7 Deadly Sins Of Virtual Events

September 30, 2020 13 min read

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“And I’ll tell you one more thing. A real sin…can’t be erased no matter what you do.” ― Ban The Fox Sin of Greed, Nanatsu no Taizai

While virtual events aren’t new, the sheer volume of such events is certainly something unique to 2020. Even without the sudden need to transition offline events, the online-event industry — and the platforms that facilitate them — was booming. However, as with anything else, an onslaught of new, inexperienced organizers creates countless opportunities for poor experiences.

Sometimes a poor experience can be ignored or forgotten. But sometimes, it’s possible for an event or event organizer to fail so spectacularly as to be considered a sin.

If you’ll forgive the hyperbole, there are several major missteps that online event organizers may make that, to the event attendee, could be considered unforgivable. The consequences of such mistakes could range from bad reviews to demands for refunds, all of which are easily avoided. These sins are Overwhelming, Unfocused, Untimely, Inferior, Sleazy, Silent and Unengaged.

In fact, if you study and work to avoid these seven deadly sins of virtual events, not only will you avoid angering attendees, you’ll likely create an event experience that is remarkable and cherished.

Related: Michael Franti Spearheads the Virtual-Concert Revolution While Keeping His Small Business Afloat

Sin #1 – Overwhelming

While an in-person event might rely on just a couple of emails to confirm your registration and attendance, and then perhaps an event guidebook while you’re there, virtual events generally have to communicate quite a bit more. After initial registration, online events need to share where sessions will be streamed, along with any other ways an attendee might be asked or encouraged to engage with an event.

This can easily slide into the realm of spam though, particularly if you’re notifying and reminding attendees about each and every session you’re offering. Don’t send so many emails that your registrants are overwhelmed and want to unsubscribe to silence you. 

This is a frequent issue with event coordinators who are using an online event platform like HeySummit for the first time. Take the time during your event setup to review and consider each and every Email Template. 

  • What is it? What does it say?

  • How often will it go out?

  • Will your attendees find it valuable? Or annoying?

Taking the time to go through your event details and options from the perspective of an attendee is time well spent.

Tony Christensen, Facebook Ads expert, emphasizes how important it is for event organizers to make sure that when they do email, all of the information is correct. There’s nothing worse than emailing links to your attendees that don’t work.

Sin #2 – Unfocused

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. 

Your event needs to be focused on providing a specific audience with specific kinds of information. Just like any business or content strategy, the riches are in the niches, as they say.

Consider being as targeted with your audience as possible, and then limit the number and scope of the sessions you offer. While it might seem beneficial to offer dozens and dozens of sessions for people to attend, no one is going to sign up for your event simply because you line up 78 speakers. The topics have to offer something of value, and when you can combine a nice selection of presentations that are all focused on a specific area or theme, they’ll combine like Voltron to create something even more powerful and valuable.

Sin #3 – Untimely

There are a couple of aspects to this particular sin that both result in the same fundamental problem and mistake: a complete disregard for attendees’ time.

The first instance where this is apparent is when sessions and other event activities don’t start on time. Certainly, life can happen and delays or timing issues can crop up in any live event. But we’ve all been to events where everything, from the very outset, started late and ran late and activities got rushed or skipped or simply didn’t flow.

The second instance where attendee’s time isn’t respected is when an event with multiple sessions is spread out over days, even weeks, making it truly impossible for the average attendee to catch everything. It used to be OK to span a few days, even a couple of weeks, particularly if you offered a lot of content. But no longer. People are busier than ever and cannot schedule three sessions a day for 21 days.

That might sound like opinion rather than observation, so allow me to elaborate. In past virtual events that I have run, I might have scheduled 20-30 sessions over the course of five or 10 days, spreading them out accordingly. When I looked at the consumption rate of the sessions, it was abysmal. Most sessions were consumed by under 5 percent of attendees.

Alternatively, two events that I ran dropped all sessions at the exact same time and encouraged attendees to binge-watch them Netflix-style. People seemed to like the idea, but again, the stats don’t lie. The first session listed (alphabetically) received the highest consumption, and all others decreased dramatically from there.

So what worked the best? Scheduling all of your sessions just as you would a live event: back to back to back. My last event was a one-day summit with opening and closing keynotes and 27 sessions in between, separated into three tracks. Attendees were encouraged to block off the day and “attend” just like they would an in-person event. Consumption for that event now ranges between 20-50 percent.

Jen Cole, Account Manager at NOW Marketing Group, points out that timeliness applies to speaker communication as well. She elaborates, “For me, it’s the events who don’t provide speakers/attendees with all of the details up front. What’s the hashtag? How many pieces of content should presenters provide for promotion purposes leading up to the event? How can we attend sessions? Just…timeliness.”

Sin #4 – Inferior

It might go without saying, but what do you think happens if folks block out their day, cancel other plans and start attending your event sessions only to be completely and utterly underwhelmed?

Whether it’s a terrible speaker, awful content, or horrific audio or video quality, the end result is the same. Attendees will be disappointed and frustrated that they gave up their time, and perhaps even money if you’re charging for your event, just to sit through drivel.

Interestingly, the fear of these kinds of issues is what often drives event coordinators to call on the same industry speakers time and again. They’re a known quantity that has proven they can deliver a quality presentation in the past. Events that bring in relatively unknown or even first-time speakers are taking a huge risk. It needs to be done, but give events credit when you notice more diverse lineups of speakers.

Events can mitigate all of these concerns by communicating closely with speakers, doing dry runs or receiving recordings in advance and assisting with the technology. While most everyone today can join a video call, not every speaker is experienced at broadcasting in high quality or even recording their own presentations in a way that’s presentable.

Flossie Hall, COO of ASME, adds, “Bad tech is going to happen, but have a plan B. And plan C. And a team to help you trouble shoot. When you have dead silence and a person fumbling for minutes, it feels like a lifetime on a virtual conference. Test your tech!”

Sin #5 – Sleazy

If you read “sleazy” and immediately conjured an image of the old used car salesman trying to pawn a piece junk onto you, you’re on the right track.

No one wants to be sold to, least of all a session attendee who was looking forward to learning something they could take back to their team or business. Imagine their surprise and disgust then, when, instead of educational content they’re served a demonstration of someone’s lousy product.

When I’ve stumbled into such sessions at past in-person events, such as a “sponsored lunch & learn” that was nothing more than “come learn about my product,” I’d simply get up and leave. I still had countless other sessions and event benefits to enjoy. A virtual event doesn’t have quite the same luxury, and a disgusted attendee might bounce out for good.

A smart approach is to have a policy communicated to speakers at the outset that their presentations should be largely free of sales pitches, but that they’re free to present an offer or freebie at the end. This needs to be carefully balanced against what, if any, compensation you’re offering the speaker. If you aren’t paying them or sharing leads, then you’ll have less freedom to dictate content.

Sin #6 – Silent

Having run numerous online events, I can completely relate to the level of sheer exhaustion that hits once the event is over. Between all of the work that goes into an event and the real-time anxiety around the potential for problems, you will be useless to everyone for at least a day or so afterwards.

And yet, the 24-48 hours after your event may be one of the most critical periods.

Remember the last great event that you attended? Maybe it was the sessions or perhaps it was the conversations you had, but put that event and your memories firmly in mind. Now think about how you felt as you were leaving the event, and into the next day. It was probably a combination of excitement and motivation alongside a little bit of sadness or even emptiness.

This is because the best events fill us up with incredible ideas and information, while simultaneously surrounding us with human connections and excitement. We get to bring home the ideas, but not the people. This is a fragile time where our own real lives re-assert themselves and we risk forgetting the relationships and realizations we just experienced. And in so doing, we forget about the event that made them possible.

This is the time you cannot afford to be silent and rest. If you aren’t actively working to help your attendees keep that level of excitement and interest, maintain those relationships and implement those ideas, you tragically lose momentum and potential for future engagement and, ultimately, sales.

Whether it’s the event itself you’re selling or interest in your business, this is the moment where your audience is most primed to purchase from you. Do not let up.

Fortunately, it’s easy to mitigate your own fatigue and take advantage of this timeframe. In my case, I am blessed with a team that can assist, particularly an Inbound Manager who will have emails and other activities ready to go. If that’s not you, simply consider in advance that you want to do and set that up ahead of time. Typically this will be one or more emails queued to be sent after your event.

Plan what you want to accomplish and how will you do it as part of your overall event prep so that you can take that much-deserved rest the day after.

Sin #7 – Unengaged

And then we find ourselves on the seventh and final deadly sin of virtual events: the unengaged log. The stump that sits in the woods and wants to be interesting and wanted, but has little to offer besides the fact that it’s a stump.

The fact is, if someone wants to watch a video tutorial on how to do something they can turn to YouTube or an online course. An event is supposed to be special. It’s supposed to be an opportunity for attendees to engage with each other and the speakers. 

And while much of that came naturally to in-person events, virtual events and event coordinators can still offer attendees a tremendous amount of engaging opportunities….

  • Session attendees should be able to comment on and chat about sessions while they’re streaming.

  • Events should have a group or community that attendees can join and interact with each other.

  • Session speakers should be in the chat or in the community responding to questions and meeting attendees.

Events can even use commonly available technology like Zoom or Messenger Rooms to create networking events, table talks and more, where attendees, speakers and even sponsors can meet each other “face to face” and have wonderful conversations.

While using pre-recorded videos for sessions is a smart, safe approach, virtual events should also explore ways that they can incorporate at least some live video into their schedule. Because live video is inherently more engaging and interesting.

In addition to streaming some or even all sessions live, events can use live video for speaker interviews, panel discussions, mastermind groups and more.

The bottom line throughout all of these “sins” is that more and more people are attending virtual events, but it’s up to event coordinators to make sure that their events stand out and are a cherished experience for the attendee. It takes time and careful planning but is ultimately worth it, particularly if your organization wishes to run more events in the future.

Related: ‘Daily Show’ Creator Lizz Winstead’s Entrepreneurial Fight for Reproductive Rights

In my role at Agorapulse, it’s up to me to create an amazing virtual-event experience every quarter and one of my objectives is always to attract a greater number of attendees than the previous summit. I’m therefore constantly looking for ways that I can replicate and streamline past success, and integrate new, fresh ideas and techniques into the next event.

Fortunately, the technology and best practices surrounding virtual events continues to improve, so tackling these and other challenges will get easier in time. Until then, just make careful note of the advice I’ve shared here.