Are you getting bored of virtual events which go on for hours, with one speaker after another or one panel after another? Often the most gripping moment is seeing how the moderator copes with the technical glitches or closes down the speakers who go over time!

Far too many event organisers have not understood the difference between what goes into a virtual one as opposed to face-to-face. They try to replicate their usual half-day, full-day or two-day event online without thinking about the audience experience.

Having moderated many virtual events in the past 7 months, I firmly believe that organisers will need to work harder as the pandemic continues to retain audience share. Audiences are going to be more selective, only tuning in to events that are well produced, informative and insightful.

Producing a virtual event is like producing a TV programme

As a former BBC TV producer and editor, I advise clients organising events to use the same techniques that professional programme producers use to attract and retain audiences. Here are some of my tips:

Short – TV programmes are rarely more than 60-minutes. Often, they are 30 to 45 minutes as producers know that people’s attention span starts to wane without a break.
Varied – Our brains switch off if they are not stimulated every 8 minutes. A TV programme is broken down into short varied segments – presenter intro/interview with a participant, known as a “fireside chat”/double-headed interviews/studio discussions. Schedulers make sure that the same format is not used in consecutive TV programmes. A documentary is followed by drama that is followed by light entertainment or reality TV.
Creative – Programme makers experiment with new formats, ensuring a mix of light and shade to keep people’s attention. Even in TV news there is a mix of serious and less serious stories.
Human-interest – People are interested in people. Programme makers are looking for stories of the challenges people face and how they are overcoming them. They know that stories build emotional connection and keep people captivated.
Pre-recorded – Most TV is pre-recorded. News programmes are live as well as some sports events and of course, election night special. But these are produced by teams who regularly work together and are at the top of their game!
Rehearsed – Live TV programmes are rehearsed – just like music concerts or theatrical productions. Presenters make it look as if it is happening naturally but programmes have a minute-by-minute running order that is rigorously adhered to.
Time-managed. A TV or radio programme never over-runs due to the skill of the studio producer and presenter.

Applying these tips to your virtual event

If you are organising an event that is longer than 1 hour, here are some tips to keep your audience engaged. You could offer breakout rooms where the audience can continue the conversation with the speakers, as well as content on demand such as videos, podcasts or in-depth written content.

When you go beyond an hour, as an organiser you need to ensure a variety of formats from panel discussions with different formats, interviews, keynotes, and facilitated breakout sessions.

Fundamentals of a good virtual event

Don’t forget that the basis for any successful event is to be creative in structure and format. Inform, educate and entertain are the essential ingredients of all good events, so when preparing your virtual one, make sure you appeal to all of the senses – visual (video, images, cartoons) audio (recordings, music) and kinesthetic (icebreaker activities, quizzes, energisers, storytelling).

If you would like to know more, do contact me about my virtual workshops on organising memorable virtual events. I also run workshops on engaging online presenting, storytelling and moderating.