatedly.

One client knew the virtual format would require breaks. And, they were worried about getting viewers back after breaks. So, they made breaks longer and called them “walk abouts”. They kept talking, but they used light conversation to loosen up the format and keep content flowing. They never really disconnected with viewers, but it made it very easy for someone to leave a desk or chair and wander around for a period of time. These became some of the highest rated elements of their conference!


As we’ve worked on this new format, we’ve seen a lot of creativity and a lot of learning. And, I know we will see companies leverage the virtual channel very differently as we move ahead. We’ve also seen many challenges with this format. It isn’t an easy transition for a communicator, but it can be an impactful one when you learn the skills of structuring for a virtual viewer and connecting with an invisible audience. There’s no doubt, the time is right to add this skill to your toolkit.

Let us know if you need help with a virtual conference or a virtual meeting.

And as always, we’re here when you need us.

Sally Williamson

LEADING THROUGH VIDEO:An Essential Tool for Remote Working

Chances are you’ve been the “star” of a few corporate videos. It’s a good medium for communicators because it’s short and to the point. Video makes messaging easy to access and available 24/7.

When we became a virtual workforce overnight, many leaders were nudged toward it as the only communication channel. And if your instinct was to leverage it, it was a good instinct.  More than anything you can say to employees over a conference call or in an email, you can express it better if they can see your face. It’s not a time for wordsmithing as much as it is a time for sharing emotion. Employees need to see confidence, calmness and warmth.

So, if you’ve jumped fully into video, it’s the right channel. But it introduces some unique challenges for leaders who aren’t great at it and may now be producing videos without much support.

Here are our best practices to consider.



Frame the Shot: Everyone says the shots should be informal, and leaders should let employees see them at home. My guidance is: yes and no. Yes, be honest and real about working from home. Try to match the culture of your company. But, be mindful that you are still leading, so seeing a bed in the background or chaos in a kitchen distracts from that impression. The shot can be as informal as you want it to be; just be sure it’s intentional.

You can also frame the shot around something personal that helps you build a story or share a little more of yourself. It’s been fun in the last few weeks helping leaders add a little energy to these videos. Some have picked songs that are reflective of their days; others have shared something happening in their households. Depending on the message of your video, a little humanity and little moments can keep someone connected to the team.

Pick the Setting: The best video shot is framed in a setting. It can be any setting, but it should be a setting. You can be framed by a bookcase behind you or a picture behind you. Think about putting yourself in a picture frame and take a few pictures so that you can test the setting before taping.

We’ve seen several videos taken outside as Spring settles in, and yards seem bright and colorful. If cheerful and uplifting is part of your message, the setting can help. Some messages aren’t as light today, and you should be sensitive to settings in your home or surroundings that express more about economic means than you may want to. A video is captured forever, and things you don’t notice because they are a part of your life are quickly noticed by others.

Leverage Equipment: Based on social distancing, many leaders are having to produce the videos themselves. You can do a few simple things to make a video a little more interesting. Great videos are shot with multiple cameras to allow for editing in different views. This keeps movement in a video which keeps the attention of the viewer. You can‘t bring in a camera crew today, but you can produce two different views if you have someone who can edit remotely. We’ve done this with two iPads focused on two different shots: close-up and further away. Keep in mind that all shots are best if aimed straight on shot with a slight down view on the communicator. Avoid a camera shot that is lower or looks up at a communicator.



Plan the Content: Leaders always say they want to be conversational on videos. It’s the right idea, but it’s hard to execute on video. Unscripted tapings which were meant to be conversational usually sound like rambling. The informal approach to talking to a group in a live setting has to be more scripted via video. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s not.

As viewers, we expect videos to be short and to the point. You need a tight outline or a script to get to succinct thoughts that capture a viewer’s attention. Make it easy for viewers to stay with you for two to three minutes. The conversational approach actually comes through more in your tone and expression than your words. And that’s one of the hardest things to do over video.

Plan the Connection: The reason that tone and expression are hard via video is that there’s actually no one on the other side of the conversation. The communicator doesn’t have a listener, and that missing component has tough side effects for a communicator. When you aren’t talking to someone, bad habits creep in. Many communicators will stay in their head thinking about the talk track. The face becomes void of expression and the eyes seem harder as if someone is staring ahead versus talking with someone.

This is one of the hardest skills to develop. You can learn to simulate connection and bring expression into a video with a listener, but it takes work.  In these unprecedented times, the easier approach may be to put a listener on the other side of the camera. Kids can do this; spouses can do this. It helps immensely to have someone listening to you.

Talk to the Camera: The live listener will also help you with focus. When you tape a video, you need to keep your focus toward the camera. It seems counter intuitive because connection usually moves around a room to pull in different listeners. With video, there is only one listener represented by the camera. Your focus and engagement are all toward the camera so that viewers feel that you’re talking to them versus looking away from them.

Stand or Sit: When we produce videos, I prefer to have someone sit on a stool. We coach the concept of forward intent, and it’s harder via video than it is in person. The reason is that video is more two dimensional than three, so the concept of forwardness has to be more exaggerated on video. And it’s easiest to do on a high stool without a back. This prevents leaning back and allows someone to get their feet off the floor and onto the rungs of the stool. This way, you’ll sit back and lean forward.

Video is a different medium for leaders and a very effective way to connect with employees right now. If you’re producing videos, we can help. Call us for a virtual rehearsal, and we’ll help you put the steps above in place.  And if you aren’t producing videos but you’re leveraging video for team meetings and customer calls, we’ll soon be sharing our best practices for video meetings.

We’re here when you need us.

Sally Williamson